Copper is a necessary trace mineral crucial for survival. Majority of the copper present in our body is found in the liver, heart, brain, kidneys and skeletal muscle. On average, people have 100 mg of copper throughout their body. The total body amount is barely more than that found in a penny.
Copper is a native metal, meaning it doesn’t need extraction from an ore, instead it is found naturally as a directly usable metallic form. For this reason, copper was one of the earliest metals used by humans (since 8000 BC). Copper derives its name from Cyprium, Latin for Cyprus, the main region where this essential trace element was mined during Roman times.
Copper is a soft and flexible metal with very strong thermal and electrical conductivity. Fresh and pure copper has a reddish-orange color. This mineral is used as a conductor of electricity and heat, as a building material, and as a component of various metal alloys.
Copper is very important as a trace dietary mineral for all living organisms. In humans, copper is a critical cofactor in numerous reactions involving energy production, antioxidant defense, nerve function, and immune function.
Copper Musculoskeletal Health Benefits
1. Copper Supports Cartilage Health
Copper is a necessary component of lysyl oxidase. Lysyl oxidase is an enzyme that acts to add stability to collagen fibers by binding them together. Collagen is an essential piece of the cartilage’s extracellular matrix, acting as like a scaffold and providing stability.
In fact, collagen makes up 10% to 20% of cartilage. A useful analogy to consider when understanding the role of lysyl oxidase in stiffening collagen is the role of wall studs in stiffening walls. Imagine the top plate of a wall with no studs to stabilize it to the bottom plate. Bare to the effects of gravity, the top plate would instantaneously come crashing down.
Similarly, when collagen lacks the studs to cross link to adjacent collagen fibers in the extracellular matrix, the protective shield around the cartilage cells collapses, exposing the fragile cartilage cells to overwhelming strain that can cause cell death.
2. Copper Boosts Bone Health
Ninety percent of organic bone is composed of collagen, primarily type 1 collagen. As noted before copper is required for properly functioning lysyl oxidase. Lysyl oxidase helps fuse bone together and gives bone tensile strength. In the absence of suficient copper, bones would be brittle and break easily.
British researchers reported decreased torsional loading in femurs from copper-deficient rats. The authors concluded this difference was likely due to a decrease in collagen crosslinking; via a decrease in lysyl oxidase activity. (Jonas J, Burns J, Abel EW. Impaired mechanical strength of bone in experimental copper deficiency. Ann Nutr Metab 1993; 37: 245–52.
3. Copper Enhances Tendon Heath
Healthy tendons need collagen and elastin to function properly. In fact, tendons are 90% collagen and 2% elastin by dry weight. Collagen is important for strength, but elastin as its name implies is important for elasticity. Optimal copper intake via its interaction with lysyl oxidase helps ensure that collagen and elastin have the ideal amount of overlap and reinforcement. This confers on tendons the proper amount of strength and stretchiness that is needed to transfer the force generated by muscle to bones. Without this balance efficient movement would be very difficult.
4. Copper Promotes Ligament Health
Ligaments have a very similar structure to tendons, but ligaments have less collagen and more elastin. On average, ligaments are 70% type 1 collagen by dry weight and close to 7% elastin. Elastin is not only important for elasticity, but also helps the ligament return to its normal length after being stretched. The special biomechnical properties of elastin allow it to stretched over and over again without gein injred or loosing its integrity. In that sense, elastin is very similar to a rubber band.
Imagine a scenario when you stretch a rubber band and then let go. As long as you don’t stretch it too far, the rubber band returns to its normal length, untorn and ready to be stretched again. Copper combined with lysyl oxidize helps achieve the perfect balance elastin “stretchiness” and collagen "strength"; providing the joint with just the right amount of flexibility and stability.
5. Copper Spurs the Body’s Natural Antioxidant Defenses
Copper is an indispensable co-factor for superoxide dismutase. Superoxide dismutase is one of the body’s most formidable detoxifying and antioxidizing enzymes. Without copper superoxide distmutase will not perform properly. Functionally, this superoxide dismutase acts to defuse the dreaded free radical superoxide anion. The superoxide anion is an incredibly destructive free radical.Thankfully, superoxide dismutase can neutralize superoxide anion, limiting the amount of damage it can inflict on musculoskeletal tissue.
Other Health Benefits
There are other conditions that copper may assist, although more research is needed and for some conditions results to date have been mixed. Those include:
- Healthy LDL/HDL profiles
- Healthy Immune System
- Healthy Heart Beat
- Healthy Nervous System
- Healthy Skin & Hair
Excellent Sources of Copper
Copper is found in diverse foods and is plentiful in nuts, legumes, and shellfish.
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA)
Although there is no Recommended Dietary Allowance for copper an Adequate Intake (AI) is 1.7 mg per day for men and 1.2 mg/day for women, and going up to 1.3 mg/day for pregnant women and 1.5 mg/day for breastfeeding mothers.
Copper from natural foods is generally well tolerated. RDA amounts can be obtained from a balanced, healthful diet.
The FNB has published an upper limit value of 10 mg /day.
Excessive intake of supplemental copper may cause nausea, diarrhea, and more seriously liver toxicity.
Any consideration a supplementation should be discussed with a qualified health professional familiar with your unique medical history.
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