Copper & Magnetic Healing: How to Respond to Complaints

Last Saturday, I was in a store that had a display on their counter advertising copper and magnetic jewellery:

Copper & Magnetic Healing

As you may be aware, claims that copper jewellery are able to help with arthritis are relatively common, although the evidence is pretty negative. The claim about magnets attracting iron in your blood and thereby increasing circulation is pure pseudoscience though. Usually, if I do something about an ad like this, I lay a complaint directly with the Advertising Standards Authority. This time though, I thought I’d try directly contacting the store to see if they’d fix this situation without requiring any regulatory intervention.

You can read the full email I sent to the company at the bottom of this post, but essentially I described the regulations around claims in advertising needing to be substantiated, and gave some evidence that these claims probably weren’t substantiated. Here’s what I recommended as a course of action:

I understand that these claims were likely supplied to [your store] by the supplier of the copper and magnetic jewellery, and that no one at [your store] has had any intention of misleading your customers. I recommend that you immediately remove the “Copper & Magnetic Healing” display, and contact the manufacturer to ask them for evidence to substantiate these claims. Unless you are in possession of such evidence, you should avoid making therapeutic claims regarding these products.

I’ve had a wide variety of responses from my ASA complaints in the past, so I wasn’t sure how I should expect this business to respond. To make sure my email wouldn’t just be ignored, I asked them to get back to me within a week to let me know what they’d do, so I could know whether or not I should complain to the ASA.

In this case, I was very impressed to hear back from them the next day to tell me that the stores had been advised to remove the displays and they would contact their supplier to ask for evidence to substantiate the claims they’d provided. They also seemed to realise that the chance of the supplier being able to give the kind of evidence required was pretty slim.

A couple of days after that, I heard back from them again to confirm that, as expected, their supplier was unable to provide evidence that would substantiate the claims made about the jewellery. Because of this, they told me that from now on they would only advertise them as jewellery – not “healing jewellery” or anything like that.

I’m very happy to have seen such prompt and responsible action taking following a complaint. I hope this can serve as an example to other businesses.


If you see a therapeutic claim advertised somewhere, and you think it might not be backed up appropriately by scientific evidence, perhaps consider doing something about it. A good start could be to just ask for evidence. If you’d like them to remove a claim if it turns out not to be backed up by evidence, you can recommend that they do this (and your recommendation will be backed up by the Fair Trading Act).

If they refuse, which I would hope is unlikely, then you could lay a complaint with the ASA. The ASA requires that advertisers must be able to substantiate therapeutic claims that they make; it’s not up to you to prove them false, it’s up to advertisers to prove them correct.

If you do contact a business about a claim they’re making, I would suggest a few things:

  1. Be polite. This costs you nothing, and if you come across as rude or antagonistic it’s not going to lead to a productive exchange.
  2. Recommend a course of action. Ideally make it something that is easy for the business to do.
  3. Give an ultimatum. This should still be polite, but I would recommend asking the business to tell you what they’re going to do within a certain timeframe (such as one week) so you’ll know whether or not it’s necessary to bring their claim to the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority.

If you’re interested in doing something about a dodgy medical claim, the Society for Science Based Healthcare can help you to understand the regulation and put together a complaint.


This is the email I sent to the store on Sunday, with the name of the store removed:

To whom it may concern,

I was in [your store] earlier today, and I noticed a display for copper and magnetic bangles and rings on the counter (see photograph attached).

This display contained a number of therapeutic claims about the products. As I hope you are aware, the Advertising Standards Authority requires that all therapeutic claims made in advertisements must be truthful and have been substantiated (see their Therapeutic Products Advertising Code Principle 2). Similarly, the Fair Trading Act 1986 Section 12A states that unsubstantiated representations must not be made in trade.

To my knowledge, none of the therapeutic claims made on the display are substantiated.

A systematic review of the evidence regarding the use of static magnets for reducing pain, published in 2007, found that “The evidence does not support the use of static magnets for pain relief, and therefore magnets cannot be recommended as an effective treatment.”

Relatively little research has been done on the use of copper bracelets for pain relief, but a well-designed trial published in 2009 found that “Our results indicate that magnetic and copper bracelets are generally ineffective for managing pain, stiffness, and physical function in osteoarthritis. Reported therapeutic benefits are most likely attributable to non-specific placebo effects.”

The Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint in 2013 against claims made on the Woolrest Biomag website, partly due to the fact that their claims that the magnets in their products can increase circulation by “drawing trace elements, for instance, iron, towards the magnets” and by causing “blood vessels to dilate” did not appear to be supported by any evidence and were therefore likely to mislead consumers.

I understand that these claims were likely supplied to [your store] by the supplier of the copper and magnetic jewellery, and that no one at [your store] has had any intention of misleading your customers. I recommend that you immediately remove the “Copper & Magnetic Healing” display, and contact the manufacturer to ask them for evidence to substantiate these claims. Unless you are in possession of such evidence, you should avoid making therapeutic claims regarding these products.

Please reply to this email by the 23rd of November to inform me of what action you will be taking, so I will know whether or not it will be necessary for me to lay a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority to settle this matter.

Sincerely,

Mark Hanna
Society for Science Based Healthcare

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33 thoughts on “Copper & Magnetic Healing: How to Respond to Complaints

  1. Wow. I am impressed! I’d like to know the name of the store so I can patronize them!

    I occasionally entertain myself by picking up a homeopathic product and carrying it to the pharmacist to ask how it works. I have never yet found one who enthusiastically promotes homeopathy. Usually the answer is something like, “Well, um. . . the um. . . claim is that the molecules. . . um. . . Wouldn’t you like to try this other cold medicine?”

    1. Why don’t you just mind your own business? Buy what you want. People could ridicule you for being willing to buy medicines that do actual harm to your body. Ever notice that the cautions in pharmaceutical commercials take up most of the commercials? Ask a pharmacist how those work. Do you think they will explain it on a molecular level?
      I know you probably think that homeopathics are just placebos. I don’t care what you think. If that placebo is so consistent that even being aware of the claims that it is a placebo, it still works the same every time, year after year, that’s fine with me. The condition improves with no side effects, and at little cost, so I’ll take that “placebo” every time.

      1. OK, so anyone should be just free to sell whatever they like, making any claim they like about what it does, and it’s entirely up to the consumer to sort out what’s true, and what’s a lie intended to entice you to buy something that won’t do you any good. Got it. Thanks for clearing that up. yikes!

      2. Even if someone receives a placebo effect from something, it is still a false claim that said object healed you. It didn’t. The placebo effect did, and that is what should be advertised.

      3. You don’t care what he thinks, but somehow you think he cares what you think.

        I think you misunderstand what a placebo is. It does not actually do anything. It just fools you into thinking it is doing something.

        While I’m 100% on-board with banning pharmaceutical advertisements, those warnings are there because actual science has been done to determine that they work and to determine any side-effects… something that doesn’t get done for so-called “natural” remedies (which homoeopathy isn’t, by the way).

        Ask a pharmacist how actual medicine works, and I guarantee they will be able to provide an actual answer. This is what their education is all about.

      4. Gotta love yer brass yikes. Bigging up homeopathy quackery on a story about how quackery really is quackery. The problem with this nonsense is that people are making large amounts of money through deception and that governments have representatives who advocate for stuff of this ilk being allowed by health insurance and maybe even taught at learned institutions. It isn’t harmless. There are “effects” from using unproven treatments when the proven ones are available. These include the watering down of herd immunity by the nefarious activities of “anti-vaxers” and the like which are causing outbreaks of whooping cough and measles that can have serious outcomes for public health, for example.

      5. Actually, you are very, very wrong in that. In fact, the package insert of every medication out there does break down everything in the drug, including a molecule diagram, Ask your pharmacist for the packaging insert next time you buy a med.

        The problem with the placebo effect is that there is no real improvement and it simply encourages ignorance and attention seeking behavior. It is simply irresponsible to legitimize every single false complaint out there. Also, look at the number of lawsuits filed by people who sought out so-called “alternative healing.” People DIE because of the placebo effect.

      6. I wonder what you capacity to deal with reality as it is rather than as you wish it to be is like… Factually, I don’t have to wonder…

      7. Wow buddy you are really acting silly, next thing we are going to have unhealthy things sold as healthy things.. Unless there is truth in the matter don’t advertise it as such!

    2. I appreciate that, but I’d rather not say which store it was. I’m impressed with their response and want to point it out as a positive example, but as they didn’t give me permission to quote them directly in my article I also chose not to name the business. I’d have been happy to share which store it was otherwise though.

