Copper Overview, Health Benefits, Source Food, Deficiency, Side effects

Copper Overview, Health Benefits, Source Food, Deficiency, Side effects

Copper Overview

Copper is a key mineral in many different body systems. It is central to building strong tissue, maintaining blood volume, and producing energy in your cells. Yet, for all its critical importance, you don't have much copper in your body - barely more than the amount found in a single penny. And those pennies in your pocket are only 2.5% copper by weight.

In the foods we commonly eat, there are only very small amounts of copper. As much as any dietary mineral, the amount of copper you eat is directly related to the amounts of minimally processed plant foods you get every day.

Liver is the main store of copper. Minute amount is present in the blood. In normal serum, a copper containing globulin ceruloplasmin has been found to occur. Copper content of the brain and liver of fetus and infants is much greater that that of adult. This high storage is useful to prevent deficiency in the suckling period as found in the case of iron.

Copper acts as a catalyst in the formation of hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying blood component. The highest concentrations in the body tissue are found in the liver and certain areas of the central nervous system, particularly the brain. Copper is stored in the liver and excreted in bile salts.

Copper comes in two forms, copper gluconate and copper sulfate. Copper is a trace element that is found in virtually every cell of the human body. It is a primary element in the production of melanin in the human body. Melanin is responsible for pigmentation in the eyes, hair and skin.

Copper is active in many ways in the human body. It is a powerful antioxidant, which acts on the body to remove free radicals and help prevent cell structure damage. It is also thought to have anticarcinogenic properties, and unlike the copper bracelets sold as an arthritis cure, copper inside the body can help to alleviate some arthritis pain.

In the human body, copper assists the utilization of iron. The copper balance is the body can be upset by extremely high intakes of high fiber diets, iron or vitamin C, all of which interfere with the way the body metabolizes the copper. Prolonged intake of zinc, which is at a ratio greater than ten to one of intake of copper, can also interfere with absorption and metabolism in the body.

Symptoms of Copper Deficiency

Abnormal pigmentation of the skin and hair is a direct result of a deficiency in copper. A deficiency also results in defects in the elastic tissues lining the blood vessels, if this persists, it can gradually lead to the rupturing of the blood vessel, copper deficiency can also induce anemia, it can cause faulty development of the bone and nerves, and can results in a complete loss of the sense of taste in the affected person. Dietary copper deficiency recognized as affecting infants occurs when babies are maintained on a diet consisting solely of cow's milk for several months at a stretch - this is the only recognized dietary factor related copper deficiency affecting children. The cause of the deficiency is that the mineral copper is not found in significant amounts in cow's milk. Infantile copper deficiency is also induced by an incidence of chronic diarrhea in the child. This deficiency of copper can induce severe anemia in addition to osteoporosis and other forms of bone irregularities in these affected infants.

The malabsorption or the effects of extensive bowel surgery are the usual causative factors for the development of copper deficiency in the body of adults. Copper is also related to an inherited disease, often called Menke's kinky hair syndrome - that affects the normal absorption of copper. This disorder affects infants and results in the slowing down of the growth and development of the hair, the hair is hard, twisted and kinky. The child may also suffer from convulsions, from different types of skeletal deformities, from arterial degeneration and some form of progressive deterioration of the brain and central nervous system.

A deficiency of copper is rare. Menke's syndrome affected children are not able to absorb copper normally this can result in the child becoming very severely deficient in the mineral, unless he or she is treated for the deficiency early in life. People taking a lot of supplemental zinc can also be affected by a deficiency of copper particularly if they supplement with zinc without a corresponding increase in the intake of copper. Copper absorption rates are affected by the presence of zinc in the body - when zinc is present in the body in very high amounts, it could interfere with the normal absorption of copper. A zinc induced deficiency of copper can also have severe consequences for the health of the person affected by the deficiency. There are reports that metabolism of copper can be mildly impaired if supplementation using vitamin C is taking place in the absence of supplementation using copper supplements. Anemia can be induced by a copper deficiency; this can cause a drop in the levels of HDL cholesterol - the so called "good" cholesterol, and lead to several other types of health disorders and complications for the person.

