Although rare for most people, anyone with gastrointestinal tract (GI Tract) problems (including celiac disease, an allergy to gluten) may be at risk for copper deficiency. (People with special diets, such as vegans, may also be at risk—copper deficiency and B12 deficiency can occur simultaneously).
Partially because it’s rare, but also because it’s not often tested for when symptoms are present, copper deficiency can be very hard for doctors to diagnose, often taking over a year!
Symptoms of Copper Deficiency
Copper deficiency symptoms are similar to anemia (copper is responsible for iron uptake/metabolism). Bone, skin, growth, and immune system health can be negatively impacted by copper deficiency.
Neutrophils are one of the more important white blood cells; their job is to destroy bacteria in the blood stream. Copper deficiency can lead to the body not producing enough neutrophils, leading to an increased risk of (potentially deadly) infection. Copper also contributes to red blood cell formation (this is part of it’s function in iron metabolism).
Copper plays a role in many enzymes; copper deficiency can impact proper glucose and cholesterol metabolism. Other copper enzymes manage free radicals, making them essential antioxidants.
Brain health is also affected by copper deficiency, as some of the enzymes play a role in neurotransmitter synthesis (neurotransmitters are how the synapses in your brain communicate, and include (what may be familiar) examples such as dopamine and serotonin). Without copper, muscle coordination may be affected, and, more seriously, with long term deficiency there may be nerve and spinal cord damage.
Treatment of Copper Deficiency
Most people get about 5 mg a day of copper from a balanced, healthy diet (of which less than half is absorbed). Copper can be found in an array of sources including dark leafy greens, liver meat, and chocolate.
The RDA for Copper is 1-3 mg per day, so anyone with poor absorption will be getting a fraction of the fraction that healthy people absorb from their diet. People with a poor diet, the elderly, as well as anyone with a disease that affects GI Tract nutrient absorption should supplement their diet with copper. Ideally, copper in a form that is easily absorbed by the GI Tract should be chosen.
Did you know Copper was so important to the body, including the immune system? Have you ever known anyone diagnosed with copper deficiency?