Expert Nutrition

Copper (Cu)

Copper is a component of many enzymes and is essential for the making of red blood cells, skin pigment, collagen, nerve fibres and neurotransmitters. In total there is only about 80mg of copper found within the body which is widely distributed among the various tissues, majority of which is found in bones, muscle tissue and in the liver.

A copper deficiency is rare but can result in anaemia, deterioration of heart muscle, vascular problems such as inelastic blood vessels, various skeletal defects, nerve degeneration, abnormalities of the skin and hair as well has infertility. Less than 50% of dietary copper is absorbed into the body and both high doses of zinc and iron have been suggested to inhibit the absorption of copper further, as they compete for amino acids carriers which actively transport the mineral nutrients through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.

The richest source of copper is liver and other organ meats, but it can also be found in seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes, prunes and barley.

Copper levels within the body are regulated through its excretion in bile, however toxic levels can accumulate and cause severe liver disease and mental deterioration. Toxicity is most likely to be caused by a metabolic disorder, although excessive dietary intake through the use consumption of liquids stored copper vessels or cooking with unlined copper pots may also be linked.

1. Stanton R. Foods that harm, foods that heal: An A-Z guide to safe and healthy eating. Readers Digest; 2006, pp 256-261.
2. Wahlqvist, M.L., et al. Australia and New Zealand: Food and Nutrition. 2nd Ed. Allen and Unwin, Sydney; 2002, pp 272-274.
3. The Merck Manual of Medical Information 2nd Ed. Beers, M.H., Fletcher, A. J., Jones T. J., Porter, R., Berkwits, M., et al., editors. Pocket Books Reference; 2003 pp 822.
4. National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Department of Health and Ageing; 2006 pp171-174.

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