Foods with good supplies of copper are the whole grains, particularly buckwheat and whole wheat; shellfish, such as shrimp and other seafoods; liver and other organ meats; most dried peas and beans; and nuts, such as Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pecans. Oysters have high amounts, about five times as much as other foods. Soybeans supply copper, as do dark leafy greens and some dried fruits, such as prunes; cocoa, black pepper, and yeast are also sources. In addition to food sources, copper can come from water pipes and cookware.
Functions: Copper is important as a catalyst in the formation of hemoglobin, our oxygen-carrying molecule. Copper in the red blood cells is bound to erythrocuprein, a substance thought to have superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity, which is energy enhancing. Copper is also part of the cytochrome system for cell respiration, an energy-releasing process. It also helps oxidize vitamin C and works with C to form collagen (part of cell membranes and the supportive matrix in muscles and other tissues), especially in the bone and connective tissue. It helps the cross-linking of collagen fibers and thus supports the healing process of tissues and aids in proper bone formation. An excess of copper may increase collagen and lead to stiffer and less flexible tissues.
Copper is found in many enzymes; most important is the cytoplasmic superoxide dismutase. Copper enzymes play a role in oxygen-free radical metabolism, and in this way have a mild anti-inflammatory effect. Copper also functions in certain amino acid conversions. Being essential in the synthesis of phospholipids, copper contributes to the integrity of the myelin sheaths covering nerves. It also aids the conversion of tyrosine to the pigment melanin, which gives hair and skin their coloring. Copper, as well as zinc, is important for converting T3 (triiodothyronine) to T4 (thyroxine), both thyroid hormones. Low copper levels may reduce thyroid functions.
Copper, like most metals, is a conductor of electricity; in the body, it helps the nervous system function. It also helps control levels of histamine, which may be related to allergic and inflammatory reactions. Copper in the blood is fixed to the protein cerulosplasmin, and copper is part of the enzyme histaminase, which is involved in the metabolism of histamine.
Uses: Some nutritional doctors feel that copper should not be supplemented because of the narrow line between the therapeutic and toxic doses. Copper has, however, been used in cases of anemia, vitiligo, fatigue, allergies, and stomach ulcers where low levels of copper have been found. Whenever copper is deficient, which it can be for many reasons, it should be supplemented. Copper can be measured in the blood, both plasma and red blood cell levels, to help determine the amount of copper to be supplemented.
The use of copper bracelets in the treatment of arthritis has a long history, and wearers continue to claim positive results. The copper in the bracelets reacts with the fatty acids in the skin to form copper salts that are absorbed into the body. The copper salts may cause a blue-green stain on the skin, but this can be removed with soap and water. Recent research suggests that copper salicylate used to treat arthritis reduces symptoms more effectively than either copper or aspirin alone.
In a Danish study, arthritis patients who were treated with injections of superoxide dismutase, an enzyme containing copper (or manganese and zinc) that is found within the cells, obtained relief from many of their symptoms, such as joint swelling, pain, and morning stiffness. SOD is available in tablets in the United States; however, it is not thought to be stable in the stomach and small intestine, so it may not be of any help for arthritis when taken orally. Additional research with enteric-coated tablets of active SOD may provide new insights into oral SOD treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory disorders.