3 Reasons You Need More Copper In Your Diet
By Jayton Miller
Sometimes in life, it is the little things that make all the difference. It could be one point that separates a losing team from a winning team. On the racetrack, a mere fraction of a second can make all the difference. In nutrition the same is true. It is all about the details. Luckily there is a trend these days towards living a healthier lifestyle. Poor eating habits are a huge factor in an unhealthy lifestyle. An unhealthy lifestyle can cause a whole host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease just to name a few.
Individuals are becoming more conscious of the foods they eat. There is a movement towards opting for fresh instead of processed foods and organically raised foods as opposed to conventional. Now, more than ever before consumers are checking the labels on the food they buy. Instead of just opting for fillers, they are looking for nutrient-dense foods with value.
Macronutrients (proteins, fats, and carbohydrates) are the most well-understood nutrients for most people. Even though macronutrients are needed in the largest amounts, there is much more to a well-balanced diet than these three nutrients. The other end of the spectrum is micronutrients. These nutrients are needed in small or trace amounts by the body. This group of nutrients is made up of vitamins and minerals. Don't let this fool you. Even though they are only needed in small amounts, they are essential to not only a balanced diet, but to your health. Copper is one such essential mineral which is needed in trace amounts by the body.
- What Is Copper
- Benefits Of Copper
- How To Use Copper
- Symptoms Of Copper Deficiency
- Who Is At Risk Of Copper Deficiency?
- Foods That Contain Copper
What Is Copper?:
Copper is a trace metallic mineral that is present in very small amounts in the human body. However, this nutrient is present in every tissue in the body as well as bone. There are two forms of copper in the body. The first is called cuprous and the second cupric. Cupric is the most common form of copper found in the body. The body is able to transition between the two types of copper based on its needs at the time. Copper is important in several processes including the formation of red blood cells. It works in conjunction with iron in the body to not only make red blood cells but to help with iron absorption in the body.
Copper is involved in numerous enzymatic reactions. These include:
- Increase levels of neutrophils
- Decrease risk of osteoporosis
- Form cross-links in collagen and elastin
Let us take a closer look at the numerous benefits offered by adequate levels of copper.
Read More: Nutrition 101 | Why Do We Eat?
Benefits of Copper:
As mentioned earlier, copper works closely with iron to create red blood cells, which are essential to human life in general. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. They also carry carbon dioxide to the lungs, where you can then exhale it out of the body.
Recommended levels of copper in the body may help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Individuals with low copper levels tend to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol (high cholesterol is also usually a sign of an underfunctioning thyroid). Adequate copper levels help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check, which can reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke.
Leukocytes or white blood cells are important in the body for fighting off infection. Those with adequate levels of copper in their system have higher levels of white blood cells. This means they are less likely to develop neutropenia, which is a decreased level of white blood cells, making them susceptible to infections.
Adequate amounts of copper in the body leads to a higher bone density, which decreases the risk of developing osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is the condition of fragile bones susceptible to break and fractures. This disease affects elderly men and women alike. Studies have shown that copper is essential in the production of bone constituents.
Collagen and elastin play a major role in the human body. These components make up the connective tissues in the body, including the heart. Sufficient levels of copper in the body allow for damaged collagen to be replaced.
How to Use Copper?:
Although copper is a trace mineral, it is still needed by the body for carrying out essential life processes. Your body is not able to produce copper, so it must be consumed through the diet.
MedlinePlus recommends the following for daily copper requirements:
- 0-6 months require 200 mcg per day
- 7-12 months require 220 mcg per day
- 1-3 years require 340 mcg per day
- 4-8 years require 440 mcg per day
- 9-13 years require 700 mcg per day
- 14-18 years require 890 mcg per day
- 19 years and older require 900 mcg per day
As a rule, women who are pregnant and breastfeeding have a higher daily requirement when it comes to most nutrients. After all, they are eating for two. Copper is no exception when it comes to this rule. Women who are pregnant need 1,000 mcg per day and those who are breastfeeding need 1,300 mcg per day in order to keep up with both their needs and the needs of their child.
