Our bodies require many important vitamins and minerals in order to perform. One of the lesser known essential trace minerals present in all our body tissues is the copper element. Copper is not produced by the body so it must be obtained from your diet. The World Health Organization recommends that an average adult should consume approximately 2mg of copper per day. As for the Food and Nutrition Board, their recommended daily allowance (RDA) for copper is 900mcg per day for adults. If you are pregnant, the RDA is 1000mcg per day and a higher intake of 1300mcg per day for lactating mothers.
Copper Health Benefits
Copper has many health benefits. Copper is required in iron metabolism, neuroendocrine function, immunity, and cell renewal. Getting the correct amount of copper in the body can contribute to your overall health which is why it is important to add foods with copper to your daily diet. There are five key physiological benefits of copper.
Boosts Brain Health
Did you know that foods with copper are considered brain foods? Copper is present throughout the brain, particularly in the basal ganglia, hippocampus, cerebellum, numerous synaptic membranes, and in the cell bodies of cortical pyramidal and cerebellar granular neurons. Copper is also a cofactor for enzymes for proper bodily function.
If you want a healthy brain, make sure you are consuming copper regularly. Recent studies have also shown that copper plays a role in the health of the brain even when we are at rest. The brain consumes 20% of the oxygen taken in through respiration. This oxidative metabolism requires your body’s highest levels of copper, iron, and zinc. According to Chrish Chang, lead scientist from Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, "[t]raditionally, copper has been regarded as a static metabolic cofactor that must be buried within enzymes to protect against the generation of reactive oxygen species and subsequent free radical damage. We've shown that dynamic and loosely bound pools of copper can also modulate neural activity and are essential for the normal development of synapses and circuits."
Promotes Energy Maintenance
Research has also shown that the copper element plays an important role in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the cell. There have been animal and lab studies that showed that inadequate copper can limit the mitochondria’s production of ATP. This leads to the feeling of fatigue.
It was also recently discovered how copper is transported to mitochondria giving researchers more insight on copper’s role in energy production. Copper is required for building cytochrome c oxidase, known as COX, a large protein complex in mitochondria that forms the last step of the electron transport chain, which harvests energy for the production of ATP.
Zinc and copper are both essential for optimal immune function. Inadequacy in both trace minerals increases your body’s vulnerability to bacterial infection. Early studies have shown how copper deficiency can lead to decreases in neutrophils and macrophages. These immune cells coordinate to create an effective response against bacteria and other infections in the body.
Your body has a smart innate immune system composed of cells and proteins made to defend against foreign organisms. The first line of defense is the epithelial cells. Once these cells are broken, neutrophils and macrophages will assist against the infection. Mild copper deficiency has shown to be associated with a decrease of circulating neutrophils in the body. Copper deficiency can also lead to impaired neutrophil function.
Not only does copper help with your brain and your immunity, it is also an endogenous regulator of lipolysis. Lipolysis is the breakdown of fat involving hydrolysis of triglycerides into glycerol and free fatty acids, which is an essential process in maintaining body weight and energy stores. This has been studied by the scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California led by Christopher J. Chang, Ph.D. in a paper published in Nature Chemical Biology. According to research done on mice, they found that copper binds to the enzyme PDE3, which in turn binds to cyclic AMP (cAMP), an intracellular messenger. CAMP facilitates fat breakdown. PDE3 doesn’t bind to cAMP if copper is absent which means lipolysis cannot occur. If fat in the cell isn’t broken down then the fat deposits enlarge. This means you need to ensure that your body is getting it’s recommended daily intake of copper.
Protects the Heart
There are many properties of copper that affect the body, including the heart. There are hundreds of copper-dependent proteins in the body even with the low dietary requirement. Copper deficiency can cause a reduction in metabolism and energy supply in the heart. It can also increase the risk for ischaemic heart disease. A study in the Journal of Experimental Medicine showed how foods rich in copper can be good for an ailing heart. The study suggests that consuming more copper in the diet may help people with heart muscle conditions.
Boosts Skin Health
A healthy adult would have a composition including 110mg of copper, 15% of which would be in the skin. Copper helps stimulate dermal fibroblasts proliferation, regulates collagen, and serves as a cofactor of the skin antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. It also inhibits cellular oxidative effects such as membrane damage and lipid peroxidation. The properties of copper have made it an important mineral for healthy skin.
Too much or too little copper can be dangerous to your body. There are many disorders associated with copper levels indicating that we should have adequate amounts of copper in the body. Copper absorption depends on four main factors: 1) the absorption of copper from the gastrointestinal tract; 2) copper transport in the portal blood; 3) the extraction of copper by hepatocytes from the portal blood supply; 4) copper uptake by the peripheral tissues and by the central nervous system.
Both adults and children can be prone to copper deficiency. For children, deficiency can lead to slowed growth and development. For adults, there are numerous problems that can arise including anemia, heart and circulation problems, bone abnormalities, and complications in the nervous and immune system. Here are two well-known copper disorders you should be aware of.
Wilson disease was first defined back in 1912 by Samuel Alexander Kinnier Wilson through his published work entitled “Progressive lenticular degeneration: a familial nervous disease associated with cirrhosis of the liver.” It is characterized by excess copper stored in various body tissues, particularly the liver, brain, and corneas of the eyes. If left untreated, it may cause liver disease, central nervous system dysfunction, and death. Studies have determined that it is caused by disruption or mutation of the ATP7B gene that plays a role in the movement of excess copper from the liver to be converted into bile and eventually be excreted from the body through the intestines. Treating Wilson disease is aimed at lowering copper levels to nontoxic levels.
