Copper is important to most living organisms on earth. In humans, it is the third most abundantly needed mineral and it is present mostly in the liver, bones, and muscle. The liver is the organ that regulates copper volume in the blood. Copper is so vital to proper bodily functions that a slight deficiency can cause health issues. Fortunately, cases of copper deficiency are rare because only trace amounts (1.7 mg/day for men and 1.2 mg./day for women) are enough to maintain optimum health. Such amounts may be sourced from one’s diet.
A major sign of copper deficiency is anaemia, the type that is unresponsive to iron supplementation. This kind of anaemia shows abnormalities in the bone marrow and other bones. Other symptoms signifying a copper deficiency are cardiovascular problems, decreased resistance to infections, low birth weight in newborns, and impaired collagen production, to name some.
Australia’s soil has low copper content. This problem was discovered when Australian farmers were puzzled as to why their herd of cattle and sheep experienced seemingly unexplainable health problems. Cattle were plagued by aortic ruptures and sheep grew poor wool and birthed newborn lambs with swayed backs. The discovery of low copper levels in soil of grazing land prompted farmers to supplement their livestock with copper so that presently, these diseases are not prevalent anymore.
Although copper deficiency is uncommon, it is still worth noting some points:
- People whose regular diets are high in zinc are more likely to be copper deficient. Zinc hinders copper absorption. People who always consume processed foods and vitamin supplements commonly fortified with iron and zinc are most susceptible to copper deficiency. In addition, meat eaters who do not balance their intake with copper-rich seafood and legumes are also at risk for copper deficiency. Meat, with the exception of organ meats, is high in zinc and low in copper.
The key here is to balance one’s intake of zinc against copper.
- High consumption of fructose and other types of refined sugars can lower copper levels. Regular soda and dessert consumption are habits worth breaking.
Conversely, too much copper is detrimental and may even be fatal. Amounts beyond 10 mg. / day are considered excessive. Copper toxicity can lead to jaundice, cardiovascular problems, coma, and death. It is also good to keep in mind not to ingest copper supplements when having a bout with diarrhoea.
What Copper Does for You
Copper has a variety of important tasks in human physiology, a few of which are:
- Promotion of proper chemical reactions of enzymes. More than 12 kinds of enzymes rely on copper to maintain the delicate chemical balance and biological reactions among cells.
- Essential to the production of collagen. Collagen is a protein that is responsible for the suppleness and firmness of skin. A copper deficiency may manifest in prematurely aged-looking skin. Collagen is also needed in maintaining healthy connective tissue. Lack of collagen (which may come from a copper deficiency) will show connective tissue abnormalities. It may also cause the rupture or aneurysm of large blood vessels.
- Strengthens bones and muscles. A copper deficiency heightens one’s risk for osteoporosis.
- Helps maintain healthy cognitive function. The lack of copper may promote neurodegenerative problems in adults; although its excess can cause Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a neurological condition in which brain cells die, causing progressive decline in memory, perception, and other cognitive functions.
Foods rich in copper are:
- Sesame seeds
- Leafy greens — kale, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens
- Shiitake and crimini mushrooms
- Summer squash
- Unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate
- Blackstrap molasses
Whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds make very good dietary sources of copper. Most fruits and vegetables however are low in copper.
The importance of copper to human life and health cannot be understated. Copper has unique properties other substances cannot replicate. No other mineral can replace it.