Copper is an essential trace mineral involved in a wide range of vital human bodily functions. Copper is a major component of hemoglobin, the protein resposible for oxygen transport in blood cells. Copper, along with vitimin C, forms elastin, a protein required to keep skin, blood vessels, and lungs supple and elastic.
As an antioxidant, copper plays a strong dual role. First as a central component of both the superoxide dismutase molecule, which protects us from cellular free-radical damage. Secondly, copper helps form the protein ceruloplasmin, which protects us against free-radical damage caused by iron. Copper is also required by the central nervous system as a component in the production of noradrenaline, the brain’s version of adrenaline and the neurotransmitter that keeps us alert. Copper is also involved in the production of prostaglandins, hormonelike chemicals that regulate blood pressure, pulse, and healing.
Current research is looking into deeper aspects of the role copper plays in human health, from protecting against cancer and heart disese, to boosting the immune system.
Copper deficiency is generally evidenced as anemia, edema, and arthritis. Menkes syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects proper copper absorption, resulting in stunted growth, abnormal skin pigmentation, arrested development of the arteries and bones, and mental deterioration.
Wilson’s disease is an inherited genetic disorder characterized by the body’s inability to properly excrete copper, leading to accumulation of copper in the tissues which can cause liver disease and mental retardation. Persons with Wilsons disease should not consume copper-containing supplements.
Though there is no established RDA, the National Research Council recommends 1.5 to 3 mg of copper per day for adults to avoid copper deficiency. There are few toxic effects from copper, though people with ulcerative colitis may tend to accumulate copper, aggravating the disorder. Daily intake over 20 milligrams of copper can cause vomiting. Some recommend that persons taking zinc supplements should increase copper intake to a 10 to one ratio (for instance for every 10 milligrams of zinc, take 1 milligram of copper).
Copper can be found in dried beans, almonds, broccoli, garlic, soybeans, peas, whole wheat products, and seafood.