You might not think a heavy metal would be a good thing to have too much of in your body – and sure enough, the likes of mercury, lead and arsenic aren’t good for you. But copper, on the other hand, is what is known as an essential trace mineral. That means, in trace amounts, it isn’t merely important for your health – it’s actually crucial for survival.
Sure enough, copper is present throughout your body, albeit in higher concentrations in organs where metabolic activity is higher, such as the liver, kidneys, brain and heart.
When we say “higher concentrations”, however, it’s important to appreciate that we’re speaking in very relative terms – the 150 to 120 milligrams of copper found in the entire human body only being enough to fit on the head of a pin.
So, what does copper do to support health?
Even the aforementioned tiny quantity of copper in the body is sufficient to provide copper ions for billions of protein molecules.
Copper therefore plays a key role in such functions within the body as red blood cell production, iron absorption, the regulation of heart rate and blood pressure, and the development and maintenance of connective tissue, bones and organs.
Another reason why copper is especially important for human health in pandemic conditions like the present, is the part it plays in immune system maintenance and activation. Copper helps to ensure a healthy supply of white blood cells, many of which are phagocytes that protect the body by engulfing bacteria, foreign particles and dying cells.
By contrast, copper deficiency may mean that your body struggles to produce immune cells. This could cause a significant drop in your white blood cell count, making it harder for your body to defend itself against invaders.
The best dietary sources of copper
Fortunately, copper is present in a wide range of both fresh and processed foods, so simply eating a well-balanced diet should ensure you get enough of it.
Nonetheless, you may be concerned that you need to up your intake – perhaps because you’ve noticed symptoms that may indicate copper deficiency, such as feeling frequently fatigued and sick.
If so, good dietary sources of copper include nuts like cashews and almonds, beans like soybeans and lentils, and seafood such as oysters and lobster, as well as enriched cereal, fruit and vegetables. Dark chocolate can be an excellent source of copper, too.
Be alert to the signs of copper deficiency or toxicity
While both copper deficiency and copper toxicity are rare in healthy individuals, there can still be harmful effects to having too little or too much copper in the body.
In addition to the above, common signs of copper deficiency can include greater sensitivity to cold, problems with memory and learning, and even difficulties walking. Copper toxicity or copper poisoning, meanwhile, has been associated with symptoms such as headaches, fever, passing out, diarrhoea, and feeling anxious and irritable.
Another important thing to bear in mind with copper is its interaction with and interdependence on other minerals in the body. Research scientists routinely consider copper, iron and zinc as an essential trio, with too much of one potentially hindering the body’s processing or absorption of the other two.
Past studies have indicated that ensuring an adequate intake of both copper and zinc, for instance, can help to balance the absorption of both nutrients. That’s why you may look to increase your consumption of not only copper, but also zinc for your immune system.
It’s just one part of the broader balancing act that you will need to strike when attempting to boost your intake of minerals and vitamins for immunity and all-round health and wellness alike.