A deficiency of copper can have the following symptoms in human beings:

  • Anemia
  • Low body temperature
  • Brittle bones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dilated veins
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Uneven heartbeat
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Low resistance to infections
  • Birth defects
  • Low skin pigmentation
  • Thyroid disorders

Some of the other symptoms include lethargy, paleness, sores, edema, stunted growth, hair loss, anorexia, diarrhea, bleeding under the skin and dermatitis. In infant boys, inherited copper deficiency of the rare Menkes’ syndrome can happen, where natural absorption of copper becomes impossible. Early medical intervention is essential in such cases.

Do We Get Enough Copper?

Until recently, it was generally believed that most people consumed adequate quantities of copper. However, modern research has shown that this is not the case. In the United Kingdom and the United States for example, many typical meals have been analyzed for their metals content. According to recent surveys, only 25% of the US population consume the amount of copper a day estimated to be adequate by the US Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences. Typical diets in the US provide only about half of this amount and some diets in mainly industrialized countries contain less than 40% of the recommended dietary allowance. In the United Kingdom, it is now recommended that the daily intake should range from 0.4mg/day for 1-3 year old children to 1.2mg/day for adults. In addition, more recent studies are suggesting that there are serious doubts concerning the adequacy of diets containing less than lmg copper/day for adults.

Health benefits of Copper

The essential trace mineral copper forms a vital component of several enzyme systems in the human body. These enzymes are active in biochemical processes such as cellular energy generation, the formation of links in collagen molecules, and in the formation and synthesis of melanin - skin pigment, and elastin - a skin protein. Copper is also used as an important structural element in the formation of the myelin sheath, which covers the nerve fibers and aids in the rapid transmission of nerve impulses. Many important oxidation reduction reactions in the body are catalyzed by copper; these include the formation of water from the free hydrogen and oxygen present in the cells. The catalytic action of copper reduces the impact of this reaction; this biochemical reaction could be very explosive if the copper were not present. The sense of taste generated in the human tongue is also influenced by the presence of copper. Copper must also be available in sufficient quantities in the body to allow for the full utilization of iron, the absorption of the mineral iron into the body is also stimulated by copper.

Copper has many important roles to play in maintaining a healthy body and some of its benefits include:

Health benefits of Copper for Arthritis

Approximately 50 percent of the body’s total copper content is found in the bones and muscles. Copper is a common treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis—because it helps promote healthy collagen in the body, copper may relieve aching joints and minimize loss in mineral bone density. An old folk remedy for arthritis calls for wearing a copper bracelet to reduce pain and inflammation. The theory behind this remedy is that copper from this bracelet is thus absorbed through the skin. The modern approach is to take copper supplements, thus ensuring ingestion of consistent amounts. Copper is also part of the compounds ceruloplasmin and SOD, antioxidants that may help reduce arthritis symptoms. 

Health benefits of Copper for fighting cardiovascular disease

Copper helps the body fight cardiovascular disease. It promotes low cholesterol levels, and discourages the development of atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysms by keeping collagen and elastin fibers healthy. Heart rhythm disorders (arrhythmias) and high blood pressure have been linked to an absence of copper in the diet. Copper also helps supply the heart with healthy, oxygenated blood. It works together with iron in the respiration and synthesis of hemoglobin. In fact, copper is believed to be necessary for proper storage, use, and release of the iron needed to produce hemoglobin in red blood cells. For this reason, copper is sometimes used to treat anemia

Health benefits of Copper for Proper growth

Copper is highly essential for normal growth and health. Thus, it is definitely important to include this mineral in balanced form in regular diets of an individual. It is helpful in protection of skeletal, nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Health benefits of Copper for Pigmentation to hair and eyes

Copper plays a key role in the development and maintenance of healthy skin and hair. The body needs copper to produce the skin pigment melanin, which colors the skin, hair, and eyes. When hair turns gray due to copper deficiency, taking copper supplements may reverse the process. Melanin can be produced by melanocytes only in the presence of the cuproenzyme called tyrosinase. Intake of copper supplements helps in protecting the graying hair.