According to World Health Organization, there are more health risks from lack of copper than from an excess of copper in the body. Menkes disease is caused by copper deficiency. In particular, it is caused by the mutation of the ATP7A gene which is involved in the delivery of copper to the secreted copper enzymes and in the export of surplus copper in the cell. The mutation causes poor distribution of copper to your body’s cells leading to low levels of copper in the brain and other tissues. This disease is characterized by sparse, kinky hair and deterioration of the nervous system. Sufferers also have reduced collagen formation.
Top 10 Foods with Copper
Since your body cannot create copper, you must obtain copper through the food you eat. Knowing the sources of copper in your diet can help maintain optimum levels of copper. Here are 10 of the most common food sources of copper. Check your diet to see if you’re getting enough copper regularly.
Copper is abundant in many types of seafood including oysters, clams, and crab. Enjoying a medium-sized oyster will provide you with 670mcg of copper. There are different types of oysters you can add to your meal. According to the USDA National Nutrient database, you can find the highest natural concentration of copper in the Eastern oyster. Consuming a 3-ounce serving of cooked Eastern oysters can provide you 4851mcg of copper. Just make sure your oysters have not been breaded or fried. A 3-ounce serving of crab will give you 585mcg of copper. You can also increase your consumption of fish including salmon and tuna. If you want to indulge yourself while getting copper in your diet, then enjoy some lobster.
The richest known dietary source of copper is beef liver. Beef liver contains 4mg of copper in each ounce. Beef heart and kidneys are also high in copper. Liver from different animals vary in terms of copper content. Calf liver contains twice as much as beef liver while the latter has three times more copper than hog liver. Other organ meat packed with nutrients including copper are the tongue, tripe, kidneys, and heart.
Seeds and Nuts
If you’re a vegetarian, you can still get copper through nuts and seeds. For every 1-ounce serving, you can get 519mcg of copper in sunflower seeds and 629mcg in cashews. Enjoy a peanut butter sandwich as you can get up 185mcg of copper for every two tablespoons of chunky peanut butter. Bring almonds and hazelnuts as your snack on the go. Whole almonds can give you 1mg of copper for every 100g. A 100g pack of poppy seeds will also provide you with 1.7mgs of copper.
Aside from seeds and nuts, beans are another excellent vegetarian source of copper. There are also a variety of different options to include in your meals. Chickpeas or garbanzo beans are not only a great source of fiber and protein but can also provide 0.35mg of copper for every 100 grams when cooked. Lentils are often used for soup and stews. Go for sprouted lentils rather than dried lentils as they provide more copper per serving. Sprouted lentils can provide 271mcg of copper compared to its dried counterpart with only 125mcg. Other beans you can include are pinto beans and white beans which both can provide 1mg of copper for every 100 grams.
There are also vegetables that have high content of copper. Raw kale contains 1.49mg of copper for every 100g. Raw is preferable to frozen kale which only contains 0.046mg of copper per 100 grams. Other vegetables include potatoes cooked with skin on as most of the copper is found in the potato skins. You can get 0.9mg of copper for every 100g of potato - 0.3mg of which is in the skin. Other vegetables rich in copper include cooked asparagus, spinach, sweet potato (with skin on), and fresh parsley.
Shiitake mushrooms are known for their rich texture and smoky flavor. They are considered to have 10 times more flavor than the popular button mushrooms. Not only are they flavorful, they are also packed with health-boosting properties that have been used since the times of ancient medicine. You can get 650mcg of copper for every 1/2 cup of cooked shiitake mushrooms. That’s already 72% of the recommended daily copper intake.
If you love pasta, salad or pizza, make sure they include sundried tomatoes. A cup of sun-dried tomatoes provides you with 768mcg of copper. They also contains magnesium, potassium, and iron. Avoid buying sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil since that variety is often low in nutrients and quality. Buy organic and unsalted varieties you can find at your local market or health food shops.
You have probably heard that dark chocolate is the healthiest type of chocolate. It’s packed with nutrients including copper, iron, and zinc. Enjoying a 3-ounce bar of dark chocolate will provide you with 0.75mg of copper. Several studies have shown that dark chocolate is the greatest contributor of copper intake in the American diet. Some people get over 50% of their daily copper from chocolate.
Quinoa has a lot of health benefits and can be a good rice substitute. It can also be a good source of copper in your daily diet. For every 100g of cooked quinoa, you can get 0.192 mg of copper. You can also pair quinoa with any of the other foods high in copper like seafood and liver for a well-rounded meal.
If you’re into porridge, consider replacing traditional oats with gluten-free buckwheat. Buckwheat is a good alternative to grains. It contains 0.25mg of copper for every 1 cup of cooked buckwheat. You can even stir-fry buckwheat together with dark, leafy vegetables which are also high in copper.
The next time you plan your meals for the week, check that you’re getting enough copper in your diet. Foods rich in copper are not hard to find but they are also often not regularly consumed. Use the above list to plan new meal ideas to ensure that you are meeting your copper requirements.
If you are looking for another great source of copper, consider drinking water from a copper water bottle. Several recent studies have substantiated that drinking water stored in a copper vessel is a safe and beneficial health practice. Storing water in a copper bottle also helps create natural alkaline water which has many health benefits.
About the Authors: This article was collaboratively written by our team of researchers and writers with the benefit of all available scientific studies and other relevant literature. Our team of researchers and writers include experienced health researchers including a qualified medical professional. Please note that information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.