Copper (Cu) is a trace element that is essential for most animals, including humans. The influence of copper upon human health is due to the fact it is part of enzymes, which are proteins that help biochemical reactions occur in every cell. Copper is involved in the absorption, storage and metabolism of iron. The symptoms of a copper deficiency are similar to iron deficiency anemia. Copper may be absorbed by both the stomach and small intestinal mucosa, with most absorbed by the small intestine. Copper is found in the blood bound to proteins.
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Copper is utilized by most cells as a component of enzymes involved in energy production (cytochrome oxidase) and in the protection of cells from free radical damage (superoxide dismutase). Copper is also involved with an enzyme that strengthens connective tissue (lysyl oxidase) and in brain neurotransmitters (dopamine hydroxylase and peptidyl alpha amidating monoxygenase). One of the proteins, ceruloplasmin, transports copper as well as helps convert iron to a form that can be transported to other tissues. The average level of copper stored in the body is from 50 to 120 mg, with most of this in the liver. Excess dietary copper can also lead to high copper levels in the kidney. However, under normal situations, not much copper is excreted via the urine. Most copper is excreted via bile that is released into the gastrointestinal tract, with minimal copper reabsorbed by intestinal cells. The uptake of copper and elimination through the bile allows copper to be conserved and tightly regulated.
Importance and deficiencies
Copper is an essential trace mineral in human nutrition. Deficiency states can be accompanied by Anemia, decreased white blood cell count, and osteoporosis. Symptoms may also include abnormal glucose tolerance, arthritis, myocardial disease, arterial disease, and neurologic problems. Some people who were deficient in copper have found relief from the above symptoms after their intake was adjusted. The evidence appears strongest in regards to cardiovascular disease and immunity. Copper deficiency has also been shown to increase the vulnerability to infections, and their severity. We also now know that copper is required for normal infant development, red and white blood cell maturation, iron transport, bone strength and cholesterol metabolism.
Copper deficiency has been observed in premature infants and infants suffering from malnutrition. Overt symptoms in adults are rare, but may occur with long term shortage or, possibly, in those who consume zinc supplements for a period of time.
The estimated safe and adequate intake for copper is 1.5 – 3.0 mg/day. Many survey studies show that Americans consume about 1.0 mg or less of copper per day. Copper is found in foods such as nuts [0.2 to 0.5 mg/28 g (1 Tbsp.)], shellfish (1.0 to 3.7 mg/serving), organ meats (3.8 mg/serving of beef liver) and legumes (0.2 mg/serving). Grains, grain products and chocolate have appreciable levels of copper. While these food items are good to excellent sources of copper, the absolute amount of copper absorbed may be influenced by other dietary components.
Copper absorption may be decreased by excess dietary iron or zinc. Conversely, too much copper may cause an iron deficiency. Vitamin C supplementation results in decreased copper status. In rats, large doses of vitamin C can lead to copper deficiency. Other dietary components have an influence upon copper status, but not necessarily absorption. Feeding rats either sucrose or fructose, as opposed to glucose or cornstarch, decreases copper status and exacerbates the signs of copper deficiency.
Cases of copper toxicity are rare but may occur. Excess copper consumption may lead to liver damage. Intake of supplements exceeding 3 mg copper/day for a protracted period of time may be cause for concern. Doses of 10 mg/day over several weeks may lead to toxic symptoms, such as weakness and nausea.
Genetic Conditions relating to copper
There are two well known genetic diseases affecting copper metabolism. Menkes’ kinky-hair disease is a problem with copper transport or absorption. Wilson’s disease is characterized by increased liver copper content, leading to severe hepatic damage, followed by increased brain copper levels and neurological problems. Menkes’ disease results in pathology resembling copper-deficiency, as opposed to the pathology of Wilson’s disease, which resembles copper-toxicity. The Menkes’ gene codes for a P-type ATPase that has a mutation that prevents copper absorption in the intestine.
- Helps oxidize glucose and release energy.
- Helps the body absorb iron.
- Aids the thyroid gland in balancing and secreting hormones.
- Carries oxygen in the blood stream.
- Supplies the body’s tissues with oxygen
- Increases the body’s energy levels.
- Aids in nerve and brain function
- Needed for the functioning of the amino acid, tyrosine.
- Essential for making red blood cells.
- Helps the body absorb iron.
- Helps tyrosine work as a pigment factor
- Helps supply oxygen to the brain.
