Dictionary: a red-brown heavy metal, the chemical element of atomic number 29
Nutrition was something that was an interest of mine, and still is. When I was in my late teens, early twenties, I followed a (mostly) vegetarian diet. After so many years, I have forgotten the exact reason why, but it was a combination of the following:
- It felt right at the time
- It was kind of the thing to do
- The way the bio-industry was raising animals, and many reports of mistreatment
- Cost factor, meat was (is) expensive
- Feeling sorry for the animals
Then a request came to me if I would be interested to try out this copper pitcher. Well, I could not remember a lot about copper, except what I remembered from nursing, which was not much.
A little bit of history.
Making things from copper has occurred for about 8000 years. In addition, people have melted the metal since about 4500 B.C. The Bronze Age started when copper alloys were made by adding tin to copper. This created a harder metal called “bronze”. The Bronze Age period ran from approximately 3300 to 1200 B.C. and is distinguished by the use of bronze tools and weapons, according to History.
For thousands of years, copper has played an important role in human history. For centuries, it was a crucial mineral in the production of everything from weapons to tools and household goods. In time, copper became appreciated for its ability to be shaped and moulded and to effective hold fluids. Today, most of the plumbing running through our homes consists of copper pipes. (Source: Emily Lockhart )
Copper turns a dull green through the process of oxidation. Oxidation is the reaction of copper with water and air (oxygen) and loses electrons in the process. This oxidation reaction is the reason the copper-plated Statue of Liberty is green rather than orange-red. The patina actually protects the copper below the surface from further corrosion.
Where can we find copper?
People need copper in their diets. The metal is an essential trace mineral that is crucial for forming red blood cells, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Fortunately, we find copper in a variety of foods, including:
- whole grains
- beans and lentils
- seafood like oysters and shellfish
- dark leafy greens
- black pepper and garlic
- dried fruits
- red meat and organ meats, such as kidneys and liver
- nuts, such as cashews and almonds
- soy flour
One of the richest sources of copper is oysters.
Calcium and potassium supplements depressed copper losses from the body and improved body copper retention .Magnesium and selenium supplementation of diets resulted in increased losses of copper. Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) inhibits the absorption of copper.
Copper for health
As an important mineral, it contributes to the health of our body by maintaining connective tissues, eyes, skin and hair.
Too much copper however is a bad thing. High levels of this heavy metal can cause abdominal pain and vomiting. You may notice a metallic taste in your mouth. Poor liver function can occur causing the skin to turn yellow. Long-term exposure may lead to symptoms such as anemia, convulsions and diarrhea. As well, you may be at increased risk for heart problems and stroke and cause kidney damage. Maintaining a healthy diet will prevent copper toxicity.
No adverse effects have been reported from normal dietary consumption of copper, but symptoms can appear if there is:
- excessive supplementation
- high levels of copper in drinking water, such as well water or water that is stored in copper pipes
- exposure to chemicals containing high levels of copper
- use of copper cooking pots
Signs of copper toxicity include:
- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain
- a metallic taste in the mouth
More serious effects are rare, but they include:
In addition increased serum copper levels have been linked with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Copper has anti-microbial properties and kills bacteria, viruses and yeasts on contact, according to a 2011 paper in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. As a result, copper can even be woven into fabrics to make anti-microbial garments, like socks that fight foot fungus.
While copper deficiency is rare, it seems that fewer people today are getting enough of the mineral. In fact, up to 25% of people in America and Canada may not be meeting the recommended copper intake. Copper deficiency is rare except in specific conditions, such as Menkes disease. The liver stores copper.
Other causes of copper deficiency are celiac disease, surgeries affecting the digestive tract (gastric bypass) and consuming too much zinc or Vitamin C, as these compete with copper to be absorbed.
Slow metabolism and weight gain
Copper helps maintain proper digestive functions, metabolize fat and eliminate waste. Iron deficiency anemia causes feelings of fatigue and weakness, copper is essential for the absorption of iron from the intestinal tract. Healthy red blood cells carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. When there are not enough red blood cells available for this function, you will be more easily tired and feel weaker as a result.
Maintaining a proper weight through healthy eating and exercise is crucial for your health. Copper can be helpful by enhancing the metabolic process and so improve energy levels.
Weak immune system
Copper has an oligodynamic (sterilizing) effect of metals on bacteria. In addition, it also strengthens your immune system and aids in the production of new cells. Including white blood cells, who are essential in the first line of defence in the fight against all diseases. Neutropenia is a deficiency of white blood cells, or neutrophils, which fight off infection.
The sluggish brain
For the brain to develop normally, it needs copper. Myelin, the insulation surrounding nerve cells, is needed to ensure proper transmission of impulses. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals allowing communication between nerve cells, and needs this mineral to work properly. Copper deficiency may cause loss of coordination and unsteadiness when the signals between the brain and your limps are affected. Problems with the nervous system can also lead to vision loss.
Studies have shown that the T3 and T4 levels of thyroid hormones are closely linked to copper levels. Thyroid hormone levels fall when copper levels are low. As a result, the thyroid gland may not work as effectively. The thyroid gland helps regulate your metabolism and heat production; low thyroid hormone levels could make you more sensitive to cold.
In order to maintain healthy connective tissues and because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it is essential that copper levels are sufficient. It also helps creating cross-links in bones to ensure bones are healthy and strong staving of osteoporosis.
Wrinkles and grey hair
Enzymes that use copper form melanin, melanin pigments produce darker or lighter skin or premature grey hair when copper deficiency is present. Further more, copper is also needed for heathy connective tissues that make your skin look and feel young.
Eating a variety of foods and maintaining a healthy diet will help maintain a proper copper balance. Adding supplements may be beneficial, consult with your MD prior to taking certain supplements.
Be aware that copper supplements can interact with the following medications:
- birth control pills and hormone therapy
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS), such as aspiring and ibuprofen
- penicillamine, used to reduce copper levels in Wilson’s disease
- allopurinol, a gout treatment
- cimetidine, or Tagamet, use for gastric ulcers and gastric reflux
- zinc supplements
These products may reduce or increase levels of copper in the blood, leading to an imbalance.
A word of caution: always consult your physician when you suspect to have a copper imbalance.
How much does an adult need?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the daily recommended amounts:
- for adults, 900 mcg
- for pregnant women over age 18, 1,000 mcg
- and for lactating women over age 18, 1,300 mcg.
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