Copper: What Does Copper Do in the Body?

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What does Copper do in the Body?

Copper plays an important role in many physiological functions. One of the most important activities of copper in the body is its function in iron metabolism. Copper is required by the transport protein ceruloplasmin, which functions as an enzyme that oxidizes iron. Iron must be oxidized in order to bind to another transport protein called transferrin, which carries the iron throughout the body. Therefore, if copper levels are too low, iron deficiency anemia may result.

Copper is also necessary to maintain healthy bones and connective tissue. Lysyl oxidase is a copper-dependent enzyme involved in the production of collagen, an important component of bones, muscles, tendons, skin, and the walls of blood vessels, and elastin, a protein found in ligaments and arterial walls.

Another important enzyme that requires copper is superoxide dismutase. This enzyme has antioxidant activity and removes dangerous free radicals that can cause cell and tissue damage.

Melanin, the pigment responsible for skin and hair color, is produced by the copper-dependent enzyme tyrosinase.

In addition, copper is necessary for the activity of several other enzymes, including those that are involved in the production of thyroid hormones, phospholipids that protect nerve cells, and energy production in the body through the molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Symptoms of Copper Deficiency

Due to its broad range of activities in the body, copper deficiency can result in numerous symptoms. The most common symptom of copper deficiency is anemia. Other symptoms include weakness and fatigue, poor immune and thyroid functions, diminished pigment in skin and hair, osteoporosis, problems with joints, ruptured blood vessels, irregular heart beat, increased levels of LDL cholesterol and decreased levels of HDL cholesterol, and breathing problems.

Food Sources High in Copper

The U.S. RDA for copper is 2 milligrams per day. One of the best sources of copper is calf’s liver. It is best to choose organic calf’s liver to ensure that it does not contain hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, or other toxins. Other foods rich in copper include leafy green vegetables, especially turnip greens, crimini mushrooms, blackstrap molasses, eggplant, asparagus and raw cashew nuts.

Cooking processes can diminish the amount of copper available from foods. Long-term cooking of beans and processing of whole grains substantially decreases the available copper content of these foods.

Dangers of Too Much Copper

An excessive amount of copper can contribute to a number of conditions including stomach pain, cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and liver damage. Since many of the functions of copper in the body are connected to those of zinc, the problems caused by an overabundance of copper are worsened if there is also a zinc deficiency at the same time. Some conditions that may be linked to elevated copper levels combined with zinc deficiency include autism, hyperactivity, depression, fatigue, insomnia, pain in the muscles and joints, and PMS.