Copper has an interdependent relationship with other minerals, trace elements and vitamins in the body aka co-factors, and plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of the immune system. 

Your immune system is always active.
The activity of your immune system becomes elevated when your health is under threat, for example, you are exposed to toxic substances, or if there is a risk of an infection developing, or (Calder, 2020). 

Immediately before, during and after infection, as your body heals and restores, there is an increased rate of metabolism that requires extra sources of energy derived from nutrition and your body’s reserves.

Immune system

It’s wise to support your immune system by maintaining its reserves of essential minerals, trace elements and vitamins through conscious eating of whole foods, exercise and mineral enriched water. 

A commitment to personal care is essential for the optimal function of your immune system. This does not necessarily mean taking the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamins and minerals because the RDA is only a reference to the minimum requirements your body needs and does not represent a repair dose when your body requires extra nutrition!

Part of having a strong immune system is aiming to maintain the optimal amount of copper in your body.

More than 40 years ago Dr Linus Pauling, chemical engineer, chemist, biochemist, peace activist and two times Nobel Prize winning. 

From his research, Dr Pauling concluded that vitamins and other essential micronutrients play a vital role in enhancing health and preventing disease. He said, No evidence compels the conclusion that the minimum required intake of any vitamin comes close to the optimum intake that sustains good health.” And, “You can trace every sickness, every disease and every ailment to a mineral deficiency.”

Make food and water your medicine!

Sources of Copper
A wide variety of plant and animal foods contain copper such as meat (liver), seafood, cashew nuts, chickpeas, salmon, tofu, dark chocolate and avocado (NIH, 2020). The average diet provides approximately 1.400 and 1.100 mcg/day of copper for men and women, respectively (NIH, 2020).

Found in almost all forms of life, copper is an essential micronutrient, aka trace element, required for many biological processes in your body, and because of this, it’s important to have a dietary source of copper in either your food or water.

Copper is an essential co-factor of enzymes for iron absorption.

Copper is found primarily in the blood and in organs with high metabolic activity, such as liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and skeletal muscles (Barceloux & Barceloux, 1999).

Iron is involved in the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body and carries carbon dioxide to the lungs. Therefore copper plays a vital role in energy production. 

Copper aids in the formation of white blood cells, the frontline of your immune system, that fight infection and defend against disease, engulfs and digests foreign bodies, scavenges cell debris including damaged and old red blood cells and free radicals. 

The ability of copper to easily accept and donate electrons is why it plays an important role in oxidationreduction (redox) reactions and in scavenging free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to cells, DNA, lead to illness and causes premature aging. Examples of free radicals are found in tobacco smoke, radiation, drugs and pesticides.

Copper is a redox active metal and a cofactor for enzymes known as cuproenzymes. These enzymes are involved in oxidizing metals and other organic substrates as well as in the production of collagen proteins that give skin tissue elasticity and shape thus slow aging (Besold et al., 2016). 

Copper is required to balance zinc and plays a role in the function of the prostate gland and regulates oil glands and therefore may help to prevent acne.

Copper is Antimicrobial!
As an antibacterial agent copper has an ancient history of treating battle wounds and purifying water. Interestingly, the body’s copper reserves concentrate at infection sites.

Cellular Communication
Copper being an electrical conductor is required for brain development and function, maintenance of nerve cells, the transmission of electrical impulses, development of neural pathways, synapses and circuits, production of enzymes that activate the brain’s neurotransmitters in response to stimuli, and for the brain to switch off and sleep.

Signs of Copper Deficiency
Some symptoms related to copper deficiency include:

  • anaemia
  • tiredness
  • morbidity
  • increased risks of infection and recurring infection
  • osteoporosis
  • joint and muscle pain/inflammation

A copper deficiency reduces the effectiveness of the immune response (Percival, 1998) and will lead to an increased susceptibility to infections referred to as neutropenia, a condition where there are too few white blood cells produced by the body to fight an immune system challenge. This occurred in one study in which the intake of copper was reduced to 40% of the RDA. 

 Full function of the immune system can be restored by dietary supplementation with copper (Djoko et al., 2015).

 Maintaining a Copper Balance is Important!

Conversely, you can have too much of a good thing. In a study conducted on nine healthy young men, long-term high intake of copper at 7.8 mg/day for approximately 5 months. The amount of copper ingested daily was 8.6 times the RDA. The result concluded excess copper blunted antibody production in response to an immune challenge with an influenza vaccine. 

The tolerable upper limit of copper is 10000 mcg (10 mg) and is the amount of copper intake that some people begin to show symptoms of copper toxicity. 

How Much Copper Do You Need?
Total copper content present in the body of an average adult is between 50-120 mg. Almost two-thirds of the body’s copper is found in the skeleton and muscles (NIH, 2020). 

Excess copper is excreted in bile, and a small amount is excreted in urine (NIH, 2020).

According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an adult is 900 mcg (.9mg) per day.

A copper imbalance can result in severe and irreversible cellular damage (Li et al., 2019). However, instances of copper toxicity or critical copper deficiencies are rare. Abnormalities of copper metabolism can be caused by genetic disorders (Besold et al., 2016) such as a high level of copper = known as Wilson’s disease, or a copper deficiency identified in Menkes disease.

A wide variety of plant and animal foods contain copper such as meat (liver), seafood, cashew nuts, chickpeas, salmon, tofu, dark chocolate and avocado (NIH, 2020). The average diet provides approximately 1.400 and 1.100 mcg/day of copper for men and women, respectively (NIH, 2020). 

Balancing Copper In The Body
Your body is always balancing the optimal amount of copper you need and where it needs to be distributed to. Excess copper is removed in urine or faeces.

 The complex biology of your body is always adapting to internal and external impressions, adjusting and aligning to achieve a state of balance and harmony aka health and well being. While for the most part, we are oblivious to the billions of biological exchanges going on within our body every given second, be inspired to listen and respond to its calls for nutrition.

Generally, giving your body optimum amounts of nutrition (not the minimum) and by avoiding toxic influences, you have everything you need to maintain a strong immune system and live a long and vital life.

References:

Barceloux D. G. and Barceloux D. 1999. Copper. J Clin Toxicol 37: 217-230. DOI: 10.1081/CLT-100102421 Besold A.N., Culbertson E.M, Culotta V.C. 2016. J Biol Inorg Chem 21: 137-144. DOI:

10.1007/s00775-016-1335-1

Calder P.C. 2020. Nutrition, immunity and COVID-19. BMJ Nutr Prev Health 3: e000085. DOI: 10.1136/bmjnph-2020-000085

Copper: Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. 2020. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov

Djoko K.Y., Ong C.-I.Y., Walker M.J., McEwan A.G. 2015. Toxicity in innate immune defense against bacterial pathogens. J Biol Chem 290: 18954-18961. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.R115.647099

Li C., Li Y., Ding C. 2019. The role of copper homeostasis at the host-pathogen axis: From Bacteria to Fungi. Int J Mol Sci 20: 175. DOI: 10.3390/ijms20010175

Percival S. 1998. Copper and immunity. Am J Clin Nutr 67: 1064-1068. DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/67.5.1064S


Author:

Maryia Khomich, PhD

Maryia holds a joint Master degree in Marine Microbiology from six European universities and a PhD degree in Microbiology from the University of Oslo (Norway). She currently works as a Postdoctoral fellow at Nofima – Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research. Her project is at the interface of microbiology and biostatistics with a focus on gut microbiota from dietary intervention trials. She has previously worked as an independent consultant for a large microbiological journal.

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