Copper is a widely used metal in various household goods, electronics and industrial processes. Copper ions are soluble in water and in various forms are used by plants, animals and humans. It is considered to be an essential trace nutrient.
Seeds, nuts, chickpeas, various cereals, meat (especially liver) and fish (oysters in particular) are good dietary sources of copper. Traces of the mineral can also be found in water if it is transmitted through copper pipes and has not been filtered out.
Health Effects of Copper
There normally is about 1.4-2.1 mg of copper per kg of body mass in an adult’s body. It is mostly found in tissue, muscle, bones and liver. Although the amount of copper is very small, it is absolutely essential to maintain normal metabolic processes.
Copper is mainly used in the production of various enzymes. These are further used in reactions to provide energy, control skin pigmentation as well as repair and maintain connective tissues.
Since it helps keep healthy muscle tone and proper function it is especially important in the heart. It provides support and binding tissue in and around the heart.
As copper is a cofactor to more than 13 enzymes, it is directly involved in many crucial reactions around the body, meaning that almost all of the functions utilize the mineral. Copper is involved in proper transmission of nerve signals, maintaining sufficient white blood cell count as well as helps neutralise free radicals.
Copper has also recently been found to be efficient at destroying various bacteria, for example, adenovirus, fungi and influenza A virus.
Copper Toxicity and Excess Intake
Too high intake of copper usually causes vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, stomach and muscle pains. This is due to elevated levels of copper damaging the liver and kidneys.
Some research also indicates that long term exposure to copper is linked to decreased brain activity and decreased intelligence in young people.
Central nervous and immune systems as well as bones and tissues are affected by excess copper in the body.
Specific chelating agents or Zinc is normally used to help remove excess copper from the system. However, there is currently more concern that people are not consuming enough copper rather than too much.
Only about 25% of the world population consume adequate levels of copper daily. If copper levels in the body are low for long periods of time, reserve of the mineral in the liver are depletes, which can potentially lead to some serious health issues.
Copper deficiency can cause chronic conditions in the heart, blood vessel, bones and connective tissues. Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases can be symptoms of insufficient levels of copper in the body.
Mild copper deficiency in its early onset can cause fatigue, lower resistance to infection and increased risk of developing bone or heart disease.
Recommendations for Copper Intake
The Upper Intake Level for copper is set at 12 mg per day for males and 10 mg per day for females to avoid any negative health effects. For children the upper limit varies from 1 to 8 mg per day depending on their age. These levels are supposed to be safe; however, it is not recommended to regularly ingest so much of the mineral to avoid it accumulating in the body.
Nevertheless, some copper is essential to maintain all of the functions that involve the mineral to run properly. Some traces of the metal are found in most food, so following a varied diet is important to supply your body with all the copper it needs.
The Recommended Daily Allowances to satisfy body’s requirements are:
- Adults – 0.9-1.2 mg depending on country
- Children (1-3 years) – 0.34-0.4 mg
- Children (4-8 years) – 0.44 mg
- Children (9-13 years) – 0.7 mg
- Children (14-18 years) – 0.89 mg
- Pregnant women – 1 mg
- Breastfeeding women – 1.3 mg
- Infants – 0.2mg
These values are updated and changed frequently whenever new relevant scientific data becomes available.