A Potent Inflammation Fighter and Rejuvenator

by Walter Last

Copper is an essential trace mineral. All tissues of the body need it for normal metabolic functions. It is excellent for reducing inflammations, strengthening connective tissue, restoring hair colour and the oxidative energy metabolism as well as fighting parasites and cancer, and it may even improve brain and liver functions.

If you give animals a choice between drinking normal water and water in which a copper pipe has been immersed, they will reportedly prefer the high copper water. This helps to keep them free of parasites. Copper armbands are well known to reduce arthritis. Copper serum levels are elevated up to threefold above normal with inflammations and with many chronic and infectious diseases, apparently because the body mobilizes all tissue stores of copper to fight the condition. During remissions the copper blood levels return to normal.

Copper Biochemistry
In the blood copper is transported by the proteins ceruloplasmin and copper-albumin, while inside cells it is stored as proteins called metallothioneins, or used as copper containing enzymes. Copper enzymes include:

·     cytochrome C oxidase needed for oxidative energy production within cells;

·     superoxide dismutase, a strong antioxidant for protection against free radicals;

·     dopamine hydroxylase for producing catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine and noradrenaline. A copper enzyme is also needed for the synthesis of adrenalin (epinephrine);

·     lysyl oxidase for the production of connective tissue such as collagen and elastin for healthy skin, bones, joints and blood vessels;

·     tyrosinase for pigmentation of hair and skin; 

·     clotting factor V, a blood clotting factor, and

·     ceruloplasmin, an antioxidant needed for the iron metabolism.

Sometimes there is too much inorganic copper in supplements or drinking water as from acid water flowing through copper pipes. It can then accumulate in the body and lead to toxicity symptoms with signs of zinc deficiency, over-stimulation, psychosis and liver damage. But normally only as much copper is absorbed and retained as can be incorporated into these copper transport, storage and enzyme systems. The liver is the main storage organ for copper. Excess copper is normally excreted with the bile.  

A deficiency of transport and storage proteins can lead to copper deficiency in the same way as low dietary intake. Copper deficiency is widespread. I regard copper deficiency as the main cause of grey or white hair. For adults a daily intake of 2-3 mg is generally recommended but intakes of less than 1 mg are very common. Unfortunately there is no reliable test to see if we have enough copper. Blood tests are totally unreliable, and also hair tests are uncertain.

Supplementation with high amounts of vitamin C (e.g. 1000 mg) or zinc (e.g. 30 mg) during a meal tends to prevent the absorption of copper. Therefore supply additional copper with meals when these are not being used. However copper salicylate may not to be affected by vitamin C and zinc.

Prolonged cortisone treatment has been shown to increase the body's excretion of copper and may lead to copper deficiency. This may cause various health problems, including the development or acceleration of osteoporosis, scoliosis, skeletal abnormalities and susceptibility to fractures.

Copper and Diseases

Adequate copper intake is essential for normal functioning of the immune system. The immune system is significantly weakened at marginal copper levels that do not even affect tissue copper levels or the activity of copper enzymes. A weakening of the immune system could be detected as soon as one week after starting a diet low in copper. Conversely, the addition of sufficient copper improved the suppressed immune system within one week (1). All forms of copper compounds are also effective fungicides.

Copper deficiency has been shown to have a strong role in anemia, arthritis, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy, fat metabolism, free radical damage, immune functions, inflammatory diseases, osteoporosis, and thyroid function (underactive). Wilson's disease is a rare genetic condition with a lack of ceruloplasmin, low serum copper levels, and high copper stores in the liver.

Deficiency symptoms include anemia, bone disorders, defective spinal cord, hair greying and hair becoming fine and straight, losing its curl, infertility;  weak connective tissue as evidenced by heart problems such as enlarged heart, weak aorta with holes and ruptures, aneurisms, varicose veins, wrinkling skin, and hernias. Copper deficiency greatly increases the lipid peroxidation of lipoproteins and cardiovascular tissue. It causes high cholesterol levels, and heart attack victims have low copper levels in the heart.

