Copper: The Missing Link in Your Diet


When we think of copper, we often think of toxic or high levels from copper tubing and water pipes. In reality, the majority of Americans are deficient in copper. The National Institutes of Health did a study showing that 81 percent of people have less than two-thirds of the recommended daily allowance of copper. Another study revealed that hospital meals provide only 0.76 mg of copper per day, whereas people need 2-4 mg for health, and even more for healing.

A study by the Food and Drug Administration showed that, in an analysis, 234 foods that constitute the core of the American diet provided less than 80 percent of the RDA of copper. A study of 270 United States Navy SEAL trainees, all of them highly selected healthy young men, revealed that 37 percent had low plasma copper levels, and plasma copper, as you will see, is a very insensitive indicator of copper status.

One study showed that 80 percent of Americans get 1 mg of copper per day, and another study, which analyzed 20 different types of U.S. diets, showed that only 25 percent of the people got 2 mg of copper a day and the majority of the diets provided 0.78 mg of copper per day.

So all copper studies seem to point to the majority of people being deficient.

When we studied 228 of our patients, 165 (or 72 percent) were deficient in copper. So, no matter whose studies you look at over the last 20 years, there is a wealth of data showing that copper deficiency is rampant in the United States. But the best test for copper deficiency is intracellular, or red blood cell (RBC), while serum or plasma copper tests are too insensitive, and hence not worth obtaining.

Why Copper Is Needed

So why do we need copper? Copper is present in about 21 different enzymes, and its importance has been known since 1928. For example, one important enzyme is histaminase, which breaks down histamine. So all allergic people, who overproduce histamine, certainly need to ensure that they have normal copper levels. Another copper-dependent enzyme is cytochrome oxidase, which is necessary for energy metabolism. Indeed, some people with weakness and chronic fatigue have marked copper deficiences.

Copper is also present in superoxide dismutase, an enzyme which is useful in protecting us from developing chemical sensitivity. For example, a 33-year-old lab technician for years could not tolerate shopping malls, auto exhaust fumes and many businesses because of chemical sensitivity. She felt confused, suffered from headaches, and became weak and tired when she breathed the higher levels of chemicals commonly encountered in these environments. When we found that she had a copper deficiency and corrected it, within one month she was no longer as chemically sensitive, and could tolerate these exposures without symptoms.

Remember that chemical sensitivity requires multiple factors, one of which is that the person must be deficient in certain nutrients that are necessary for the detoxification pathways to operate normally. Once the deficiencies in these pathways are corrected many times, the chemical sensitivity is corrected (refer to Tired or Toxic?; call (800) 846-ONUS for further explanation and references).

As well, the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD) plays a role in the retarding of aging, arthritis and general body deterioration. In fact, in nearly all diseases, lower than normal levels of SOD are found. For example, people with colitis were found to have much lower levels of superoxide dismutase in the bowel, and people with Alzheimer's disease were found to have much lower levels of superoxide dismutase in the brain. In other studies, chemically induced tumors were analyzed and found to be low in copper-containing protective superoxide dismutase.


There are many other enzyme pathways where copper is used for the detoxification of chemicals besides superoxide dismutase. For example, it is in polyphenol oxidase, which is necessary for the breakdown of phenols that emit gas from common household cleaning products. Also copper is necessary for the action of glutathione peroxidase and catalase pathways, even though it is not directly used in those enzymes. Studies on rats show that those which were deficient in copper developed severe liver necroses (tissue death) when exposed to carbon tetrachloride. But when the copper deficiency was corrected, they did not develop the expected chemical toxicity and suffer death.

Just as important, copper has a very important role in mood chemistry. For example, the enzyme dopamine beta-hydroxylas is responsibile for the metabolism of norepinephrine, which affects depression and fatigue. It is also important in the snythesis of other mood hormones, like dopamine and serotonin (the one that many antidepressants -- like Prozac -- work on), and in the major stress (adrenal) hormone, epinephrine. And copper has an even greater influence on our moods, for it is necessary for the action of aminoxidases, which influence the metabolism of many neurotransmitter proteins in the brain that are responsible for moods and thoughts.

The Heart Protector

With all of these benefits, copper is still essential for many more enzymes. It is very important in protecting against arteriolosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia; aneurysms (weakened blood vessels that burst and can cause suddent death); EKG abnormalities; hypercoagulable states which lead to heart attacks and strokes; and sugar metabolism. As an example, many people with high cholesterol lack minerals like copper to properly metabolize their cholesterol. It is an error to prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs without checking the RBC copper status.

For example, copper is important in an enzyme deta-9-desaturase. This has to do with the proper metabolism of essential fatty acids that make up the structural integrity of cell membranes. Remember, the most important membranes are the cell walls, from which allergic reactions, degenerative diseases and autoimmune diseases emanate.

Calcium channel blockers are commonly prescribed, expensive drugs to control blood pressure and heart arrhythmias, but the reason the membrane calcium channels must be blocked has to do with minerals and essential fatty acid deficiences in the membranes. A headache isn't an aspirin deficiency, so we should be less inclined to "drug" every symptom and more inclined to find the nutrient deficiency behind the symptom. For example, if the mitochondrial membrane wall, where energy is created, is deficient, we can get chronic fatigue.

Furthermore, another very important membrane is the nuclear membrane, which protects our genetic DNA material from damage from chemicals. When the nuclear membrane is weak, chemicals can penetrate the nucleus and damage DNA; this is one of the mechanisms for instigating cancers as well as other degenerative diseases. Another very important membrane complex is the endoplasmic reticulum, where detoxification of everyday home, office and outdoor chemicals must be done.

At this point, you might be eager to run out and corner the market on copper and consume it, but this can be dangerous without knowing the proper level of copper, or the proper level of complementary, but antagonistic, minerals such as (RBC) zinc, (RBC) molybdenum and iron. By taking copper, one can lower the values of these important minerals and create secondary deficiencies.

Foods that are high in copper include nuts, legumes (peas and beans), seeds, organ meats and shellfish, in particular. Foods especially low in copper a re processed foods in general, especially white flour, white sugar and fructose (fruit sugars).

Man is still trying to figure out why there are such folk remedies as copper bracelets for the care of arthritis. It is presumed by some that the copper is actually absorbed and incorporated into the antiinflammatory enzyme superoxide dismutase, which tends to turn off inflammatory conditions like is your best protection, and, if available, even have the (RBC) copper level examined.

Bob, a 54-year-old engineer, had 10 years of headaches. Allergy injections, dietary changes, and correction of nutrient deficiencies documented on blood tests corrected other symptoms, but they did not relieve his headaches. However, when an RBC copper deficiency was found and corrected, within one month his headaches disappeared. Certainly, people like this teach us that copper is the "missing link."

Life University.


By Sherry A. Rogers

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