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What is copper?

Although it brings to mind Abraham Lincoln’s profile on the United States penny, copper is a very important mineral in many basic human functions. For instance, copper is needed to make collagen and it is a component of a powerful antioxidant enzyme.


What foods contain copper?

The richest sources of copper include organ meats, shellfish, nuts, seeds, legumes, dried fruits, and certain vegetables such as spinach, peas, and potato varieties (see Table 10.10). Similar to the efficiency of absorption of several other minerals, copper absorption is also sensitive to the presence of other substances in the digestive tract. For instance, researchers have shown that substances such as vitamin C, fiber, and bile in excessive amounts can decrease the efficiency of copper absorption. Furthermore, increased consumption of zinc can decrease copper absorption, as mentioned previously.

What are current recommendations for copper intake?

The RDA for copper is the same for adult men and women at 900 µg daily. However during pregnancy and lactation the RDA increases to 1000 µg and 1300 µg daily. However, diet intake surveys have reported that the American population may not be meeting these recommendations.


What does copper do in the body?

Although a little bit of copper may be absorbed across the wall of the stomach, by and large most of the absorption takes place in the small intestine. From there copper is found in most tissue playing a role as an essential component of many enzymes with various roles throughout the body. These enzymes are involved in:

  • Iron metabolism - As part of the enzyme copper in iron is responsible for making sure iron is in the appropriate state to hop aboard its primary transport protein (transferring) in the blood. Without copper, iron is not efficiently transported to bones, which make RBCs.

  • Antioxidant protection – Copper is the key mineral in the enzyme superoxide dismutase which is a key antioxidant enzyme found inside and outside cells.

  • Energy production – As part of cytochrome c oxidase, a key component of the electron transport chain, iron is vital for aerobic energy generation.

  • Epinephrine/Norepinephrine production- Copper is part of the dopamine -hydrogenase enzyme which is involved in the formation of epinephrine (adrenalin) and norepinephrine. These substances are called catecolamines and are involved in many of the activities during exercise and exciting situations

  • Collagen production – Collagen is a connective tissue protein and is vital to bone, joints and tissue in general. Copper is a vital component of the enzyme lysyl oxidase which helps form bone.


What happens if we get too little copper?

Because of copper’s fundamental role in iron metabolism, copper deficiency can result in anemia. Scientists have also reported alterations in heart muscle tissue and function in animals fed diets low in copper. However, whether the same can be said for humans is not clear. Copper deficiency can alter white blood cell numbers in the blood as well as reduce immune functions.


What happens if we get too much copper?

Long-term use of high level copper supplements may induce toxicity wherein the function of the liver, kidneys, and brain may become compromised. In an extreme case, Wilson’s disease is a rare genetic form of copper toxicity induced by increased copper storage.



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