Copper is an essential trace mineral that is involved in many diverse metabolic functions.
Copper assists in bone and joint health, strengthening connective tissue in our cardiovascular system, increasing iron absorption, synthesis of haemoglobin, melanin pigment formation in our hair, skin and eyes, myelin formation in our nervous system, eliminating free radicals, maintaining structure and function of the immune system, cholesterol management and glucose metabolism.
Why you may need copper
Iron deficiency anaemia is a reduction in the quantity of the oxygen-carrying pigment in red blood cells called, haemoglobin. Copper assists iron absorption and copper deficiency has been seen in children with iron deficiency anaemia.
Osteoporosis – copper assists bone formation and mineralisation.
Vitiligo is a condition characterised by loss of pigmentation. Copper assists in the formation of melanin in our hair, skin and irises. Melanin is produced by the metabolism of the amino acid tyrosine and copper is required by tyrosine for this process to occur.
How much to use
Adequate Intake levels are:
Adults over 19 years: 1.2mg (women), 1.7mg (men) daily
Pregnancy: 1.3mg daily
Breastfeeding: 1.5mg daily
Children 9-13 years: 1.1mg (girls), 1.3mg (boys) daily
Children 14-18 years: 1.1mg (girls), 1.5mg (boys) daily
Symptoms of deficiency
Deficiency symptoms of copper may include microcytic anaemia (a type of anaemia with small red blood cells), impaired immunity and increased susceptibility to infections (especially those of the respiratory tract), bone abnormalities, greying hair, fatigue, high cholesterol and depression.
The best food sources include shellfish, nuts and seeds especially sunflower seeds, wholegrain cereals, tempeh, chocolate and water from copper pipes.
Other reasons why you may need more
Everyone says eat more fibre!! We should aim for 25–30g daily for adults. Phytates are present in high fibre foods such as grains and legumes and excessive amounts can reduce the absorption of many nutrients including copper.
Ageing, low stomach acidity, excessive intake of alcohol, iron and zinc can also inhibit copper absorption.
Menke’s syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects normal absorption of copper from the intestine. It is characterised by a reduced level of copper in the blood, thin kinky hair, mental and physical deterioration and liver abnormalities.
- Excessive doses of copper can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, liver toxicity, jaundice, low blood pressure, blood in the urine, pain on urination, joint and muscle pain, irritability, nervousness, convulsions and coma.
- Copper should not be given to a person with Wilson’s disease or any type of liver disease. Wilson’s disease is an inherited disorder of copper metabolism where copper builds up in the liver and is slowly released into other parts of the body such as the brain and kidneys. The accumulation of copper can cause a number of symptoms such as jaundice, cirrhosis, mental retardation and symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease and dementia.
- Large doses of iron or zinc may reduce copper levels and vice versa. Best given two hours apart.