Health benefits of Copper for Connective tissues

Copper is an important nutrient that has a significant role in the synthesis of hemoglobin, myelin, body pigment melanin and collagen. It helps to protect the myelin sheath surrounding the nerves. It is also actively involved in the production of an element of connective tissue, elastin.

Health benefits of Copper for Brain Stimulation

Copper is widely known as a brain stimulant. It is also otherwise called “Brain food”. However, copper content in the diet has to be in right proportions. Too much of copper is also not healthy for the brain. Copper has a control function to play for the brain and hence the extent of copper supplement intake has to be balanced.

Health benefits of Copper for Utilization of iron and sugar

Copper helps in the absorption of iron from the intestinal tract and release from its primary storage sites like liver. It also helps in the utilization of sugar in the body.

Health benefits of Copper for Enzymatic reactions

Copper is either an element or a cofactor of as many as 50 different enzymes that take part in various biological reactions within the body. These enzymes can function properly only in the presence of copper.

Health benefits of Copper for Helps in stalling ageing

Copper is a strong antioxidant, which works in the presence of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase, to safeguard the cell membranes from free radicals.

Health benefits of Copper for Increases energy production

Copper is essential for the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate, which is an energy storehouse of the human body. The cuproenzyme, cytochrome c oxidase, affects the intracellular energy production. It acts as a catalyst in the reduction of molecular oxygen to water, during which the enzyme produces an electrical gradient used by the mitochondria to synthesize the vital energy-storing molecule, ATP.

Health benefits of Copper for Bactericidal properties

Studies have shown that copper can destroy or inhibit the growth of bacterial strains such as E Coli.

Health benefits of Copper for Thyroid glands

Copper has an important role in ensuring the proper functioning of thyroid glands.

Health benefits of Copper for RBC formation

Copper helps in the production of red blood cells hemoglobin and bone.

Health benefits of Copper for Immunity

Copper has an important role in the healing process and thus, ensures better wound healing. Copper acts as an extremely good immunity builder. It also works as a cure to anemic problems.

Health benefits of Copper for reduction cholesterol

Research studies have shown that copper can reduce bad cholesterol level and helps in increasing beneficial cholesterol.

Good food sources of Copper

Since the body does not produce copper, the mineral has to be obtained from food or supplements. Fortunately, these are foods that most people commonly eat, unless they are on a special diet or experiencing starvation.

With the single exception of shrimp, all of the very good or excellent sources of copper among the World's Healthiest Foods are plant foods. These best copper sources are varied, however, and come from many different food groups.

Oysters are the single best dietary source for the mineral copper. Meats and poultry as well as cereals, potatoes and other vegetables also contain copper in significant amounts.

Top sources of copper are also sesame seeds, cashews, and soybeans. Any of these three foods will bring at least three-quarters of your daily copper requirement. Shiitake and crimini mushrooms are also excellent copper sources and will provide 40 to 75% of your daily need.

Many of the excellent food sources of copper are leafy greens, including turnip greens, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and mustard greens. Asparagus and summer squash are two other excellent vegetable sources of copper.

The good and very good sources of copper include many legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. For example, flax seeds, walnuts, and garbanzo beans are rated as very good sources of copper.

These foods are common to those who eat a carnivorous, omnivorous or vegetarian diet. However, if for one reason or another, a person does not eat any of these foods, then they are at risk for copper deficiency.

