Copper is an essential mineral required by the body for bone and connective tissue production, and for coding specific enzymes that range in function from eliminating free radicals to producing melanin. A deficiency in copper can lead to osteoporosis, joint pain, lowered immunity, and since copper is essential for the absorption of iron, anemia.
Copper is a trace mineral, meaning it is needed in a very small quantity. Its primary role is to help form hemoglobin and collagen in the body. A deficiency in copper results in poorly formed red blood cells, known as anemia. It also is an antioxidant, helping with the elimination of free radicals.
In the foods we commonly eat, there are only very small amounts of copper. As much as any dietary mineral, the amount of copper you eat is directly related to the amounts of minimally processed plant foods you get every day.
Over-consumption of copper will lead to cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting in the short term, and can lead to depression, schizophrenia, hypertension, senility, and insomnia in the long term. Copper in large amounts can even be poisonous. The stomach needs to be acidic in order to absorb copper and thus antacids interfere with the absorption of copper, as do milk and egg proteins.
Copper deficiency symptoms can include increased parasitic infections, weakness from anemia and leaky gut. Copper must stay in balance with zinc and iron in the body as well and if you consume too much of one it can throw the others out of balance. The RDA for copper is 900 mcg/day. The Daily Value is 2 mg. In more advanced cases of copper deficiency, including people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery, this loss of antioxidant protection over a period of years can lead to irreversible damage to the nervous system. However, this does not appear to occur without the types of unusual deficiency risks detailed below.
Copper is required to manufacture collagen, a major structural protein in the body. When copper deficiency becomes severe, tissue integrity—particularly bones and blood vessels—can begin to break down.
Brain Health: High Copper foods stimulate higher-level thought processes and mental functioning. It has been called a “brain food” because it helps enable certain neural pathways that promote out of the box thinking. A lack of copper during growth may result in incomplete brain and nerve development.
Cholesterol Balance: Animal studies have demonstrated that copper-deficient diets lead to increases in blood cholesterol levels. In humans, this appears to be true in some situations, but not all.
With the single exception of shrimp, all of the very good or excellent sources of copper among the World’s Healthiest Foods are plant foods. These best copper sources are varied, however, and come from many different food groups.
The body has sophisticated systems for keeping trace mineral levels in a state of steady harmony and at fine-tuned ratios that promote the optimal function of the cells. If levels of certain minerals like zinc, copper, iron, manganese, selenium or chromium dip for example, the body is stimulated to absorb those nutrients more fully from the diet, thus correcting the imbalance. Conversely, if the blood and cells are sufficiently overloaded, the liver is prompted to excrete unneeded minerals. On an even more intricate level, a deficiency in one mineral often creates an surplus in another as the body makes internal shifts in an attempt to self-regulate.
While copper and zinc work synergistically to promote such fundamental life-sustaining processes as immune response, nervous system function and healthy digestion, they are also antagonistic in character. This means that as levels of one decline, the other will rise. Therefore if one nutrient falls out of balance, both levels shift- confounding symptoms and making this dynamic relationship quite troublesome.
Foods Rich In Copper
- Seafood, oysters, shrimp
- Liver, beef
- Seaweed, spirulina
- Sesame seeds, sunflower, pumpkin seeds, nuts, cashews
- Mushrooms, shiitake
- Adzuki beans
- Garbanzo beans, black beans, lentils
- Hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, buckwheat, pistachio
- Pine nuts
- Walnuts, almonds
- Raw Kale
- Dried apricots