Copper

Other Name(s):

chelated copper, copper histidinate, cupric acetate

General Description:

Copper is a soft, reddish-orange metal and an essential trace element. Its functions in the body are still being researched. One study demonstrated that copper could effectively treat some types of anemia unresponsive to iron therapy. Wilson's disease and Menkes (kinky hair) disease are related to the inability to properly utilize copper.

Copper concentrations are highest in the liver and kidneys, followed by the brain, heart and bone. Copper concentrations in the body are increased by the presence of estrogens. Therefore, copper concentrations are highest in the body during pregnancy.

Copper works in conjunction with vitamin C to help form hemoglobin. It is essential for the production of red blood cells and in the energy production cycle of the cell.

Copper facilitates the absorption of iron from the intestine. It also plays a role in the production of new bone and connective tissue.

Medically Valid Uses:

Copper is taken as a supplement, often in a multi-vitamin/mineral formulation to ensure that the adequate daily requirement for copper is met.

If copper deficiency is present, supplements can improve anemia caused by the deficiency and help balance cholesterol levels, blood pressure and heart rhythm.

Copper is used in the treatment of Menkes (kinky hair) disease.

Unsubstantiated Claims:

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Copper may be useful in treating arthritis. (Copper bracelets are often worn on wrists to treat arthritis.) Copper is also claimed to help prevent heart disease and cancer, and to slow balding.

Recommended Intake:

Supplements are supplied as chelated (non-toxic) copper. As indicated below, copper is measured in milligrams (mg). The RDA is the Recommended Dietary Allowance.

Group

RDA

Infants

0.5-1.0 mg

Children (up to puberty)

1.0-2.5 mg

Adults

1.5-3.0 mg

Pregnant women

1.5-3.0 mg

Breast-feeding women

1.5-3.0 mg

Food source

Nutrient content per 100 grams

Mushrooms

5.9 mg

Calf liver

3.8 mg

Oysters

3.4 mg

Mussels

3.2 mg

Lobster

2.2 mg

Molasses

0.2 mg

Honey

0.6 mg

nuts

0.4 mg

nuts

0.1 mg

Spinach

0.88 mg

Copper is common in food sources, so copper deficiencies are rare. However, the average American diet is relatively low in copper. Vegetarians have higher serum copper levels than do individuals on a typical American diet. Individuals who are receiving their nutrition by intravenous feeding (total parenteral nutrition or TPN) may require copper supplements to meet their daily allowances. Because copper competes with zinc for absorption, high levels of dietary zinc or excessive zinc supplementation may result in a copper deficiency.

Copper deficiency can lead to a low white-blood count, increased susceptibility to infections and bone demineralization, which can contribute to osteoporosis.

Because copper plays a role in melanin synthesis, copper deficiency can cause problems associated with the skin and tissues, such as defective collagen formation and decreased skin pigmentation. Additionally, the central nervous system may be impaired because of a reduced energy metabolism.

Side Effects, Toxicity and Interactions:

Excessive amounts of copper can lead to symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, irritability and restlessness, and muscle pain. Long-term accumulation can lead to cirrhosis (liver disease). Wilson's disease, an extremely rare genetic disorder (about one birth in half a million), causes the rapid accumulation of copper in the liver, blood, brain and other organs. This causes cirrhosis and brain damage. Excess copper must then be removed with chelating (detoxifying) agents.

Keep all copper compounds away from children. The inorganic salts of copper, such as copper sulfate, are extremely poisonous.

Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should consult a physician before taking any mineral supplements.

Zinc can interfere with the absorption of copper from the intestinal tract.

Additional Information:

Click here for a list of reputable Web sites with general information on nutrition.

References:

  1. Behrman RE, Kliegman RM, Nelson EE, Vaughan VC, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Co.; 1992.

  2. Braunwald E, Isselbacher KJ, Petersdorf RG, Wilson JD, Martin JB, Fauci AS, eds. Harrison's Principals of Internal Medicine. 11th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1987.

  3. Smolin LA, Grosvenor MB. Nutrition Science and Applications. 2nd ed. Sanders College Publishing; 1997.

  4. Kodama H, Murata Y, Kobayashi M. Clinical manifestations and treatment of Menkes disease and its variants. Pediatr Int. 1999;41(4):423-9.

  5. Kodama H, Murata Y. Molecular genetics and pathophysiology of Menkes disease. Pediatr Int. 1999;41(4):430.

  6. Haddad EH, Berk LS, Kettering JD, Hubbard RW, Peters WR. Dietary intake and biochemical, hematologic, and immune status of vegans compared with nonvegetarians [In Process Citation]. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(3 Suppl):586S-93S.

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