Copper Supplementation

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Administration (FAA) are likely to suggest that the population mean intake of copper should not exceed 12mg/day for adult males and 10mg/day for adult females. These are regarded as the lowest intakes likely to produce the slightest biochemical evidence of undesirable effects in all but a small number of members of a population. Sufferers from Indian childhood cirrhosis or hereditary diseases such as Wilson’s Disease retain excessive amounts of copper in the body and suffer from liver damage, often with fatal consequences. The symptoms of acute copper poisoning include nausea, vomiting and abdominal and muscle pain. Excess body copper can be removed by means of specific chelating agents or by the consumption of high levels of zinc.

When there is a copper deficiency, a person may have to take supplements to restore copper levels in the body. When the deficiency is low, physicians recommend 0.1 mg/kg per day of cupric sulfate. When deficiency is severe a health care provider may supplement copper intravenously. In cases of osteoporosis, 2.5 mg of copper should be taken with 100 mg of calcium, 5 mg of manganese, and 15 mg of zinc.

Risk of Dietary Toxicity

Most U.S. adults struggle to achieve the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for copper intake, so the risk of dietary toxicity from copper is really only seen in a person with one of two issues.

The first issue would be a genetic condition that impairs the ability to clear copper from the body, leading to a buildup to toxic levels. The most likely reason for this is a condition called Wilson's disease, an inherited genetic mutation. Wilson's disease is both rare (as few as one case per 100,000 people) and very severe. People with this condition—and other similar genetic mutations that affect copper metabolism—are usually diagnosed by the time they reach adulthood.

A more common reason to see risk of copper toxicity is due to excessive exposure from the water supply. This is not generally caused by excessive amounts in city water supplies—these are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—but by leaching from old copper pipes and fittings.

The amount of copper that is leached into water from old pipes can be significant, but it varies widely. If you have concern about the amount of copper in your tap water, you can take some simple steps to help reduce the exposure risk. First, the amount of leaching is directly related to the amount of time the water spends in the copper pipe. Use the first gallon or so of water in the morning for non-cooking tasks (for example, cleaning or watering plants). In fact, anytime you are getting drinking water from your tap, you can let the water run until you feel it get noticeably colder. Second, hot water will leach more copper than cold water, so if you want hot water for a beverage, you can use cold water and then heat it up rather than getting hot water out of your tap. Finally, you could install a water filter to remove much of the copper. Both activated charcoal and reverse osmosis filters should remove significant amounts of copper from your water. However, before taking any of these steps, make sure that toxicity risk is a greater risk for you than deficiency risk! You don't want to be lowering the amount of copper in your drinking water if you actually need more copper than you are getting from your food.

Copper Side effects and cautions

The real bio-chemical basis under which excess copper induces problems in the body is still not fully understood. At any rate, the use of supplemental copper if taken in combination with zinc can be taken safely at doses of up to 3 mg daily per person. Supplementation for people who drink tap water out of new copper pipes must be started only after consultations with a nutritionally oriented doctor - this is due to the fact that, these people might already be receiving sufficient, even excess, copper from the water running through new copper pipes. Copper supplements must never be consumed by individuals affected by Wilson's disease.

Copper is possible unsafe when taken by mouth in large amounts. Adults should consume no more than 10 mg of copper per day. Kidney failure and death can occur with as little as 1 gram of copper sulfate. Symptoms of copper overdose include nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, low blood pressure, anemia, and heart problems.

The rate of absorption of copper into the body can often suffer due to interference from the abundant zinc present in the body. Copper supplements must also be taken by all individuals already using zinc supplements for more than a few weeks - unless they are affected by Wilson's disease, in which case they must not use copper supplements at all. Vitamin C can also interfere with the metabolism of copper in the body in the absence of copper supplementation. The absorption rate and utilization of iron in the body is also improved by copper.

People receiving hemodialysis for kidney disease seem to be at risk for copper deficiency. You might need copper supplements if you are undergoing hemodialysis. Check with your healthcare provider.