Recommended Dietary Allowances: adults, 1.5 mg to 3 mg
Copper is indispensable to human health. Its many functions include the following: helping to form hemoglobin in the blood; facilitating the absorption and use of iron so that red blood cells can transport oxygen to tissues; assisting in the regulation of blood pressure and heart rate; strengthening blood vessels, bones, tendons, and nerves; promoting fertility; and insuring normal skin and hair pigmentation. Some evidence suggests that copper helps prevent cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and heart arrythmias and that it may help treat arthritis and scoliosis. Copper may also protect tissue from damage by free radicals, support the body's immune function, and contribute to preventing cancer.
Most adults get enough copper from a normal, varied diet, although supplementing with a high-quality multinutrient supplement, insures adequate intake. Seafood and organ meats are the richest sources of copper. Molasses, nuts, seeds, green vegetables, black pepper, and cocoa, among others, also contain significant quantities. Excess calcium and zinc will interfere with copper absorption, but a true copper deficiency is rare and tends to be limited to people either with certain inherited diseases that inhibit copper absorption, such as albinism, or with acquired malabsorption ailments, such as Crohn's Disease and celiac disease. Deficiencies may also occur in infants who are not breast-fed and some premature babies.
Symptoms of copper deficiency include brittle, discolored hair; skeletal defects; anemia; high blood pressure; heart arrythmias; and infertility. Taking more than 10 mg of copper daily can bring on nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and stomach aches. Women who are pregnant or taking birth control pills are susceptible to excess blood levels of copper. Some research suggests that high levels of copper and iron may play a role in hyperactivity and autism.
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