Copper

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Sometimes in life, it is the little things that make all the difference. It could be one point that separates a losing team from a winning team. On the racetrack, a mere fraction of a second can make all the difference. In nutrition the same is true. It is all about the details. There is a trend these days towards a healthier lifestyle, and rightfully so. Poor eating habits are a factor in an unhealthy lifestyle. An unhealthy lifestyle can cause a whole host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease just to name a few.

Individuals are becoming more conscious of the foods they eat. There is a movement towards opting for fresh instead of processed foods and organically raised foods as opposed to traditional. Now, more than ever before consumers are checking the labels on the food they buy. Instead of just opting for fillers, they are looking for nutrient-dense foods with value.

Macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) are the most well-understood nutrients for most people. Even though macronutrients are needed in the largest amounts, there is much more to a well-balanced diet than these three nutrients. The opposite of macronutrients is micronutrients. These nutrients are needed in small or trace amounts by the body. This group of nutrients is made up of vitamins and minerals. Don't let this fool you. Even though they are only needed in small amounts, they are essential to not only a balanced diet, but to your health. Copper is one such essential mineral which is needed in trace amounts by the body.

What Is Copper?

Copper is a trace metallic mineral that is present in very small amounts in the human body. However, this nutrient is present in every tissue in the body as well as bone. There are two forms of copper in the body. The first is called cuprous and the second cupric. Cupric is the most common form of copper found in the body. The body is able to transition between the two types of copper based on the body's needs at the time. Copper is important in several processes including the formation of red blood cells.1 It works in conjunction with iron in the body to not only make red blood cells but to help with iron absorption in the body.

Copper is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions. These include:

  • Increase levels of neutrophils
  • Decrease risk of osteoporosis
  • Form cross-links in collagen and elastin

Let us take a closer look the numerous benefits offered by adequate levels of copper.

Benefits of Copper

As mentioned earlier, copper works closely with iron to create red blood cells, which are essential to human life in general. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. They also carry carbon dioxide to the lungs, where you can then exhale it out of the body.

Recommended levels of copper in the body can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Individuals with low copper levels, tend to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.2 Adequate copper levels help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check, which can reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke.

Leukocytes or white blood cells are important in the body for fighting off infection. Those with adequate levels of copper in their system have higher levels of white blood cells.3 This means they are less likely to develop neutropenia, which is a decreased level of white blood cells, making them susceptible to infections.

Adequate amounts of copper in the body leads to a higher bone density, which decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis.4 Osteoporosis is the condition of fragile bones susceptible to break and fractures. This disease affects elderly men and women alike. Studies4 have shown that copper is essential in the production of bone constituents.

Collagen and elastin play a major role in the human body. These components make up the connective tissues in the body, including the heart. Sufficient levels of copper in the body allow for damaged collagen to be replaced.5

Daily Recommended Allowance Of Copper

Although copper is a trace mineral, it is still needed by the body for carrying out essential life processes. Your body is not able to produce copper, so it must be consumed through the diet.

MedlinePlus recommends the following for daily copper requirements:

  • 0-6 months require 200 mcg per day
  • 7-12 months require 220 mcg per day
  • 1-3 years require 340 mcg per day
  • 4-8 years require 440 mcg per day
  • 9-13 years require 700 mcg per day
  • 14-18 years require 890 mcg per day
  • 19 years and older require 900 mcg per day

As a rule, women who are pregnant and breastfeeding have a higher daily requirement when it comes to most nutrients. After all, they are eating for two. Copper is no exception when it comes to this rule. Women who are pregnant need 1,000 mcg per day and those who are breastfeeding need 1,300 mcg per day in order to keep up with both their needs and the needs of their child.

How to Use Copper?

Since copper is needed in trace amounts by the body it is relatively easy to consume the daily recommended amount. In most cases, the needed amounts can be consumed through a balanced diet. For those who have trouble consuming enough copper due to medical conditions or dietary restrictions, copper supplements are available. It is always advisable to consult your healthcare provider if you are unsure whether or not you're consuming adequate amounts of copper.

It is possible to consume too much copper, which can lead to copper poisoning.  This is pretty easy to avoid and normally occurs through unknowingly using a drinking source which contains copper nitrate or copper sulfate. Those with acute copper poisoning typically vomit. This is the body's way of getting rid of correcting the toxicity.

Chronic toxicity is normally indicative of Wilson's disease. Those who have Wilson's disease, have a build up of copper. This build-up is present in organs, tissues, bone, liver and brain. This is a rare inherited disease, but can still happen.

Symptoms of Copper Deficiency

Anemia is one of the most common signs of a copper deficiency. Anemia is also a symptom of an iron deficiency. The similarities make it difficult to differentiate between the two. Anemia that does not respond to iron treatments but does to copper treatments is the result of a copper deficiency. Typically it is trial and error.

Other symptoms include fatigue, tremors, jaundice and abdominal pain. If your healthcare provider suspects a copper deficiency, he or she may order a total copper blood test. If the results from the blood test or abnormal or ambiguous, a urine test may be ordered. The urine test will measure copper elimination in the individual.

