Copper’s antibacterial properties make it much sought after in preventing the spread of bacteria, and the trace mineral is pivotal in the formation of red blood cells and maintaining cholesterol balance.
And there’s more: a 2016 study found that copper plays an integral role in metabolising fat. Lead researcher Chris Chang said: “We find that copper in the diet is essential for breaking down fat cells so that they can be used for energy. It acts as a regulator. The more copper there is, the more the fat is broken down. We think it would be worthwhile to study whether a deficiency in this nutrient could be linked to obesity and obesity-related diseases.”
The finding suggests copper could potentially play a role in restoring a means for the body to burn fat naturally. Copper also plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis and osteopenia (low bone density). Connective tissue formation relies on copper, and our bones rely on connective tissues.
Copper is also one of three minerals, along with manganese and zinc, that make up an extremely important antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase – a key player in repairing cells and saving bones from oxidative damage. Superoxide dismutase also protects mitochondria, the “powerhouse” that generates the energy that our cells need to do their jobs.
According to Anna Foley, nutritionist at Nutrition Nation, copper is required to manufacture collagen, a major structural protein in the body. It’s needed to incorporate iron into red blood cells, thus preventing anaemia and is involved with the generation of energy from carbohydrates inside cells.
However, too much copper has been known to decrease thyroid function and alter other micronutrients such as calcium and sodium. Denise Fair, an accredited dietitian at Central Health Medical Practice in Hong Kong, says that the chances of a copper overdose from organic or natural copper found in foods being “toxic” is extremely low.
However, copper supplements and copper from other sources – usually metallic, such as electrical wires, plumbing pipes, brass fittings, copper intrauterine devices (IUDs), water fittings, cooking pans and copper coins – can cause copper toxicity and lead to physical symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, jaundice and hypotension.
The World Health Organisation’s recommended daily intake of copper for an adult is 770 micrograms per day. Normally, copper is absorbed from food, and any excess is excreted through bile – a substance produced in the liver. But in people with Wilson’s disease, a rare inherited disorder that causes too much copper to accumulate in the liver, brain and other vital organs, it isn’t eliminated properly and accumulates, possibly to toxic life-threatening levels.