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Why Does the Body Need Copper?

By Derek Bryan

Copper is an essential mineral found in seafood, organ meats like liver, nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and most multivitamins. Adults require roughly 900 micrograms of the mineral daily for healthy function, and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding need more. Functioning as an antioxidant and aiding metabolism and cell growth, copper is vital to several bodily processes, and a deficiency can result in anemia, irregular bone development, irregular heart function and low white blood cell count.

Growth and Development

Copper plays a vital role in growth and development since it is incorporated into many proteins and enzymes, according to a 2009 article in "The Journal of Biological Chemistry." As a result, sufficient copper intake is critical for infants and children. Proteins serve as building blocks for bodily tissue, making copper a necessary ingredient for the creation, growth and maintenance of bones, connective tissue and tissue of bodily organs. Some enzymes created with copper regulate nerve transmission, while others are involved in digestion and metabolism.

Red Blood Cell Production

Copper is also responsible for producing red blood cells, which transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream. Without a sufficient copper intake, red blood cell count drops, and oxygen transport efficiency diminishes. Copper also plays a role regulating blood clotting.

Metabolic Function

Metabolic enzymes in the body need copper in order to develop and function properly. This makes copper critical in the metabolism of glucose, which is broken down for energy, and cholesterol. On a smaller scale, copper also plays a role in producing and regulating cellular energy. In addition, copper facilitates the absorption of iron, another essential mineral in the body.

Immunological Function

Copper is an essential mineral in keeping your immune system healthy, stimulating the system to fight against spreading infections, initiate healing and repair damaged tissues throughout the body. According to researchers from the Biomedical Research Center of Heinrich-Heine University, the mineral also functions as an antioxidant, eliminating free radicals in the body that would otherwise cause permanent damage to cells. Their research was published in a 2003 article in the "Journal of Nutrition." Antioxidants are also thought to play a role in preventing chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and cancer, though supplementation of copper beyond the recommended daily amount is not shown to prevent such diseases and could lead to copper toxicity.

Other Uses

In addition to its essential roles, copper has been used as a dietary supplement for several conditions. A link between copper deficiency and amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease suggests that sufficient copper intake could prevent or slow chronic cognitive decline. Some animal studies suggest that copper supplementation can prevent and manage the symptoms of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.

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