The most common form of treatment is a copper supplement to restore levels to normal. In some cases, if the deficiency is due to an excess of zinc, you may need to simply decrease the amount of zinc in your diet. Your medical doctor will prescribe the best course of treatment based on your specific case.

Who Is At Risk Of a Copper  Deficiency?

It is important to note that copper deficiencies are very uncommon in the United States due to the availability of good nutrition. With that being said, there are certain groups who are at a higher risk of developing a copper deficiency than the normal population.

Infants

Infants are one group which are at an inherent risk for a copper deficiency. This includes premature infants, those with diarrhea, and those who are recovering from malnutrition. It is also important that infants are fed either breastmilk or infant formula. Cows milk is not a proper substitute because it does not contain all of the nutrients needed by infants, including copper. Infants fed only cows milk are at a higher risk for developing a copper deficiency.

Malabsorption Syndromes

Malabsorption syndromes are a group of diseases that cause a decrease in the ability to absorb nutrients from food. Celiac disease and short bowel syndrome are two malabsorption diseases which can cause a deficiency in copper. These individuals are unable to efficiently absorb and use the copper consumed through their diet. For this reason, they may need higher than recommended amounts of copper to make up for poor absorption rates.

Menkes Disease

Menkes disease is a rare recessive disorder caused by a mutation in genes. This disorder leads to a copper deficiency. Symptoms include seizures, abnormal hair, stunted physical and mental growth, and weak muscles. The disease causes the nervous system to deteriorate at a progressive rate. Individuals are typically diagnosed during infancy or early childhood. Although the prognosis for this disease is not great, copper can help ease the symptoms and prolong life.

Excessive Levels of Zinc

Studies have shown that excessive levels of zinc interfere with the body's ability to absorb and use copper. This is because zinc and copper bind to the same ligands and are therefore in competition with each other. This can lead to a copper deficiency. This is a case in which a decrease in zinc can help correct the levels of copper.

Parenteral Nutrition

Parenteral nutrition is when individuals receive nutrition intravenously.6 These individuals who receive parenteral nutrition for long periods of time are at risk for a copper deficiency. Copper supplements must be administered in order to prevent a deficiency.7

Food That Contains Copper

The body needs copper in trace amounts. The good news is that it is possible to consume the needed amounts of copper through a balanced diet. There are a variety of foods which are deemed good sources of copper. These include fruits and meats. Let's take a look at foods that contain copper. 

Fruits

  • Prunes
  • Avocados,
  • Grapes,
  • Kiwi,
  • Guava,
  • Mangoes,
  • Pineapple,
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries

Meats

  • Oysters
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney)
  • Fish
  • Beef

Start Your Journey to a Healthier You!

A new year means a fresh start. Have you been thinking about making changes in your life to become healthier this year? Maybe you have already started an exercise regimen to work off all of the fun food from the past few months. Exercise is important in weight loss, weight maintenance and cardiovascular health just to name a few. As useful as exercise is, pairing it with good nutrition will help you reach your goals faster.

It is true that exercise releases endorphins which give you energy and make you feel better overall, a healthy diet will also make you feel better. Have you ever eaten fast food two or three days in a row? Chances are, afterward you felt sluggish, bloated and weighed down. Now think about a time you ate healthy for multiple days in a row? There's a good chance you felt better physically and emotionally. A nutritionally balanced diet is good for the body and soul.

Taking a little time to analyze and fine-tune your current diet can make a huge difference in your physical health. In turn, this will lead to more outward confidence in your daily life. Improved confidence improves your relationships and quite possibly your performance at work.  Focusing on your macronutrients is very important, but do not forget about your trace minerals such as copper. Though they may be little, their role is very large. Let the journey to a new and improved you, start right here!

Citations and Sources

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Olivares M, Uauy R. Copper as an essential nutrient. Am J Clin Nutr. 1996;63(5):791S-6S. [PubMed]
2.
Klevay L. Cardiovascular disease from copper deficiency--a history. J Nutr. 2000;130(2S Suppl):489S-492S. [PubMed]
3.
Percival S. Copper and immunity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(5 Suppl):1064S-1068S. [PubMed]
4.
Lowe N, Lowe N, Fraser W, Jackson M. Is there a potential therapeutic value of copper and zinc for osteoporosis? Proc Nutr Soc. 2002;61(2):181-185. [PubMed]
5.
Harris E, Rayton J, Balthrop J, DiSilvestro R, Garcia-de-Quevedo M. Copper and the synthesis of elastin and collagen. Ciba Found Symp. 1980;79:163-182. [PubMed]
6.
Wazir S, Ghobrial I. Copper deficiency, a new triad: anemia, leucopenia, and myeloneuropathy. J Community Hosp Intern Med Perspect. 2017;7(4):265-268. [PMC]
7.
Shike M. Copper in parenteral nutrition. Gastroenterology. 2009;137(5 Suppl):S13-7. [PubMed]