      1. Mark I just want to say thank you for doing this. I live in Los Angeles where you can pretty much throw a stone and hit a “psychic” a “crystal healer” or a “reiki healer” or a tarot card reader or some nonsense. There is this one – shall we say “vortex” of horribleness called “The House of Intuition” where they actually sucker people into taking classes for hundreds of dollars on how to heal with crystals and read tarot cards and other awful things that are all about making MORE liars and charlatans… can you please comment if threatening action with the ASA could really shut them down? Or can they just get out of it like a church and call it “donations”?

  2. Good for them, that is a rare thing unfortunately! And I might have to do the homeofraud/pharmacist test sometime. :-) As an aside, a fun little factoid to point out to the “magnets attract iron in blood” crowd: if small magnets could effect your blood in ANY way – then in an MRI (many millions of times more powerful than little rare earth magnets). . . you would explode

  3. I think you handled the copper healing very well.
    How would you like to take on the healing properties
    of vortexes in the Sedona, AZ? The whole idea was
    the work of an artist in 1986 trying to sell more art
    at a local art show.

    1. I would LOVE to see this taken on. I spent many years camping up in Oak Creek Canyon, and Sedona has so much Real magic it pissed me off when people were always trying to act like there needed to be something supernatural on top of how super it is naturally. Just yesterday a friend on facebook posted pictures of Sedona and was calling it this vortex and that vortex and they were serious… it’s so annoying..

  4. Since I’ve used some homeopathy options for my own health with great results, combined with the fact I’m a scientist, I find this sort of thing rather fascinating. And, since I apparently have nothing better to do on a cold Saturday afternoon, I did a little research with scholar.google.com.

    There is medical evidence that copper is a beneficial addition to existing anti-inflammatory drugs, which help with joint pain: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010854502000863 There’s *probably* research that also backs the other health benefits of copper.

    However, as with the journal article above, I’m willing to bet that, if there *is* research that backs the claims, it is about the oral ingestion of copper. I wouldn’t think amount of copper a person is likely to absorb through the skin from a small bracelet is likely to have any effect, but I’m not completely sure. Here’s an article that I’m betting has some data about copper, its absorption through the skin and its effects: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.3109/10408449309117116. They studied 31 metals, so I’d think copper would be one but, honestly, I didn’t want to buy it, just for this. So the absorption conclusion is a bit of speculation on my part.

    As far as the magnets are concerned, here is an article that indicates magnetic insoles are beneficial for diabetic patients with foot pain: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003999303001060 But, the magnets used in the insoles, at 450 Gauss, are significantly bigger than those in these bracelets. This is important since the strength of the magnet it related to its size. A tiny 1/4″ magnet, even if rare earth, just isn’t going to have that much effect. Also, the article talks about the magnets working on the nerves, not the iron in the blood.

    Here’s an article that debunks the magnet-blood flow claim: http://www.jospt.org/doi/abs/10.2519/jospt.2002.32.10.518#.VHDknWOOqKI.

    So, there *is* the possibility that *some* of the claims they state have *some* truth. There is very, very little possibility (I’d say none) that all of them are true or that these bracelets will replicate the results of those that are.

    It’s like saying that, since manure is shown to increase garden production, burying cup of rabbit pellets in a cardboard box in a corner of the garden is all you need to increase your garden’s production as well as attract fairies. Pseudoscience at its best.

    But, the bracelets are pretty and could help you collect paperclips, so, what the hell. Perhaps advertising them as fashionable, portable paperclip retrievers might be a better route. ;-)

  5. I opened this url ahead of breakfast so I could have some entertaining reading with my morning coffee. I’ve got to say, that is not the outcome I was expecting and now I feel a little underwhelmed. Ha! :) Very good to see a rational reaction by the store.

  6. That’s awesome of you! I had an issue with green earth before because they were selling plastic spacers for stretching and that’s not recommended because it’s porous and can creates a greater risk of infect. They were so adamant despite the opinions of all the piercers in town. Scumbag sales people. I even had a guy sell me the wrong size and say it was my fault and there’s no refunds. I literally had to e-mail the chain and when I returned them the manager was there making sure everything was done right and that I couldn’t buy anything else. That was my teenage rebellion and my ears are back to normal now but the gall of that store has made me never shop there again even when I want other things they sell.

