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Copper. Essential to zinc, iron and Vitamin C function. Many hormonal effects

Copper, in its many forms, is the third most common mineral in the body. In addition to being important for many enzyme systems, copper is found throughout the musculo-skeletal system, although the largest amounts are found in the brain and liver.

Copper, through its involvement in the formation of several key enzymes is not only involved in the release of energy inside the cell, but also contributes to the function of very many antioxidants, assisting the the "mopping up" of the free radicals that cause cell damage.

The formation and regulation of hormones such as melatonin is under the control of copper, via its role in the blood protein ceruloplasmin and copper enzymes are also responsible for the production of a wide range of neurotransmitters and other neuroactive compounds, including the catecholamines and encephalins.

Collagen production (see cholesterol), formation of red blood cells and the oxidation of fatty acids are all highly dependent on copper concentration.

Thankfully, copper deficiency per se is rare. However, due to the intricate interaction with zinc (copper and zinc compete for the same absorption sites in the gut), high zinc levels can prevent proper absorption.

Functions of Copper in the body

  • Required for collagen production
  • Helps absorption of iron
  • Involved in regulation of cholesterol levels
  • Significant immune system effects, including histamine regulation
  • Required for red cell production
  • Required for manufacture of neuroactive chemicals like noradrenaline, encephalins
  • Important component of cytochrome oxidase - controls intracellular energy production
  • Essential for melanin production
  • Helps control numerous hormone levels
  • Protects against free radical damage as a component of superoxide dismutase
  • Required in order to produce hormones released by the adrenal glands
  • May help inflammatory diseases such as arthritis
  • Needed for Vitamin C to be effective

Copper deficiency

As suggested, copper deficiency per se is not common, but does occur. Symptoms largely reflect the systems which utilise copper and include collagen deficiency (poor bone and joint function as well as vascular disease). The involvement of copper in numerous hormonal systems means that those system can be severely affected. This may lead to brain dysfunction and somewhat altered levels of red blood cells and cholesterol.

Symptoms of Copper deficiency

Immune system dysfunction
Vascular disease (hemorrhage in severe cases, see cholesterol)
Brittle bones (in children)
Oedema (swelling)
High cholesterol levels (see cholesterol)
Poorly pigmented skin

Association with other minerals and vitamins

Copper is intimately involved with a number of other vitamins and minerals. As already suggested, copper and zinc levels are very closely interrelated. If an excess of one is found in the diet, the other will likely be deficient. Luckily, most foods that are high in copper are also high in zinc, but those taking high dose zinc supplements may experience problems if they do not also supplement copper (not to be done at the same time of day)

Copper is required for the proper function of Vitamin C and also for iron absorption, so lack of copper may cause iron deficiencies. Conversely, high doses of Vitamin C, due to the amount of copper it requires to be effective, may lead to copper depletion.

Factors which reduce Copper levels

Use of high dose zinc supplements
High Vitamin C intake
Parenteral (intravenous) feeding
Chronic diarrhoea
Crohn's disease
Coeliac disease
High use of antacids
Kidney disease

Normal amounts of Copper in the diet

Age mg/day
Children (0-3 years) 0.3 - 0.4
Children (4-6 years) 0.6
Children (7-14 years) 0.7 - 0.8
15yrs+ (inc adults) 1.0 - 1.2
Lactation 1.5

Sources of dietary Copper

Source mg/100g Source mg/100g
Oysters 7.6 Tuna 0.6
Whelks 7.2 Dried figs 0.6
Lamb liver 6.0 Sunflower oil 0.5
Crab 4.8 Butter / Rye grain / Barley /Prunes / cooked mushrooms 0.4
brewer's yeast 3.3 Olive oil 0.4
Brazil nuts 3.2 Carrots 0.4
Dry roasted cashews 2.2 Coconut 0.3
Olives 1.6 Garlic 0.3
Hazelnuts/ Almonds 1.4 Wholewheat bread 0.3
Walnuts / Pecans 1.3 Peas / Millet 0.2
Shrimps 0.8 Corn oil / ginger 0.2
Buckwheat 0.8 Molasses 0.2
Peanuts 0.8 Turnip 0.2
Chocolate (semisweet) 0.7 Papaya 0.1
Cod 0.6 Apple 0.1

Copper supplements

Many people wear copper bands to help them with inflammatory disease, such as arthritis. In this case, the copper is absorbed through the skin. In fact, much of our "dietary" copper actually comes from copper pipes, utensils and cookware.

Copper supplements, although not normally required are available. When in multimineral formulas, they are usually balanced with zinc and iron to ensure optimal absorption, however, individual copper supplements can cause problems and should only be taken under clinical supervision.

Problems associated with copper toxicity.

Muscular pain

Back from Copper to minerals

Related Links

Essential fatty acids
Plant extracts
Trace elements

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