Since copper is needed in trace amounts by the body it is relatively easy to consume the daily recommended amount. In most cases, the needed amounts can be consumed through a balanced diet.
It is possible to consume too much copper, which can lead to copper poisoning (also known as copper toxicity). This is pretty easy to avoid and normally occurs through unknowingly using a drinking source which contains copper nitrate or copper sulfate. Those with acute copper poisoning typically vomit. This is the body's way of getting rid of correcting the toxicity.
Chronic toxicity is normally indicative of Wilson's disease. Those who have Wilson's disease, have a build up of copper. This build-up is present in organs, tissues, bone, liver and brain. This is a rare inherited disease, but can still happen.
Symptoms of Copper Deficiency:
Anemia is one of the most common signs of a copper deficiency. The similarities between copper and iron deficiencies make it difficult to differentiate between the two. Anemia that does not respond to iron treatments but does to copper treatments is the result of a copper deficiency. Typically it is trial and error.
Other symptoms include fatigue, tremors, jaundice and abdominal pain. If your healthcare provider suspects a copper deficiency, he or she may order a total copper blood test or a “Full Monty Panel”. If the results from the blood test are abnormal or ambiguous, a urine test may be ordered. The urine test will measure copper elimination in the individual.
The most common form of treatment is a copper supplement to restore levels to normal. In some cases, if the deficiency is due to an excess of zinc, you may need to simply decrease the amount of zinc in your diet. Your medical doctor will prescribe the best course of treatment based on your specific case.
Read More: The Importance Of Micronutrients
Who Is At Risk Of a Copper Deficiency?:
It is important to note that copper deficiencies are very uncommon in the United States due to the availability of good nutrition. With that being said, there are certain groups who are at a higher risk of developing a copper deficiency than the normal population.
Infants are one group which are at an inherent risk for a copper deficiency. This includes premature infants, those with diarrhea, and those who are recovering from malnutrition. It is also important that infants are fed either breast milk or infant formula. Cow's milk is not a proper substitute because it does not contain all of the nutrients needed by infants, including copper. Infants fed only cows milk are at a higher risk for developing a copper deficiency.
Malabsorption syndromes are a group of diseases that cause a decrease in the ability to absorb nutrients from food. Celiac disease and short bowel syndrome are two malabsorption diseases which can cause a deficiency in copper. These individuals are unable to efficiently absorb and use the copper consumed through their diet. For this reason, they may need higher than recommended amounts of copper to make up for poor absorption rates.
Menkes disease is a rare recessive disorder caused by a mutation in genes. This disorder leads to a copper deficiency. Symptoms include seizures, abnormal hair, stunted physical and mental growth, and weak muscles. The disease causes the nervous system to deteriorate at a progressive rate. Individuals are typically diagnosed during infancy or early childhood. Although the prognosis for this disease is not great, copper can help ease the symptoms and prolong life.
Excessive Levels of Zinc
Studies have shown that excessive levels of zinc interfere with the body's ability to absorb and use copper. This is because zinc and copper bind to the same ligands and are therefore in competition with each other. This can lead to a copper deficiency. This is a case in which a decrease in zinc can help correct the levels of copper.
Parenteral nutrition is when individuals receive nutrition intravenously. These individuals who receive parenteral nutrition for long periods of time are at risk for a copper deficiency. Copper supplements must be administered in order to prevent a deficiency.
Foods That Contains Copper:
The body needs copper in trace amounts. The good news is that it is possible to consume the needed amounts of copper through a balanced diet. There are a variety of foods which are deemed good sources of copper. These include fruits and meats. Let's take a look at foods that contain copper.
- Organ meats (liver, kidney)
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Overall, copper is a very important mineral to make sure you have adequate levels of. Without copper there are a whole myriad of downstream effects that can occur from not making enough red blood cells to even getting gray hair. Make sure to get adequate levels of copper through your diet and you should be good.