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name of the term : Copper

Short introduction

  • Copper is a trace element with the symbol Cu.
  • It is a component of many body proteins and found throughout the body: most copper is located in the liver, bones and muscle, but traces occur in all body tissues.

Main natural sources

  • Most plentiful in organ meats, shellfish, nuts and seeds, for example.
  • Further sources include whole grain products, dried legumes (soybeans, lentils).

Main function

  • Component of many enzymes.
  • Involved in energy production
  • Role in the production of the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). Strong emotions cause epinephrine to be released in the bloodstream, which causes an increase in heart rate, muscle strength and blood pressure. This reaction prepares the body for ‘energetic activity’.
  • Formation of red blood cells (haemoglobin), bone and connective tissue (binds tissues and organs).
  • Antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals (reactive by-products of normal cell activity), which might contribute to development of many chronic diseases.
  • Involved in iron metabolism. High iron intakes may interfere with copper absorption.
  • Formation of the pigment melanin: plays a role in pigmentation of hair, skin and eyes.

Deficiency disease

  • A deficiency is rare in humans. Disorders such as Crohn’s disease that impair the absorption of nutrients may cause a deficiency. It may also occur in premature infants.
  • Symptoms include fatigue and anaemia. Nerve damage may cause loss of sensation in feet and hands. Other symptoms include weak muscles, irritability and depression. Coordination may be impaired.
  • Inherited copper deficiency (in male infants) causes Menkes syndrome, a fatal illness in which the intestine is unable to absorb copper. It is characterised by sparse, kinky hair, failure to gain weight, failure to thrive and decreased nervous system function.
  • Wilson disease (hereditary disorder): the liver does not excrete excess copper into the bile as it normally does. This results in copper accumulation and liver damage. The first symptoms are generally brain damage.

Recommended daily intake

Latest Dietary Reference Intakes  (DRIs) 
Institute of Medicine (IOM)

Age categoryPer day

Pregnancy
Lactation

1000 μg (RDA)
1300 μg (RDA)
Infants 6 – 12 months220 μg (AI)
Children
 1 – 3 years
 4 – 8 years
340 μg (RDA)
440 μg (RDA)
Males
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
700μg (RDA)
890μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
Females
 9 – 13 years
14 – 18 years
19 – 30 years
31 – 50 years
50 – 70 years
> 70 years
700μg (RDA)
890μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)
900μg (RDA)

 

AI = Adequate Intake.
RDA = Recommended Dietary Allowance.


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