Copper is a crucial trace mineral required to maintain health. Although it is needed only in tiny amounts, copper performs a very critical role in the body. Sustaining proper levels is vital because excesses or deficiencies can impair health in subtle ways. Copper is found in a variety of enzyme systems, although it is primarily found in the liver, brain, bones and muscles.
Copper has a variety of health benefits, including improving eye health and helping to inhibit the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration. Copper, acting as an antioxidant, encourages the development of flexible connective tissue for proper eye structure. It binds with zinc, and the two should be supplemented together. Copper is added to eye formulas to prevent copper-deficiency anemia, which can occur if large amounts of zinc are consumed.
The body needs copper for normal growth and development. The primary role of this trace mineral is to serve as a component of enzymes. Copper-containing enzymes have a wide range of functions with one common attribute; they all involve reactions that use oxygen or oxygen radicals.
Lack of copper in the body can sometimes lead to anemia, because copper is required to help the body utilize iron. Taking a copper supplement can be helpful, because it binds with iron to produce hemoglobin, supplying the heart with oxygenated blood.
Copper is also important for brain function, bone growth and energy metabolism. One of its functions is to create collagen, which is used in the development of connective tissue, bones, skin and hair. Copper also may be important in the prevention of osteoporosis. Because it helps encourage healthy collagen, copper may ease aching joints and decrease mineral loss. A study published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine showed that women between the ages of 45-56 who took 3 mg copper each day had no change in their bone density, while those taking a placebo had substantial bone loss.
Copper helps the body ward off cardiovascular disease. It encourages low cholesterol levels, and inhibits the development of atherosclerosis. High blood pressure and heart rhythm ailments have been linked to an absence of copper in the diet. And copper is one of the minerals required to produce superoxide dismutase SOD, a very powerful antioxidant that helps the body fight off free radicals that can potentially cause cancer.
It is believed that about 20 percent of the population suffers from copper deficiency. The average intake of this trace mineral is roughly half the recommended daily allowance (RDA). If the body doesn’t get enough copper, hemoglobin production decreases and copper-deficiency anemia can result. Copper deficiency can cause iron deficiency, which results in fatigue, slow growth, and decreased immune response. Even a minor copper deficiency hinders the ability of white blood cells to fight infection.
Other symptoms of deficiency may include stunted growth, low body temperature, bone fractures and osteoporosis. Copper deficiency also lowers the antibodies that are available to fight infections. Over the past few years, there has been growing interest in the idea that minor deficits of copper can contribute to the development of a variety of diseases including diabetes and heart disease.
Since copper is not produced by the body, it must be consumed in the diet. Toxicity from ingesting copper-rich foods is not likely but taking too much copper in supplemental form can cause it. Consuming 10-15 mg is capable of producing toxicity symptoms, notably vomiting and diarrhea. Problems of copper toxicity may also include migraine headaches, joint and muscle pains, anxiety, depression, frequent colds and flu, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Liver and oysters contain the most amount of copper, but it is also found in nuts and seeds, legumes, cherries, avocados, whole grain cereals, eggs, and poultry. Dark leafy greens and dried fruits supply fair amounts of copper, as well. Because most foods contain a small amount of copper, supplementation is usually required to get enough of this important mineral each day.
There has never been a recommended daily allowance published for copper; however, the National Research Council recommends that adults get from 1.5-3.0 mg per day. Many nutritionists don’t advise taking more than 2 mg per day because of the concern about copper toxicity and because excess copper can interfere with the absorption of zinc. For those who are not able to get enough copper from their diet, supplementation may be needed.