- Enzyme component
- Necessary for the synthesis of the hormone adrenaline.
- Associated with intestinal enzyme activity.
- Acts as a brain stimulant
- Copper antagonizes manganese ions.
- Copper level in the body parallels estrogen levels.
- Copper is a natural yeast fighter
- Copper improves epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine.
- helps oxidize Vitamin C and works with Vitamin C to form Elastin, a chief component of the Elastin muscle fibers throughout the body; aids in the formation of red blood cells
Physical Symptoms of Low Copper:
- Not enough oxygen in the cells
- Lowered levels of HDL cholesterol
- Skin problems
- Swollen ankles
- Low copper causes the cells to suffocate and lack oxygen
- Low copper levels linked to low enkephalins produced in the brain.
Psychological Symptoms of Low Copper:
- Auditory hallucinations
- Binge eaters have been found to have lower levels.
Causes of Low Copper:
- Refining white flour
- Alkaline medium inhibits copper.
- Copper deficiency occurs as a result of the administration of total parenteral nutrition ( Nutritional intravenous feeding).
- Excess accumulates in liver, kidneys and brain.
- Phytates hinder absorption
- High levels of zinc, iron, calcium and manganese interfere with copper absorption
The Medical Conditions That Cause Low Copper:
Conditions are rare, but common in infants who are premature.
Menkes’ syndrome is a hereditary disorder causing copper deficiency. Symptoms: kinky hair, mental retardation, and low copper level in the blood and a failure to synthesize the enzymes that require copper.
Copper levels are more often too high than too low. High copper can be toxic.
Physical Symptoms of High Copper:
- Increased heart rate
- Copper deposits in the brain and liver causing damage.
- Damage to the kidneys
- Inhibit urine production
- Causes anemia
- Causes hair loss in women
- High copper interferes with zinc, which is needed to manufacture digestive enzymes. Many high copper people dislike protein and are drawn to high-carbohydrate diets because they have difficulty digesting protein foods.
- Excessive copper in children is associated with hyperactive behavior, learning disorders such as dyslexia, ADD and infections such as ear.
Psychological Symptoms of High Copper:
- Autism type symptoms
- Personality changes
- Schizophrenic type symptoms
- Disperception of the senses, time, body, self and others.
- Produces hypomanic states
- Detachment from reality
Causes of High Copper:
- Excess estrogen in the meat supply ( estrogen used as a growth hormone in the meat industry was discontinued in the 80’s and replaced with testosterone, etc.)
- Birth control pill
- Use of prescription medications containing copper.
- Too much copper in drinking water
- Zinc and manganese deficiency raises copper levels.
- Copper lowers the histamine levels.
- It takes 3 months to lower the level in the body.
The Medical Conditions That Cause High Copper
Wilson’s Disease is a condition that causes copper to accumulate in the tissues and cause extensive damage. Affects 1 in 30,000 people. The liver does not secrete copper into the blood or excrete copper into the bile. Low blood levels, high in the brain, eyes and liver causes cirrhosis. First symptoms: brain damage, tremors, headaches, inability to speak, incoordination and psychosis.
- The administration of total parenteral nutrition (nutritional intravenous feeding).
- An important way to reduce high copper levels is to enhance the activity of the adrenal glands. The adrenals cause the liver to secrete ceruloplasmin, which binds and removes copper. Adrenal underactivity causes a deficiency of available copper, and allows unbound copper to build up in the tissues. Adrenal glandular substance is also frequently helpful.
- Exercise temporarily stimulates the adrenals, which helps eliminate copper. One needs to keep exercising or the copper toxicity symptoms, fatigue, mood swings and depression will return.
Temporary controls; coffee, caffeine in soda and some drugs
Copper Food Sources:
- Whole grain cereals
- Organ meats
- Dark chocolate
- Leafy green vegetables
- Organ meats,
- Works with iron, zinc, manganese and vitamin B6
- Needed in the utilization of Vitamin C
- Should be balanced with zinc in a 1:10 ratio
- Copper and pantothenic acid are related to hair color.
- Excess copper destroys Vitamin C.
- Necessary for the absorption of iron.
- Found in copper plumbing, vitamin and mineral pills, tea bags, cooking utensils
- Zinc, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, sulfur and molybdenum are also copper antagonists, chelators or binders.
Copper has been used to Successfully treat:
- Auditory Hallucinations
- Histaperia Schizophrenia.