The first recorded observation of copper's role in the immune system in modern times was published in 1867 when it was reported that, during the cholera epidemics in Paris of 1832, 1849 and 1852, copper workers were immune to cholera.
In 1885, the French physician, Luton, reported using copper acetate in his practice to treat arthritic patients.
In 1895, in a published review of the pharmacological actions of copper compounds, copper arsenate was reported to treat acute and chronic diarrhea as well as dysentery and cholera. An organic complex of copper developed by Bayer was shown to have curative powers in the treatment of tuberculosis. Copper treatment for tuberculosis continued until the 1940s.
As early as 1912, patients in Germany were treated for facial epithelioma with a mixture of copper chloride and lecithin, suggesting that copper compounds might assist anti-cancer activity.
Recent work with mice in the U.S. has shown that treatment of solid tumours with non-toxic doses of various organic complexes of copper markedly decreased tumour growth and metastasis and thus increased survival rate.
First observed in rats in 1936, numerous studies have drawn attention to the relationship between copper deficiency and heart disease, which effect has now been traced to both a deficiency in copper and an imbalance in the copper-to-zinc ratio in the body.
In 1939, the German physician, Werner Hangarter, noticed that Finnish copper miners were unaffected by arthritis as long as they worked in the mining industry. This observation led Finnish medical researchers plus the Germans, Hangarter and Lübke, to successfully use a mixture of copper chloride and sodium salicylate to treat patients suffering from rheumatic fever, rheumatoid arthritis, neck and back problems, and sciatica.
Copper aspirinate has been shown not only to be more effective in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis than aspirin alone, but it has been shown to prevent or even cure the ulceration of the stomach often associated with aspirin therapy.
Copper complexes such as copper aspirinate and copper tryptophanate, markedly increase healing rate of ulcers and wounds. For example, copper complexes heal gastric ulcers five days sooner than other reagents. Further, it has been shown that, whereas non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and enefenamic acid suppress wound healing, copper complexes of these drugs promote normal wound healing while at the same time retaining anti-inflammatory activity.
With reports of seizures in animals and humans who had significant and prolonged copper deficiencies in their diets, researches postulated that copper plays a role in the prevention of seizures. Further, it was found that copper complexes of all anti-epileptic drugs are more effective and less toxic than their parent drugs.