With atherosclerosis serum copper levels are high but levels in the aorta and liver are low. Copper supplementation leads initially to even higher serum copper levels but then to a normalization of all copper values as well as significant improvements in cholesterol levels and atherosclerosis.

With cancer copper serum levels behave similar to those described for atherosclerosis. Various studies show a beneficial effect of copper on cancer. However, if growing tumours are present, then copper is needed to form new blood vessels. Therefore one form of cancer therapy creates artificial copper deficiency by removing copper with a molybdenum compound, and high amounts of zinc may be used to prevent the absorption of copper. It has now been shown that in the long-term this so-called anti-angiogenesis therapy does more harm than good by stressing tumours and inducing them to spread (2).

The main metabolic defect of cancer cells, according to Dr Johanna Budwig and other researchers, is a deficiency of the enzyme cytochrome oxidase. This causes a blockage in the cellular respiration or oxidative energy production of the affected cells. Cytochrome oxidase is a copper dependent enzyme and additional copper might be beneficial. In the final stages of this oxidative energy production cytochrome oxidase transfers electrons to copper (II) and iron (III) to form copper (I) and iron (II). In the last step these electrons are then transferred to oxygen, which now can attract hydrogen ions to form water. In cancer cells this electron transfer is blocked and energy is inefficiently produced by converting glucose into lactic acid.

Due to copper deficiency this electron transfer is defective in Menkes disease, a genetic disorder of early childhood. This is sometimes called Menkes kinky hair disease because such babies have very fragile hair; they also have abnormal brain development and a low body temperature. They are very floppy, lack energy and usually will not survive beyond 3 years of age.

Australian soils are generally copper deficient, and the importance of copper for development was discovered in Australia where sheep or lambs started to develop ataxia, a loss of muscle coordination. This was traced down to the defective development of the myelin sheet around nerves, especially the cerebellum and spinal cord. These changes are identical with human cerebral palsy, and defective myelin sheets are also present with Multiple Sclerosis. For more details about the role of copper in various diseases see (1).

Copper Salicylate Complexes

Copper complexes are highly effective anti-inflammatory agents. In addition, copper complexes have shown great potential in the treatment of numerous chronic diseases. These include, in addition to inflammatory diseases, gastrointestinal ulcers, cancers, epilepsy, and diabetes. Commonly copper complexes are related to salicylic acid. The main copper complex is copper salicylate.

Another commonly used complex is copper aspirinate, the copper complex of aspirin, which is acetyl-salicylic acid. However, copper salicylate seems to work better than copper aspirinate. In addition copper ascorbate has strong anti-viral properties. Copper salicylate is remarkably stable and does not change the chemistry of the blood or liver as most other copper supplements do (3).

Dr John R.J. Sorenson at the University of Arkansas has done most of the pioneering research work on copper complexes. In one of his publications he states that with the exception of Wilson's disease, there are no chronic degenerative diseases in man known to result from non-industrial exposure to copper. Copper salicylate has a stronger anti-inflammatory effect than cortisone but without the side effects.

The therapeutic potency and safety of the copper complexes of aspirin (acetyl-salicylic acid) and salicylic acid is much better than for aspirin itself or for other copper compounds such as copper acetate. These complexes are 5 to 8 times more effective than aspirin but less toxic. The therapeutic index (the margin between effectiveness and toxic effects) has been stated as being significantly greater than for other anti-inflammatory drugs (4).

While aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs cause or aggravate ulcers and gastro-intestinal bleeding and distress, the copper complexes have a better ulcer-healing effect than commonly used anti-inflammatory ulcer drugs. Harmful effects of aspirin, salicylic acid and similar drugs apparently arise because they bind copper in the stomach and intestines wall and cause a localised copper deficiency in these tissues. This then causes connective tissue disintegration with bleeding and ulcers. Copper salicylate supplies the necessary copper in a useable form to heal these lesions. I believe that people who are allergic to salicylates are mainly reacting because of copper deficiency.

