Copper is another very important metallic mineral. It is required for the production of blood cells, both red and white, mineralization of bones and the health of the bone surface, for the health of the arteries and the heart and for the proper control of blood cholesterol, for the development and health of the nervous system. In the brain copper is a specific brain stimulant, so lower levels of activity go with copper deficiency and hyperactivity with high circulating copper. Copper is also required for fertility and the menstrual cycle and the delivery of babies may be disturbed in copper deficiency. At cell level copper is required for important stages in respiration, including the final common pathway by which the cell utilizes molecular oxygen for energy production. Since energy production is concentrated within the mitochondria inside the cells, it is not surprising that copper deficiency in the rat causes deformation and defects of the inner mitochondrial membrane.

In severe copper deficiency the most important oxygen-using enzyme is diminished in activity by some 30%. This amounts to a serious impairment of cellular energy supply. Some of the observed effects of copper deficiency are probably due to a non-specific deprivation of some portion of the normal ATP supply. The exocrine pancreas (the part of the pancreas that produces digestive enzymes) is especially vulnerable to copper deficiency.

Copper is also required by the immune system and by some of the enzyme systems that normally quench free radicals, thereby reducing free radical damage. Copper has proved particularly vulnerable to the progressive deterioration in the mineral status of agricultural land. In the UK these losses have been very high in the past 20 years and this has turned a situation of generally adequate supply in foods into one in which deficiencies are easily possible. This situation is very variable from person to person. Some people are exposed to environmental copper, giving too high a daily intake. It is possible to have too much copper and its relationship to zinc intake is very important. Nutritional practitioners are rightly interested to find out whether their clients have high, normal or low copper intake. >>Source

Uses in the body: metabolises iron in the body, helps to produce red blood cells and plays a role in healthy respiration. Also helps the formation of hair and skin pigmentation.

Signs of deficiency: hair loss, anaemia, bone disease, poor growth, general feeling of malaise, abnormal heart rhythm (in adults).

Therapeutic uses: arthritis, heart disease, brittle bones, rheumatoid arthritis, water retention, damaged skin. Particularly helpful after surgery, trauma or burns, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, for the elderly and for those on low-calorie diets.

Dietary sources: liver, shellfish, nuts, bran, wholegrains, olives, wheatgerm, pulses, dried fruit.

Recommended daily allowance: 1.5mg
Typical therapeutic daily dose: 5mg to 8mg
Daily intake shouldn’t exceed: 5mg in the long term, although short-term doses of 8mg are sometimes used therapeutically

Cautions: toxicity has only ever been reported from drinking contaminated water or taking large doses of copper salts. However, the contraceptive pill raises copper levels, as does drinking water from copper pipes. These factors should be taken into account when considering dosage.

Best taken: daily with food in the form of copper gluconate or in a combined supplement with zinc to ensure a good balance. Zinc and vitamin C can cause copper deficiency, so copper supplementation should be taken at the same time as supplementation with these nutrients.