Copper is an essential trace element that our bodies need in small amounts to function properly. It serves as a cofactor for several enzymes, which are proteins that catalyse chemical reactions within cells. Copper is also important for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, the signalling molecules that transmit information between nerve cells.
Functions of Copper
- Energy production: Copper is involved in the process of cellular respiration, which is responsible for converting food into energy.
- Iron metabolism: Copper is necessary for the proper absorption, transport, and utilisation of iron in the body.
- Nervous system function: Copper is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and the maintenance of myelin, the insulating layer that surrounds nerve cells.
- Antioxidant defence: Copper is a component of several antioxidant enzymes, which help protect cells from damage caused by reactive oxygen species.
Good Sources of Copper
Copper can be found in various food sources, both plant-based and animal-based. These include:
- Shellfish: Oysters, clams, and mussels are excellent sources of copper.
- Organ meats: Liver and kidney are rich in copper.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds contain substantial amounts of copper.
- Whole grains: Whole wheat, barley, and quinoa are good sources of copper.
- Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas provide moderate amounts of copper.
- Dark chocolate: High-quality dark chocolate with high cocoa content is a good source of copper.
How Much Copper Do We Need?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily intake of copper varies depending on age, sex, and life stage. Here are some general guidelines:
- Infants 0-6 months*: 200 mcg/day (micrograms)
- Infants 7-12 months*: 220 mcg/day
- Children 1-3 years: 340 mcg/day
- Children 4-8 years: 440 mcg/day
- Children 9-13 years: 700 mcg/day
- Adolescents 14-18 years: 890 mcg/day
- Adults 19 years and older: 900 mcg/day
- Pregnant women: 1,000 mcg/day
- Breastfeeding women: 1,300 mcg/day
* The values for infants are adequate intake (AI)
It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional to determine your specific copper needs.
What are the Signs of Copper Deficiency?
Copper deficiency is relatively rare but can occur under certain circumstances. Some common signs and symptoms include:
- Anaemia: Copper deficiency can cause anaemia due to impaired iron metabolism.
- Neutropenia: A low number of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell important for fighting infections, can be a sign of copper deficiency.
- Neurological problems: Copper deficiency can cause neurological symptoms, such as numbness and tingling in the extremities, muscle weakness, and difficulty walking.
- Osteoporosis: Copper is essential for bone health, and its deficiency may lead to reduced bone mineral density and increased fracture risk.
If you suspect you may be deficient in copper, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and treatment.
What Happens If I Take Too Much Copper?
Excessive copper intake can lead to copper toxicity, which can cause various symptoms and complications. Some common signs of copper overdose include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Liver damage
It’s essential to follow the recommended daily intake guidelines and consult with a healthcare professional before taking copper supplements.