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Copper is a trace element, with the atomic number of 29, that plays an important part in the conversion of iron to haemoglobin, the enzyme found in red blood cells, which binds with oxygen in the lungs to get it into the blood. Copper also helps in the synthesis of other proteins and enzymes and supports the functioning of the nervous system and stimulates the growth of red blood cells and is necessary for the correct functioning of brain cellsIt also helps with the maintenance and development of bones, tendons and connective tissues.

t is also an integral part of certain digestive enzymes and makes the amino acid tyrosine  usable, enabling it to work as the pigmenting factor for hair and skin. It is also is linked with thyroid metabolism especially in hormone production and absorption.

Copper, together with zinc improves the absorption of vitamin D, the vitamin which aids in the absorption of calcium. Copper and zinc are antagonists, and the balance between them is an example of biological dualism which means they must be consumed in balanced measures as they have an effect on each other. An intake of too much zinc, which is a key ingredient in some over-the-counter cold remedies, can cause irreversible neurological ailments associated with copper deficiency. Likewise too much copper can displace zinc in the body and cause the zinc deficiency symptoms.

Copper is also essential for the utilisation of vitamin C and works as an antioxidant. It can also help to prevent cancer, strengthens the immune system and protects against heart and vascular diseases.

There are approximately 75 to 150mg of copper in the adult human body. Newborn infants have higher concentrations than adults. Liver, brain, kidney, heart, and hair contain relatively high concentration. Average serum copper levels are higher in adult females than in males. Serum copper levels also increase significantly in women both during pregnancy and when taking oral contraceptives.

Copper deficiency

Low levels of cooper may result in bodily weakness, digestive disturbances, impaired respiration and can cause premature hair greying, infertility and premature wrinkling of the skin. It can also lead to anaemia, oedema, fragile bones, excitability and loss of the taste sense.

Some evidence suggests that too little molybdenum in the diet may be responsible for some health problems such as Wilson's disease in which the body cannot process copper.

Copper overdose

Water companies often add copper and other chemical compounds to reduce the growth of certain harmful algae and moulds in reservoirs. While copper is a nutrient mineral, most people have too much of it in their bodies. Vegetarian diets are high in copper. Weak adrenal glands cause copper accumulation. Birth control pills raise copper and copper intra-uterine devices can severely raise copper levels.

Copper toxicity is very common and can cause depression, anxiety, mood swings, panic attacks, fatigue, headaches, skin rashes and even cancer. It can also result in vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle pain, dementia, damage to the liver, discolouration of the skin and hair and can cause hyperactivity in children.

Highest sources of copper in milligrams per 200 calorie serving

  • Clams 49 mg

  • Calf’s liver 17 mg

  • Beef 17 mg

  • Oysters (raw) 13 mg

  • Lamb 10 mg

  • Duck 9 mg

  • Himalayan salt crystals 6 mg

  • Sea salt (unrefined) 6 mg

  • Spirulina 5 mg

  • Chlorella 5 mg

  • Squid 4 mg

  • Lobster 4 mg

  • Mushrooms (Crimini) 4 mg

  • Mushrooms (Shiitake) 3 mg

  • Basil 3 mg

  • Cocoa (organic) 3 mg

  • Capers 3 mg

  • Mineral water 3 mg

  • Apple cider vinegar 3 mg

  • Chamomile tea 3 mg

  • Lemons 3 mg

  • Chicory greens 3 mg

  • Turnip greens 3 mg

  • Cashew nuts 2.2 mg

  • Crab 2 mg

  • Squid 2 mg

  • Potatoes (with skins) 2 mg

  • Coriander 2 mg

  • Asparagus 2 mg

  • Swiss chard 2 mg

  • Winged beans 2 mg

  • Beetroot greens 2mg



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Recommended daily requirement

The recommended dietary need has not been established but 2 mg is considered adequate for adults. By wearing a copper bracelet on the skin, some copper is taken up in the body. 

NOTE: Copper supplements should be avoided as they can lower the zinc levels in the body causing insomnia and the other zinc deficiency symptoms.

Natural sources of copper in alphabetical order

NOTE: Copper is found in most foods containing iron.

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"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC

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