Copper is especially important for the human body. Like most living things, humans need, in addition to proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, the so-called trace elements, which live up to their name and only have to be absorbed in extremely small amounts.
Its job is to guarantee certain biochemical and enzymatic processes that are essential for our lives. All these trace elements are essential, which means that the human body cannot synthesize these elements by itself, but has to absorb them, sometimes even daily, in sufficient quantities through food, water, or even air. One of these trace elements is copper.
Profile of the chemical element “Cu”
The abbreviation of the chemical element ‘Cu’ is derived from the Latin name “Cuprum”, which in turn was called “ciprio” in ancient times because it was the “mineral of the Greek island of Cyprus”.
Our whole body contains about (only) 100 milligrams or 0.1 grams. Copper atoms are distributed mainly in bones, but there are also small amounts of them in muscles and organs such as the liver and brain.
This is absorbed in the small intestine, binds to albumin blood protein and is transported to the liver.
With regard to the metabolism of copper, our liver is the most important organ, since it temporarily stores the element and then releases it for incorporation into enzymes. In addition, it passes from the liver to other organs using the protein “ceruloplasmin”.
Copper protein compounds are urgently needed in the operation of catalysts for the oxygen cycle and the transport of charges (current flow in the brain).
An excess produces biologically highly damaging oxides for cells, which are also known as “free radicals”.
Benefits of copper in the human body
Copper is necessary to make pigments and red blood cells. The latter is absolutely vital because they have the task of supplying oxygen to all body cells.
It is also compatible with the absorption of iron from food, without which we could not produce hemoglobin for red blood cells. In addition, our immune system and wound healing would not work without this metal.
Copper is even necessary for the growth of skin and hair and no less important for the formation of nerve fibers in our nervous system. Last but not least, we also need it for mitochondria, which are the small power plants in our body’s cells.
How much copper do we need?
Adults and teenagers should add up to 1.5 milligrams of this metal to their bodies every day. Anyone can easily achieve this with a balanced diet.
In the blood of an adult, the copper level is usually between 74 and 131 micrograms per deciliter [µg / dl], in children the values are somewhat lower between 40 and 80 µg / dl.
If the urine of an adult human is collected for 24 hours, this reservoir should not contain more than 60 µg.
The best copper suppliers are:
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish and seafood
- Offal such as liver and kidney
- Whole grains
- Some green vegetables
- Tea and coffee
- Cocoa and chocolate
Causes and consequences of a copper deficiency
If you follow a not very healthy diet for a long time or suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel disease, you may be affected by a copper deficiency.
The dietary supplements containing zinc, if consumed in large amounts over a long period of time may limit the intake of copper. Children who have a unilateral diet, mainly with dairy products, may have a deficiency.
Just as kidney diseases can also promote a copper deficiency. In addition, steroids and increased homocysteine levels in the blood make absorption difficult.
However, copper deficiency is rare. Even before birth, the fetus stores large amounts of copper from the mother’s blood in the liver because it will be urgently needed for the growth of connective tissue and tissue, especially for red blood cells, and for the rapid growth of nerve tissue and the brain mass that will come after birth.
Deterioration of red blood cells
If there is a lack of copper, the function and life of the red blood cells are severely restricted. As a result, the affected person feels constantly weakened and flaccid because the supply of oxygen to the cells is no longer adequately guaranteed.
Reduces the formation of collagen with consequences
The tissue as a whole is affected by the significantly reduced ability to form collagen. For example, this affects wound healing, bones are affected, blood cholesterol levels increase, and cardiac arrhythmias and thrombosis can also occur.
Tricopoliodystrophy (Menkes curly hair syndrome) is a special form of copper deficiency. It is a congenital genetic defect that hinders the absorption of it from food and, therefore, causes a chronic copper deficiency. Menkes syndrome is not curable because we cannot intervene in the human genome. The symptoms of the disease can be relieved simply by a very high permanent supply of copper.
What happens in case of copper overdose?
With a healthy and balanced diet, you can barely achieve a surplus of copper. However, this is possible, for example, by taking copper in the form of a tablet.
Copper poisoning manifests itself through the following symptoms:
- Severe nausea and sometimes vomiting with blood.
- Diarrhea and possibly bloody stools.
- Damage to the gastric and intestinal mucosa.
- Damage to liver tissues.
- Destruction of many red blood cells.
- Renal insufficiency.
- Cramps and coma.
- Shock and circulatory failure until death.
Such severe copper poisoning is very rare in adults. Children, on the other hand, may experience massive poisoning with a lower dose.
For example, there have been cases where children have been poisoned so much by drinking milk from a copper kettle or water that has been in the copper pipe for a long time that all liver functions have collapsed, resulting in death.
In the case of poisoning, the stomach, usually in the hospital, is rinsed with a substance that prevents the body from absorbing more copper. Large fluid losses due to diarrhea and vomiting should be compensated with infusions.