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Copper is located throughout the body, incorporated into organic complexes, such as enzymes involved in brain function and the Circulatory System.
Copper is in itself an oxidant, yet in the body it has an antioxidant function by being a participant in the enzyme superoxide dismutase (S.O.D.). This enzyme protects the cells from the damage caused by free radicals and peroxides.
Copper is also part of the protein, ceruloplasmin, found in the blood plasma. Ceruloplasmin regulates the level of certain hormones in the blood and is also required for the formation of red blood cells.
Additionally, copper plays a part in energy production, melanin (Skin pigment) formation and fatty acid oxidation.
The risk of heart and circulatory problems is increased with copper deficiency, especially if accompanied by a deficiency of Selenium. This is probably because the enzymes gluthathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase are restricted in their action, allowing free radicals to go unchecked.
Copper deficiency can also contribute to Anaemia, bone diseases, nervous system disturbance and hair loss. In children, growth is inhibited and the bones may become brittle.
Upper safe level for daily supplementation: = 5mg
There is no EC Recommended Daily Allowance for copper.
The British RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) is 1.2mg for adults, with higher amounts required by lactating women.
A copper supplement may be necessary when high dose Zinc is being taken, as this may deplete copper. Copper is also necessary in Menke?s syndrome (a rare genetic disease characterised by the inability to absorb copper) (1). However in this condition, copper injections are often prescribed.
Copper may be useful in combating inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid Arthritis and osteoarthritis (2).
High intakes of copper are toxic, but chronic copper intoxication has not been reported in the U.K. In the U.S.A. and West Germany, copper toxicity has been associated with water contaminated with over 1.6mg copper per litre.
Non-food sources of copper include copper pipes (especially those carrying soft water) and copper cooking/food-processing equipment.
1. Kaler SG. Diagnosis and therapy of Menkes syndrome, a genetic form of copper deficiency. Am J Clin Nutr ,67;5 suppl:1029S-1034S, 1998.