Because copper salicylate cannot be patented and is too cheap anyway, it is not widely used. It is much more profitable to first sell drugs that cause ulcers and then sell ulcer drugs. However, there exist several patents regarding the application of salicylates to the skin in combination with other ingredients.

Salicylates are a common ingredient of many fruits and vegetables but recently it has been discovered that they are also produced in the human and animal body. A researcher stated: "This simple organic chemical is, we propose, likely to become increasingly recognized as an animal bio-regulator, perhaps in a class of its own"(5).

The copper-zinc enzyme Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) is one of the most important antioxidants and inflammation fighters produced in the body to protect cells and bio-molecules from oxidation damage by free-radicals. Many copper complexes, and in particular copper salicylate, demonstrate SOD activity. For this reason they have sometimes been called ‘SOD-mimetics’ because they protect cells in a similar way as SOD. Furthermore the great stability and wide-ranging health effects of copper salicylate suggest that it may also function in the body as a quasi transport and storage molecule.

Glutathione is another important cellular antioxidant. Copper salicylate has a positive effect on the glutathione status of the liver, and it has been found that this could be achieved with oral or topical application (3).

Stress is a main factor in activating granulocytes, immune cells that cause inflammation, and are largely responsible for the symptoms of autoimmune diseases (6). Copper salicylate complexes have been found to control the metabolic activation of granulocytes (4).

A copper complex of histamine has been shown to be the active form of histamine. Life-threatening allergic reactions due to histamine overactivity can be treated with salicylic acid, which chelates the copper and inactivates the histamine (4). 

Cancer and Epilepsy

In addition copper salicylate has also good anti-cancer, anti-tremor and anti-convulsive properties suitable for treatment of epilepsy and possibly Parkinson's disease. After the liver the brain is the second-highest copper-containing organ. There are at least 6 important copper-dependent enzymes in the brain.

A feature of severe copper deficiency is degeneration of the central nervous system. Lambs born to ewes on copper deficient pastures have tremors and ataxia which can be prevented with copper. With epilepsy serum copper levels are high but brain copper levels are low. Children with severe copper deficiency constantly have convulsive seizures. Many copper complexes such as copper salicylate have good anti-epileptic properties without the many and often severe side-effects of conventional anti-epileptic drugs (4).

In experiments copper salicylate prevented chemically induced skin cancers. A single application resulted in a 55% reduction in experimental animal tumours within 20 weeks (3). Another study has shown that there is a relationship between aortic aneurism and malignancy, and this is probably due to copper deficiency (1).

Elevated serum copper levels typical for inflammatory diseases are also present with cancer. With remission serum copper levels usually return to normal while patients who do not respond to therapy or surgery have persistently elevated serum copper level. Tumor cells have decreased SOD activity and copper salicylate complexes show anti-cancer, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-mutagenic effects. There is even experimental evidence that copper complexes can cause established tumor cells to re-differentiate into normal cells and it has been suggested that "...the future use of copper complexes to treat neoplastic diseases has some exciting possibilities" (1).

Inflammatory and Autoimmune Diseases

Inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are associated with higher serum copper levels and lover tissue copper levels than normal. Copper complexes have lower toxicity and stronger anti -inflammatory activity than their parent compounds. This means, for instance, copper salicylates has much stronger anti-inflammatory effects than either common copper compounds or salicylic acid or for that matter other anti-inflammatory drugs. 

Dr Werner Hangerter, head of medicine at the University of Kiel, successfully used copper salicylates for over 20 years with more than 1100 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Of 620 patients with rheumatoid arthritis 65% became free of pain and other symptoms, and another 23% improved significantly, only 12% remained unchanged. With acute rheumatic fever 100% became symptom free.

Also neuromuscular problems such as sciatica, neuralgia and cervical spine-shoulder problems responded very well as did Sarcoidosis. Even short-term treatment of rheumatoid arthritis resulted in long-term remissions or improvements. Objective measures of improvement were remission of fever, increased joint mobility, decreased swelling, and normalisation of erythrocyte sedimentation rate (3, 4).