  7. I don’t need convincing that the benefits of that kind of product are nil or negligible but I do need convincing it was ‘necessary’ for you to threaten a formal complaint to a higher authority. Couldn’t you just not have bought the items? I’d rather live in a society where things are sold by means of dubious claims and I have to use my judgment when shopping than in one subject to the tensions created by zealotry of this sort. After all, many commodities, if not most, are sold by exaggeration, from improbably effective cleaning products to the endorsements on the covers of books (“If you liked ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ you’ll LOVE Stephen King’s ‘Carrie’!”, etc.). This is an effect of our culture. I hope you’re being consistent and coming down on all false advertising, not just targeting pseudo-science.

    1. Patrick, I hope you’d agree that people have the right to make informed choices about their healthcare. If you like to thoroughly investigate every claim you encounter before making a purchase then good for you. However, not everyone has the time or motivation to do that, nor should they be expected to. When people are misinformed about medical information, their right to make an informed choice is being violated.

      There’s good reason why many countries, including my own, have laws in place to prevent misleading claims from being made in advertising. Medical claims are often subject to even more scrutiny due to the potential for harm that comes with misleading medical information. However, regulatory frameworks are often slow and, due to limited resources, may not be interested in smaller cases such as this. I’m glad we have an effective system of voluntary self-regulation here in New Zealand with the Advertising Standards Authority.

      There are a lot of misleading claims out there, and I can’t possibly take them all on. It’s misleading medical claims that bother me the most, so they’re the ones I generally try to do something about. I’ve seen enough comments on Facebook just today about how I must have way too much time on my hands, when I probably spent less than an hour in total on this complaint. I’d hate to think what I’d see if I went after every misleading advertising claim, as you seem to think I should.

    2. Depending on a statist higher authority, as we do in this country, is outright pernicious and wrong. Having a privatized one providing information and perhaps some sort of effective pressure to curtail said bs would be better, but we as a people are too lazy, ignorant and cowardly to be free from a maternalistic and interventionistic state.

  8. Thanks for this post, just discovered you blog today through a friend. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders have you seen a show called ‘the checkout’? its by the chaser guys but its about australian advertising standards and what not, I think you’d make a great part of the team and this blog would prove that to them.

    1. Thanks Jaunay, I love The Checkout! I discovered it after Kylie Sturgess interviewed Julian Morrow on the Token Skeptic podcast and subsequently binged on their episodes on YouTube. I think they do a great job.

      We have a long running Consumer Affairs TV show here in New Zealand called Fair Go, but it has quite a different feel to The Checkout.

    1. YOU have to much time on your hands, determining that others have too much time on their hands and taking the time to inform them of your unbiased opinion of how they spend their spare time.

  9. i would like some sauce on the negative evidence for copper, … i’ll just leave this here..

    “EPA Testing

    A 1983 study by P. Kuhn measured bacteria levels on brass and stainless steel doorknobs in a hospital. Results confirmed that the brass doorknob exhibited almost no microbial growth, while the stainless steel doorknob was heavily contaminated. Two decades later, these observations spurred in-depth and scientifically controlled studies using test protocols specified by the U.S. Environ­mental Protection Agency (EPA) to quantify the antimicrobial property of copper and copper alloys.

    Independent laboratory tests demonstrate that in less than two hours, copper-alloy surfaces kill disease-causing bacteria,* including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and E. coli O157:H7 (see Figure 2 and Figure 3). Specifically, bacterial colonies placed on copper (C11000) surfaces were observed to be reduced by more than 99.9 percent within two hours. Similar testing demonstrated that several copper alloys such as brass, bronze, and copper nickel exhibited reduction of bacteria greater than 99.9 percent within two hours of contact. Almost no reduction was observed in colonies placed on stainless steel and plastic surfaces after six hours, and a complete kill was not observed even after 24 days. An important point is that the tests were done at temperatures typical of hospital rooms, about 68 degrees F.”

    Source http://www.thefabricator.com/article/metalsmaterials/antimicrobial-copper-displaces-stainless-steel-germs-for–medical-applications

    1. If you read my email to the store, which is at the bottom of the article, you’ll see I link to my source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19942103

      Any topical antiseptic properties attributable to copper seem rather irrelevant here, considering that the claims being made regard relieving pain, stiffness, and fatigue. If you’d like to read more, Steve Novella wrote a post about Copper and Magnetic Bracelets for Arthritis for the Science-Based Medicine blog in 2009 which discusses the sources I used.

  10. Wow, that is the most mature, responsible, method I have ever heard of a company responding to a polite, informed, complaint. I believe the most common response is something like ‘open your eyes to the truth sheeple’ or ‘you are simply a tool that has been deceived by Big Pharma.’ If I had an experience like this, I would definitely support that business.

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