Copper is an essential trace element required for various functions in human physiology. It plays a vital role in various biochemical processes in the body, including the production of red blood cells, the maintenance of connective tissues, and the metabolism of iron. Copper also functions as an antioxidant, which helps to protect cells from damage and oxidation caused by free radicals.
Copper is not often talked about as much as other minerals such as Zinc, Magnesium, Iron, Selenium and Iodine. However, it is just as essential as any other mineral as its deficiency can lead to multiple serious conditions.
Functions of Copper:
Copper is involved in several vital functions of the body.
- Iron Metabolism: Copper plays a crucial role in the metabolism of iron by helping in the absorption, transport, and storage of iron in the body.
- Connective Tissue Formation: Copper is involved in the formation of connective tissues such as collagen and elastin, which are essential for the strength and elasticity of the skin, bones, and other tissues.
- Brain Function: Copper is required for the normal functioning of the brain by playing a vital role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.
- Immune Function: Copper is necessary for the normal functioning of the immune system by assisting in the formation of white blood cells, which are vital to fighting against infections.
Symptoms of Copper Deficiency:
Copper deficiency is rare, but it can lead to various health problems.
The symptoms of copper deficiency include:
- Anemia: Copper is necessary for the production of red blood cells. A deficiency can lead to anemia, which can cause fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath.
- Osteoporosis: Copper is involved in the formation of bones. A deficiency can lead to weak bones, increasing the risk of fractures.
- Cardiovascular Disease: Copper deficiency can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by causing an abnormal lipid profile and promoting oxidative stress.
- Neurological Problems: Copper is involved in the normal functioning of the brain. A deficiency can lead to neurological problems such as numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, difficulty walking, and vision problems.
Beef liver – 1 slice (81g) contains 12.3mg of copper, providing 1367% of the RDI for copper
Cashews – 1 ounce (28g) contains 0.6mg of copper, providing 67% of the RDI for copper
Sunflower seeds – 1 ounce (28g) contains 0.5mg of copper, providing 56% of the RDI for copper
Sesame seeds – 1 tablespoon (9g) contains 0.1mg of copper, providing 11% of the RDI for copper
Lentils – 1 cup (198g) contains 0.5mg of copper, providing 56% of the RDI for copper
Dark chocolate – 1 ounce (28g) contains 0.2mg of copper, providing 22% of the RDI for copper
Chickpeas – 1 cup (164g) contains 0.4mg of copper, providing 44% of the RDI for copper
Mushrooms – 1 cup (70g) contains 0.3mg of copper, providing 33% of the RDI for copper
Spinach – 1 cup (180g) contains 0.2mg of copper, providing 22% of the RDI for copper
Quinoa – 1 cup (185g) contains 0.4mg of copper, providing 44% of the RDI for copper
Connection Between Copper and Zinc:
Copper and zinc are essential trace elements required for the normal functioning of the body, however, they compete for absorption in the intestines. A diet high in zinc can lead to a copper deficiency, and a diet high in copper can lead to a zinc deficiency. The balance between copper and zinc is crucial for the normal functioning of the body. They have a close relationship, and an imbalance in their levels can lead to health problems.
Therefore, when supplementing or increasing copper intake, one must also focus on zinc and vice-versa. There are supplements that include both as well as foods such as dark chocolate and beef liver.
Copper Toxicity & Wilson’s Disease
Copper toxicity and Wilson’s disease are two conditions that are associated with excess copper levels in the body. While copper is certainly an essential mineral, excessive amounts in the body can lead to health problems.
Copper toxicity occurs when there is an excessive amount of copper in the body. This can happen due to excessive intake of copper supplements or from exposure to copper in the environment, such as from drinking water that has been contaminated with copper. Symptoms of copper toxicity include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and dizziness. In severe cases, it can lead to liver failure and even death.
Wilson’s disease is a genetic disorder that causes an accumulation of copper in the body. The disease is caused by a mutation in the ATP7B gene, which is responsible for regulating copper metabolism. When this gene is not functioning correctly, excess copper builds up in the liver and other organs. Symptoms of Wilson’s disease include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, and neurological problems. If left untreated, the disease can lead to liver failure and significant neurological damage.
Treatment for copper toxicity as well as Wilson’s disease involves removing the excessive copper in the body via chelation therapy, which involves the use of medications that bind to copper and remove it from the body. In some cases, a liver transplant may be necessary for patients with advanced liver damage.
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by Dr. Nishal R.
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