Copper

Copper is the name of my furry friend, pictured above. Calling his name in the yard the other day had me thinking, not many people talk about the mineral copper. I wanted to shed light on how important this trace mineral is and bring awareness of its major rolls in our body. Copper is a trace mineral that plays many important functions within the body. Within the body, copper is an element of ceruloplasmin, which is the protein required for copper transport in the body. Therefore, if one were to measure their copper status, ceruloplasmin levels would be measured. Ceruloplasmin itself plays a key role in the oxidation of ferrous to ferric iron, showing a close relationship between both copper and iron transport. When ceruloplasmin is inadequate, transportation of iron for heme formation is actually impaired, increasing the risk for anemia. The iron builds up in the tissues due to lack of transportation and symptoms similar to those of hemochromatosis occurs (1).

In addition to copper’s essential role in iron transportation, new information in copper’s assistance in bone health is being researched. This role is still not fully understood, however the function of a copper‐containing enzyme called lysyl oxidase is being researched in relation to how copper aids in the formation of collagen for bone and connective tissue and contributes to the mechanical strength of bone collagen fibrils, which are the long thin strands of proteins that cross‐link to one another in the spaces around cells (2).

Additional functions of copper include, acting as a cofactor to produce energy in the metabolic pathways. Copper is also part of the superoxide dismutase enzyme system, which fights damage caused by free radicals. Copper even helps brain function, as it is necessary for the regulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin (1).

After understanding the important and many functions of copper, exactly where is it found, and how does our body absorb this trace mineral? Copper is actually found in a wide variety of foods, making deficiency very unlikely. Food sources include lobster, oysters, mushrooms, pork and beans, cashews, potatoes and spinach. In fact, consuming just 1 cup of mushrooms supplies about 1 and ½ of the RDA for men and women, which is 900ug/day (1).

When consuming these foods, most of the copper is absorbed in the small intestine with a limited amount being absorbed in the stomach. Similar to other nutrients such as zinc and calcium, copper absorption is inversely dependent on the amount of copper in the diet, meaning the more copper consumed, the less absorbed, while the less consumed, the more absorbed. Copper is transported across the enterocytes by carrier mediated transport as well as by simple diffusion. It is then bound to albumin and transported to the liver through the portal blood. As mentioned previously, copper in the body is primarily ceruloplasmin and it is in the liver that 60- 95% of the copper is transformed into this protein. It is then released from the liver for circulation in the body and distribution to the tissues (1).

1. Thompson J., Manroe M., Vaughan L. The Science of Nutrition. Proteins: Crucial Components of All Body Tissues. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Pearson; 2014: 217-255.

2. Brown S. 20 Key Nutrients for Bone Health- An Overview. Better Bones. http://www.betterbones.com/bonenutrition/20keybonenutrients.pdf. Accessed November 30, 2015.

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