Wearing copper bracelets is a time-tested anti-inflammatory treatment but the amount of copper dissolved with the sweat is relatively low. In contrast, copper salicylates were found to be the best copper complex for the treatment of arthritic pain (3, 4).

Prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob or "mad cow" disease, and also Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease are related to the accumulation of wrongly folded and entangled prion proteins. It has now been shown that this may be due to a copper deficiency in the brain, and that copper stabilises prions and helps them to fold correctly (7).

In contrast to the disinterest of drug companies there is much interest in the research community in copper complexes as anti-inflammatories and anti-arthritics as evidenced by a large number of reviews and symposia in recent years. This research shows that copper complexes have strong anti-inflammatory activity in numerous models of inflammation (1).

Skin and Connective Tissue

Old, wrinkling and sagging skin is one of the signs of copper deficiency. Expensive copper peptides are being sold for the improvement of aging skin. In addition there is also much interest in salicylic acid as a skin rejuvenator. Commonly this has been used for short periods in rather concentrated form, but in 1998 Proctor & Gamble has patented the application on the skin of low dose salicylic acid and salicylates (including copper salicylate) as long-term treatment to prevent, reduce or manage aging skin and wrinkles (8). 

The elastic fibers of arteries and other connective tissue need copper for tensile strength. Common examples of weak connective tissue are hernias, varicose veins and aneurisms. Aneurisms are ballooning arteries with very thin walls that easily burst. Albert Einstein and Paavo Aerola (pioneering naturopath and nutritionist) died of ruptured cerebral aneurisms, many individuals with white hair died of abdominal aneurisms. About 5% of autopsied Americans died of ruptured aneurisms, and another 40% have aneurisms that have not yet ruptured (

An interesting story in regard to aneurisms has been told by Dr Joel Wallach. In 1957 the US Department of Agriculture introduced a "wonder food pellet" for turkeys, guaranteed to grow them faster, bigger and fatter. But that year half of the entire nation's flock of turkeys died of ruptured aortic aneurysms. Analysis showed copper deficiency. The next year copper content of the feed was doubled, and no more turkeys died from ruptured aortic aneurysms (9).

Osteoarthritis is primarily a connective tissue disease and any inflammation may be caused by joints rubbing together without sufficient protection. Therefore, response to copper salicylate may be less dramatic than with rheumatoid arthritis, take longer to eventuate and require additional co-factors such as MSM, N-Acetyl Glucosamine, fish oils and various vitamins and minerals.

Restoring Hair Colour

Hair is coloured by the production of melanin in the hair bulbs. There are two kinds of melanin, eumelanin which colours the hair brown to black, and pheomelanin that makes it yellow-blond to red. Different combinations of these two kinds of melanin determine then the exact colour and shade of the hair.

Gray or grey hair results when insufficient nutrients are supplied to the scalp to maintain normal melanin production in hair cells called melanocytes. Several nutrients are responsible to convert the amino acid tyrosine into melanin. The most common deficiency is with copper.

A convincing demonstration has been conducted with black sheep. When their feed was alternated several times containing high and low amounts of copper, they developed alternating black and white coloured bands in their wool; also the curliness was reduced when copper was low (10). 

Grey hair contains much less copper, magnesium and calcium than naturally coloured hair. It is not clear if high copper hair levels due to high intake of inorganic copper can be used for melanin production but I assume that it cannot be used. To restore hair colour I regard it as most useful to rub diluted copper salicylate solution directly into the scalp but additional oral intake will be helpful.

Next in effectiveness seems to be para-amino benzoic acid or PABA, which is related to the B group of vitamins. Generally PABA has been effective in 10 -25% of cases to darken gray or white hair; after stopping application the colour tends to fade again after several weeks. In clinical trials amounts from 400 mg up to 15 g of oral PABA have been used daily. PABA, used orally or topically, is also a natural sunscreen.

