What’s so special about water from copper mugs?

If you’re interested in the ancient Indian health philosophy of Ayurveda, then you may have heard a thing or two about the health benefits of copper mugs…

According to Ayurveda, storing water in copper containers helps purify bacteria and other contaminants, while also infusing the water with trace amounts of copper that can benefit your health.

Copper is known to help with weight loss and is a crucial component of good heart health. It’s also believed to help the formation of keratin and collagen — the building blocks of healthy skin, hair and joints. For these reasons, Ayurvedic practitioners believe it has an anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and immune-supporting effect.

But here’s the thing…

Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division released an advisory bulletin about the dangers of copper mugs. And there’s been a flood of news stories ever since saying that these mugs could be poisoning you.

These stories are mostly referring to copper mugs used to serve a trendy cocktail called the Moscow Mule. But still, they raise the question…

Are copper mugs healthy or harmful?

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Science says copper can purify

Despite the fact that the health benefits of drinking water stored in copper containers is mostly tied to old wisdom rather than modern science, there have been a few scientific studies that support this ancient Ayurvedic practice…

A 2012 study found that storing contaminated drinking water in a copper pot eradicated nasty bacterial bugs like E. coli and Salmonella. And a 2010 study had similar findings when it came to E. coli and copper vessels.

So, science seems to support the notion that copper vessels purify water of bacteria and possibly other contaminants. And it’s likely due to the way copper increases water pH, making the water an inhospitable place for these nasty little buggers.

But there are still a few other factors to consider when deciding whether drinking out of copper is a healthy choice or not — like what you’re drinking out of it….

Acidic beverages and copper make for a bad combo

The reason Iowa’s Alcoholic Beverages Division released that warning about copper mugs is because people are ordering a lot of Moscow Mules nowadays, and this alcoholic beverage is almost always served in a copper mug. But there’s a problem with this combo…

Highly acidic drinks like alcohol cause the copper from these mugs to leach into your beverage a little too much, which increases the possibility of copper poisoning. Now, copper poisoning isn’t something you want to mess around with. It causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and jaundice at first, but can eventually cause liver failure and death.

And, you should know, alcohol isn’t the only acidic drink that could cause excessive leaching if stored in a copper mug. Anything that contains vinegar (like apple cider vinegar drinks and kombucha) and even fruit juice could set you up for problems, too.

Safety tips for sipping from copper

Despite these warnings, Ayurvedic practitioners have been using copper mugs and vessels for centuries and claim they have amazing health benefits, like reducing inflammation, improving digestion and bolstering your immune system.

So, if you’re interested in testing out the benefits of copper mugs or water vessels for yourself, don’t let this latest news scare you off…

According to Chris Chang, a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, “Copper is not something the body can make, so we need to get it through our diet. The typical American diet, however, doesn’t include many green leafy vegetables.”

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But to get the best benefit from your copper cup, it doesn’t hurt to follow a few simple rules…

  1. When buying a copper mug or vessel, make sure it is made from pure copper and doesn’t contain any other metals.
  2. Really, there’s no reason to drink beverages other than water out of copper containers. That’s what the Ayurvedic philosophy recommends. So stick to glassware for other beverages… especially your Moscow Mules.
  3. If you want to receive the benefits of a copper mug or vessel, you need to let the water sit in the container for a period of time. Between six and eight hours is best, and make sure to cover the mug or vessel while it sits, so no contaminants or debris get inside.
  4. Even if you’re only drinking water out of your copper containers, you still want to be conscious of overdoing your copper intake. Drink only two cups of water per day from a copper container, one in the morning and one in the evening. Take a break from copper from time to time too. If you drink out of copper daily for three months straight, it’s probably a good idea to take a one-month break before starting again.

For tips on keeping your copper mug clean, check out these helpful instructions, since it is best not to run them through the dishwasher.

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  1. Heads up, Moscow mule lovers: That copper mug could be poisoning you.” — The Washington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  2. Use of Copper Mugs in the Serving of Alcoholic Beverages.” — State of Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  3. B. Preethi Sudha, et al. “Storing Drinking-water in Copper pots Kills Contaminating Diarrhoeagenic Bacteria.” — Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition. 2012 Mar; 30(1): 17–21.
  4. Sharan, et al. “Inactivation and injury of Escherichia coli in a copper water storage vessel: effects of temperature and pH.” — Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Jan 2010; 97(1): 91-97.
  5. Copper’s Ancient Role in Ayurveda.” — Rhythm of Healing. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  6. 5 Amazing Health Benefits of Drinking Water out of a Copper Vessel.” — Daily Ayuerveda. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  7. Correct Way To Drink Water From Copper Vessels And Its Health Benefits.” — Wholesome Ayurveda. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  8. Dubuque business owner says Iowa’s copper cup code is a scare tactic — KCRG-TV9
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.