WHAT IS COPPER?
Copper is a micromineral (or trace element) that supports the production of many important substances in the body including collagen (the main protein in animal bones and connective tissues), haemoglobin (an iron containing, oxygen transporting metalloprotein that is found in red blood cells), melanin (a pigment which colours the hair and skin) and myelin (a substance that covers nerve fibres). Today I am going to discuss this important nutrient in greater detail.
WHEN WAS COPPER DISCOVERED?
The discovery of copper dates back to prehistoric times around 9000 B.C. This is supported by the discovery of copper beads in Iraq which are thought to have been made around this time. Methods to refine copper from its ores are believed to have developed around 5000 B.C. This idea is again supported by signs of copper smelting that are thought to date back to this time.
HOW DOES YOUR BODY USE COPPER?
The human body stores around 70 milligrams (mg) of copper in its tissues. The majority of this copper is stored in the liver with the remainder being distributed throughout the rest of the body’s cells. As I mentioned above, copper assists in the production of a number of substances in the body but it also acts in a protective capacity. This list summarises the main ways that copper benefits the human body:
– Acting as an antioxidant and protecting your body from damaging free radicals.
– Assisting in the absorption of iron.
– Assisting in the healing of burns to the skin and other wounds.
– Assisting in the production of collagen.
– Assisting in the production of haemoglobin.
– Assisting in the production of melanin.
– Assisting in the production of myelin.
– Reducing the development of arthritis (inflammation of the joints).
– Reducing your risk of contracting lung cancer.
– Working in conjunction with vitamin C to produce elastin (a connective tissue which helps keep artery walls and skin cells flexible but tight).
HOW MUCH COPPER DO YOU NEED?
Our copper requirements increase as we get older. The recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for copper were established by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and are listed below:
– Children aged 0-6 months:- 0.2mg.
– Children aged 7-12 months:- 0.22mg.
– Children aged 1-3 years:- 0.34mg.
– Children aged 4-8 years:- 0.44mg.
– Children aged 9-13 years:- 0.7mg.
– Children aged 14-18 years:- 0.89mg.
– Adults aged 19 years and over:- 0.9mg.
– Pregnant women:- 1mg.
– Lactating women:- 1.3mg.
WHICH FOODS CONTAIN COPPER?
Copper can be found in a wide variety of foods. The list below contains five of the richest food sources:
– Brazil Nuts:- 5.5mg per 100g.
– Crab:- 3.2mg per 100g.
– Liver:- 7.6mg per 100g.
– Lobster:- 1.4mg per 100g.
– Oysters:- 6.3mg per 100g.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF GETTING TOO MUCH COPPER?
Copper overdose has been given an increased amount of attention in recent years. Because of this daily tolerable upper intake levels (TULs) for this nutrient have been set by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences. These TULs are listed below:
– Children aged 1-8 years:- 1mg.
– Children aged 9-13 years:- 5mg.
– Children aged 14-18 years:- 8mg.
– Adults aged 19 years and over:- 10mg.
Failing to stay within these TULs can lead to excessive copper levels in the body. However, elevated copper levels can also be caused by a condition called Wilson’s disease (a genetic disorder which causes copper to accumulate in various organs). If too much copper is present in the body it can have a number of adverse effects which include:
– Abdominal pain.
– Heart problems.
– High blood pressure.
– Increased premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms.
– Jaundice (a condition where the skin becomes yellow).
– Liver damage.
– Muscle and joint pain.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF NOT GETTING ENOUGH COPPER?
Since copper has so many roles in the body a deficiency can have a wide range of adverse effects. In most cases a deficency is caused by a low dietary intake of copper. However, gastric bypass surgery and excessive zinc consumption can also lead to low levels of copper in the body. Thes symptoms of copper deficiency include:
– Brain disturbances.
– Breathing difficulties.
– Increased low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and reduced high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels (which can increase your heart disease risk).
– Iron deficiency.
– Joint problems.
– Osteoporosis (reduced bone mineral density).
– Poor immune function.
– Ruptured blood vessels.
– Skin sores.
I hope this article has shown you that whilst copper is only a micromineral and therefore only required by your body in relatively small amounts, it is still a highly important nutrient. Without copper you will struggle to produce a number of important substances and also be more susceptible to a number of diseases and health conditions. So make sure you are getting the small amount of copper your body requires each and every day
Now I want to hear from you guys. Were you aware how important copper is to your health? Do you take special care to make it part of your diet? Let me know by leaving a comment.