PABA itself is not water-soluble but may be dissolved by adding about one-third of bicarbonate to PABA suspended in water. Use about half a teaspoon of PABA. After some fizzing the water will clear and the solution may now be rubbed into the scalp. Additional PABA may be taken internally with meals, but again I regard the direct application as more effective. If available you may buy directly the water-soluble potassium or sodium salts of PABA.

Other nutrients required to maintain or restore natural hair colour are the B vitamins pantothenic acid, folic acid (in green leaves) and biotin (highest in egg yolk), and the quasi B vitamin inositol. Inositol stabilises cell membranes. This protects the hair bulbs and helps to keep the hair moist and so darkens its colour; severe deficiency may cause baldness. Zinc may be required in addition as well as iodine and sufficient calcium and magnesium. Overacidity causes mineral deficiency and premature gray hair.   

Another cause of fading hair colour is chronic stress. This may be due to emotional stress or to antioxidant deficiency. In the normal metabolism free radicals and hydrogen peroxide are being formed. These need to be detoxified otherwise the melanin-producing enzymes are being damaged. In addition to copper salicylate a high antioxidant intake can avoid this problem (11).

From this it also follows that regularly applying oxidants to the scalp as in the form of chlorinated water will lead to premature greying, and also seems to contribute to male-pattern baldness. Also drinking chlorinated water or cooking in it, or frying, all increase the ingestion of oxidized products and contribute to early greying. Hair colouring damages the hair, and it may then take longer for a natural colour to reappear. It is not clear if and to what degree white hair can regain some natural colouring; this may depend very much on additional measures to improve overall vitality and blood circulation to the scalp. 

There is much anecdotal evidence that increased blood circulation to the scalp can restore hair colour. This may be done by frequently keeping the head lower than the heart, such as with inversion equipment or slant boards, or by rubbing irritating substances into the scalp such as a solution of cayenne or some aromatic oils.

How to Use Copper Salicylate

The amount and mode of application of copper salicylate depends very much on the problem that is to be treated. With most conditions an oral dose of 40 to 60 mg of copper salicylate may be combined with an external or topical application of the same amount. Orally it should be taken during a meal that does not contain supplements of zinc or vitamin C. Always increase high-dose supplements or remedies gradually.

Generally it is much more effective to apply copper salicylate directly to the site of the problem, rubbing a suitable solution into an arthritic joint, onto a skin or muscle inflammation, ulcerated leg, aging skin or graying hair. Copper salicylate dissolves in water and it may be applied in this way. However, to penetrated the skin it should be kept moist for an extended period or combined with a suitable carrier.

When rubbing it on the skin or around a joint you may, for instance, mix the copper salicylate with some magnesium oil which then keeps the area moist for a long time, just guard against accidentally rubbing it off, or cover with a cloth. Another possibility is to apply it together with aloe vera gel. Also MSM helps to soften the skin and is also beneficial for most conditions anyway.  

The most effective carrier is dimethyl sulfoxide or DMSO, a liquid that is a close relative of the crystallised MSM. Like MSM, it is an active sulphur compound and has corresponding healing qualities, especially for connective tissue. A disadvantage of DMSO is its garlic smell but compared to an autoimmune disease that may be a lesser problem.

You may mix copper salicylate with one or several of the indicated ingredients and apply them together in one application. Alternatively, you may rub first some copper salicylate solution onto the skin. After it has partly dried you may rub a small amount of magnesium oil on, and finally some Aloe vera, dissolved MSM or DMSO.

For applications to maintain or restore your hair colour you may dilute copper salicylate with a sufficient amount of water to thoroughly moisten the whole scalp and possibly the beard. You can keep these moist for longer by following up with a solution of neutralised PABA. Afterwards pat the scalp and skin and keep the head low for a minute to increase the blood circulation.

After your problem has cleared up or as a general maintenance dose you may use 20 to 30 mg of copper salicylate once a day with a suitable meal or apply it to the skin or hair several times a week. For a source of supply see

The Schweitzer Formula

In addition to copper salicylate complexes also a salicylate complex with zinc and boron is a good healing remedy. This has been called the Schweitzer Formula, and is formed from zinc (oxide or carbonate), boron (boric acid) and salicylic acid. It has been used as an antibiotic, disinfectant, fungicide, and anti-inflammatory agent.

