The Health Basics of Copper
When we think of copper, often images of pots, pennies or pipes come to mind. Yet, copper’s most vital purpose for humans is, surprisingly, health.
In fact, the medicinal use of copper dates back thousands of years. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical text from 1600 B.C., contains one of the earliest references to copper applications in health.
The Hippocratic Collection from the 4th century B.C., a medical text named for but not wholly written by the Greek physician and “Father of Modern Medicine” Hippocrates, makes numerous references to the several uses and applications of copper as well. It’s only in the last one hundred years though that science has begun to unravel the many bodily processes that require copper.
Today, we know that copper is one of the most common essential trace minerals in the body.
Trace mineral means that the amount of copper found in the human body would fit on the head of a pin! Still, this mighty mineral serves as a critical cofactor of enzyme activity affecting many biological processes such as energy production, absorption of iron, connective tissue formation, immune function, synthesis of certain neurotransmitters, and red blood cell formation, to name some of the most important.
Sources of Copper, Deficiency and Deficiency Symptoms
We get this important trace mineral from our diet and through supplementation. Some of the best sources of copper include organ meats, oysters and other shellfish, shitake mushrooms, dark chocolate, potatoes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, leafy greens, firm tofu, beans and black pepper, and more.
However, eating these copper-rich foods doesn’t always translate to getting enough copper into our bodies.
Roughly 30% to 40% of the amount of copper that we consume in food is absorbed. And with modern farming techniques, essential mineral nutrients like copper among others, have declined dramatically. Add to this that many people don’t eat enough nutrient-dense foods, and you’ll understand how copper insufficiency or even deficiency, although uncommon, can occur.
Analysis of data from the 2009–2012 National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) indicates that up to 15% of adults aged 19 and older who do not take dietary supplements containing copper have copper intakes below the Recommended Daily Intake of 900 mcg per day.
Copper deficiencies and symptoms
Deficiency or insufficiency can be caused by malnutrition, high zinc intake, high vitamin C intake, chronic diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, gastric bypass surgery, Menkes disease, celiac disease, use of antacids, kidney disease, high fructose corn syrup and more.
Known symptoms of copper deficiency or insufficiency include inflammation, fatigue, muscle weakness, brittle bones, memory loss, low red blood cell count, susceptibility to sickness, pales skin/white hair, cardiovascular issues, and changes in vision.
Recommended Daily Intake
To determine if you are getting enough copper in your diet, keep these daily intake recommendations from the Council for Responsible Nutrition in mind:
Adults: 900 mcg/day (needs may increase with age)
Pregnant women: 1,000 mcg/day
Breastfeeding women: 1,300 mcg/day
Children (age 4 and up): 440 mcg/day
Copper supplementation may help to ensure your body gets the copper it needs. As with any supplement, it is recommended to discuss this with your doctor first if you are taking additional medicines or supplements and remember that copper may need to be taken alone as other supplements (such as zinc) can affect its absorption.
*Not recommended for individuals with Wilson’s or Menkes disease.-
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