Essential Minerals 2 - Copper
Copper is another micronutrient that plays a vital role in many areas of our body. As with all minerals, our bodies cannot produce copper, so we have to source it from the earth.
What it does and why we are deficient
Copper has many important functions, but the most essential is that it triggers the release of iron, which is converted into haemoglobin. This is the substance that carries oxygen around the body. Without sufficient levels of bioavailable copper, iron can remain in its stored form, causing many health conditions, including anaemia. It is often thought that anaemia is the consequence of an iron deficiency. However, it can be due to a copper / iron dysregulation. For iron to be bioavailable, it needs copper, it needs a protein called ceruloplasmin and it needs an enzyme called ferroxidase that oxidizes toxic ferrous iron to its non toxic ferric form. In this case, taking an iron supplement could lead to iron toxicity and actually cause more damage to the body. It is therefore very important that you have your doctor check your copper levels before accepting a prescription for an iron supplement.
Another important function of copper is in the production of collagen and elastin. Collagen and elastin are essential for healthy skin, bones, joints and connective tissues. Copper has a role in over 50 enzymatic processes in our body that help to keep our immune systems ticking over. You can also find it working away in your nervous system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, and just about every other part of the body. If that isn't enough, copper facilitates the production of ATP, which is the body's main fuel source. It also aids brain function, balances the thyroid, helps growth in children, reduces arthritic symptoms and prevents various neuro-degenerative diseases.
Signs and symptoms of a copper deficiency
There are many symptoms that could point towards a copper deficiency and for this reason, it is always best to speak to your GP if you think that you may be one of the many who fall into this group. A blood test will let you know for sure but here are some symptoms that can be a warning sign:
- Joint pain
- Stunted growth in children
- Sore muscles
- Brittle bones
- Sudden weight loss
- Unexplained bruises
Despite all its essential functions, the amount of copper that we actually need is tiny: only 1.2mg per day.
How to meet your copper quota
Despite all its essential functions, the amount of copper that we actually need is tiny: only 1.2mg per day. Too much can be toxic and so it is not a good idea to automatically reach for copper supplements without consulting a healthcare practitioner. Even if you find that you are falling short, it should be perfectly possible to meet your copper needs by including a few more of the right foods in your diet. Here are some of the best food-based sources of copper*:
- Beef liver - 14g (about half a slice) = 100% of rda (recommended daily allowance)
- Dark chocolate - 1 bar (112g) = 70% of rda
- Shitake mushrooms - 5 mushrooms = 45% of rda
- Sesame seeds - 28g = 35% of rda
- Cashew nuts - 1 cup (28g) = 30% of rda
- Chickpeas - 1 cup (240g) = 21% of rda
- Lentils - 1 cup (198g) = 25% of rda
- Avocado - 1 230g fruit = 20% of rda
Copper is abundant in many food sources and I always advise clients to start there when seeking to remedy a deficiency. Other ways of increasing copper levels include:
- Maca Root (Peru sourced) - Rich in copper, containing 85% of your RDI. It is also rich in iron, manganese and calcium. Ground into a powder, 1 to 3 tablespoons of maca can be sprinkled into smoothies or trail mix.
- Food sourced vitamin C - (Believed to increase the protein molecule ceruloplasmin - necessary for the transport of copper around the body. Free, unbound copper in its metallic form (as opposed to dietary copper which is bound to ceruloplasmin) causes free radical damage to cells, DNA, proteins and lipids in the blood.
In terms of diet and health, copper has been either ignored or targeted as dangerous by mainstream doctors and many health care practitioners. Conversely, iron consumption and supplementation continue to be pushed despite excess iron in the body known to weaken the body, speed aging, aid the spread of viruses and cause cancer. Foods are fortified with iron, many multi-vitamins and minerals contain iron, GMOs are designed to provide iron and increase iron levels, iron in excess is toxic and yet greater daily dietary iron intake is encouraged. Copper has important metabolic and antioxidant effects and helps neutralize the damaging effects of iron. With many known healing properties, copper may be the very mineral your body needs in its endeavours to achieve better health.
Please consult your healthcare provider before undertaking any course of supplements.