Copper is a trace mineral found in all body tissues. Copper assists in the formation of hemoglobin and red blood cells by facilitating iron absorption.
Copper is present in many enzymes that break down or build up body tissue. It aids in the conversion of the amino acid tyrosine into a dark pigment that colors the hair and skin. It is also involved in protein metabolism and in healing processes. Copper is required for the synthesis of phospholipids, substances essential in the formation of the protective myelin sheaths surrounding nerve fibers. Copper helps the body to oxidize vitamin C and works with this vitamin in the formation of elastin, a chief component of the elastic muscle fibers throughout the body. Copper is necessary for proper bone formation and maintenance. It is also necessary for the production of RNA.
Among the best food sources of copper are liver, whole-grain products, almonds, green leafy vegetables, and dried legumes. The amounts vary in plant sources, according to the mineral content in the soil in which they were grown. Most seafoods are also good sources of copper.
Approximately 30 percent of ingested copper is used by the body; absorption takes place in the stomach and upper intestine. The copper moves from the intestine into the bloodstream 15 minutes after ingestion. Most of the dietary copper is excreted in the feces and bile, with very little lost in the urine.
Copper is stored in the tissues; highest concentrations of copper are in the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain. Bones and muscles have lower concentrations of copper, but because of their mass they contain over 50 percent of the total copper in the body.
The National Research Council recommends a daily dietary intake of 2 milligrams of copper for adults. The average person ingests 2.5 to 5.0 milligrams per day. Drinking water may be a major source of copper, which leaches from copper piping.
The possibility of copper toxicity occurs with Wilson's disease, a rare genetic disorder that results from abnormal copper metabolism, bringing about excess copper retention in the liver, brain, kidney, and corneas of the eyes. Too much copper in the body can result in serious physical and mental illness. Serum copper levels increase with the use of birth control pills. High levels are found in patients who have heart attacks, high blood pressure, and in those who smoke.
Copper may also be a factor in paranoid and hallucinatory schizophrenia, hypertension, stuttering, autism, childhood hyperactivity, toxemia of pregnancy, premenstrual tension, depression, insomnia, senility, and functional hypoglycemia.
Studies of pregnant women indicate that high copper levels cause a decrease in body iron and a deficiency of molybdenum. Certain anemia not helped by iron may be an indication of. elevated copper levels.
Serum copper, elevated by estrogens, rises progressively during pregnancy. After delivery, it takes 2 to 3 months before the copper level lowers to an acceptable amount. This high level may cause the depression and psychosis that women often experience after giving birth.
In studies using rats, high levels of copper increased liver and brain copper and caused some deaths. The function of a zinc-containing enzyme was impaired. The adrenal glands increased in weight, an indication of stress.
Supplemental zinc and manganese in a ratio of 20 to 1 have proved to increase copper excretion via the urine. In studies on sheep, molybdenum prevents copper absorption.
Deficiency Effects and Symptoms
Although copper deficiencies are relatively unknown, low blood levels of copper have been noted in children with iron-deficiency anemia, edema, and kwashiorkor. Symptoms of deficiency include general weakness, impaired respiration, and skin sores. Premature infants and patients receiving intravenous feeding have also shown a deficiency.
Beneficial Effect on Ailments
Copper works with iron to form hemoglobin, thereby helping in the treatment of anemia. Copper is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of edema and kwashiorkor in children.