The Schweitzer Formula supposedly was developed 1915 in Germany and sold worldwide since 1920. In addition to any kind of infection or inflammation, it has been used in cancer treatment, to improve the immune response and blood oxygenation. Applied externally it is claimed to heal injuries and skin diseases, including acne, scarring varicose veins and varicose ulcers.

To make the Schweitzer Formula dissolve 9.2 g of salicylic acid, 2.1 g of boric acid and 2.7 g of zinc oxide or 4 g of zinc carbonate in 2 litres of hot water. You may get these ingredients from a pharmacist or supplier of fine chemicals and have these quantities weight out. However, it is sufficient to use approximate amounts. You may use 2 level teaspoons of salicylic acid and half a teaspoon each of boric acid and zinc oxide or one level teaspoon of zinc carbonate.

Use distilled or de-ionised water and a non-metal container. Heat for about an hour, and stir occasionally with a non-metal spoon until no more of the zinc oxide or zinc carbonate at the bottom of the container dissolves. Then decant or filter into a glass container and store in a dark and cool place. Any surplus of zinc oxide or carbonate that remains undissolved shows that all the boric acid and salicylic acid have been used up.

Originally Schweitzer Formula was sold as crystals. If you do want to crystallise the complex, then let the water evaporate very slowly in a flat non-metal tray covered with fine gauze. As a general rule, the slower the crystallisation, the bigger the crystals. Therefore, keep the tray undisturbed in a cool place. For quick crystallisation and smaller crystals you may expose the tray to direct sunlight. For use you may then dissolve the crystals again in 2 litres of hot water.

You may take this at the ratio of one tablespoon daily. The long-term use of copper or zinc should be balanced by using the other mineral as well. If internal remedies are used then zinc and copper should be taken with separate meals. As with copper salicylate I believe that also zinc-boron salicylate complex is safer and more effective than the long-term use of aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs.

Schweitzer Formula in high amounts has been used extensively in the healing system of Body Electronics. One tablespoonful of Schweitzer contains about 15 mg of zinc, 15 mg of boric acid or 2.5 mg of boron, and 70 mg of salicylic acid. As with copper salicylate, I believe that individuals sensitive to salicylates in food may not negatively react to Schweitzer Formula but that may need to be individually tested.


(1)   Gissen A.S.: Copper: The Maligned Mineral. This article appeared first in the April-July/August, 1994 issues of VRP's Newsletter, now at

(2)   Moss, R.: Shadow Falls on Anti-Angiogenic Drugs. Cancer Decisions Newsletter March 15, 2009, and

(3)   Bland, J.: Copper Salicylates and Complexes in Molecular Medicine. Int Clin Nutr Review 4, 3, 130-134, 1984.

(4)   Sorenson J.R.J.: Copper Chelates as possible Active Metabolites in the Antiarthritic and Antiepileptic Drugs. J Applied Nutrition 32, 1&2, 4-25, 1980.

(5)   SCIENCE BLOG 2008-12-22: New evidence that people make aspirin's active principle; and

(6)   Abo T.: Your Immune Revolution. Koroko Publ. N.Y. 2007.

(7)   SCIENCE BLOG 2009, June 25: A penny for your prions;; also Hodak, M. and Chisnell, R.: Cu2+ Binding to the Prion Protein: Functional Implications and the Role of Copper. Online publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, June 22, 2009,

(8)   US Patent 5776917 - Compositions for regulating skin wrinkles and/or skin atrophy -

(9)   Wallach, J.: Dead Doctors Don’t Lie. A widely distributed audio tape that was later followed by a book with the same title, see

(10)       Adams, R. and Murray. F.: Minerals: Kill or Cure? Larchmont Books, NY 1974.

(11)       ABC News in Science: Grey hair? Blame the bleach. 4 March 2009,