It could be that I’m watching more football than I normally do, but I’ve noticed a peculiar uptick in commercials for copper-infused compression clothes. The industry is growing quickly and it has already drawn endorsements from a number of high-profile athletes across the different brands. They make a lot of claims, and I want to know how they hold up. So, what exactly does the science say?
In order to reach a more definitive answer, we need to separate the claims we’ll be analyzing. First, let’s take a look at the research on compression clothing. The industry claims that it will improve your athletic performance and increase your recovery for the next game. The science agrees, sort of. Compression garments are in fact beneficial for increased running performance, maintenance of leg power after endurance, and post-exercise recovery. A newly published study out of the University of Michigan Health System finds compression socks worn after a marathon improve performance in coming weeks.
Second, let’s look at the claimed benefits of infused copper—primarily that it prevents odor, that it has anti-microbial properties, and that the release of positive ions promotes health and wellness. Science agrees with one of those claims and partly with another, but with a significant caveat. The anti-microbial properties of copper itself are well known and studied:
Bacteria, yeasts, and viruses are rapidly killed on metallic copper surfaces, and the term “contact killing” has been coined for this process. While the phenomenon was already known in ancient times, it is currently receiving renewed attention. This is due to the potential use of copper as an antibacterial material in health care settings. Contact killing was observed to take place at a rate of at least 7 to 8 logs per hour, and no live microorganisms were generally recovered from copper surfaces after prolonged incubation. The antimicrobial activity of copper and copper alloys is now well established, and copper has recently been registered at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the first solid antimicrobial material. In several clinical studies, copper has been evaluated for use on touch surfaces, such as door handles, bathroom fixtures, or bed rails, in attempts to curb nosocomial infections.
A secondary benefit of the anti-microbial properties of copper is the elimination of bacteria on the skin that creates body odor. But here lies the caveat. This research refers to the properties of large pieces of copper used as surfaces for sinks and similar applications.
How does it apply to the significantly smaller amount of copper used interwoven in fabric? We cannot know. It’s not improbable that many claims are likely exaggerated. Until we see proper research conducted on these products, this claim cannot be validated.
As for the alleged benefit of positive ions promoting health and wellness? We don’t know what health and wellness means in this case, how to measure it, or through what mechanism positive ions would be beneficial. Because there is no way to falsify the claim, we will simply disregard it as meritless. On a final note, the research on the alleged therapeutic effects of copper is not complimentary, see here and here.
In conclusion, the claims are mixed and fact is crossed with fiction. Many such products benefit from conflating the validity of some claims with the outlandishness of others for the benefit of physical wellbeing.
The alleged benefits of copper-infused compression clothes that we covered are mostly a mixed bag trending negative, and only given a number of a assumptions that we can neither prove nor disprove concerning the concentration of copper present in the clothing. It’s too difficult to discern the benefits of that claim in relation to the product being presented. Any claim concerning the promotion of health and wellness is simply a marketing gimmick with no basis in science. In general, I find that I am extremely skeptical any time claims are made with regards to benefits of exposing your skin to a pure metal or metal alloy.