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October 2008

Copper-the Metal We Can't Live Without

Long known as essential for general health, copper may also prevent serious infections and disease, according to new studies.

It's easy to take copper for granted. It's just another metal, even if it does have some unexpected and interesting attributes. Copper is what pennies, rooftops and the Statue of Liberty are made of. It has become so valuable that junkyards are paying porterhouse prices for scrap. It turns green as it ages.

Okay, pennies are just coated with copper. But did you know that you can't live without this ubiquitous metal? Or that the world around you wouldn't be the same without the unique benefits of copper? Copper also may be protecting you and everyone else from bacterial disease-even saving lives-in ways you probably don't realize.

Let's start with health. It's a fact-copper, the element, is essential to all plant, animal and human life, helping to regulate and facilitate key bodily functions like maintaining a healthy heart and liver, bone growth and strength, the development and performance of the human nervous, cardiovascular, immune, reproductive and genetic systems. It's also naturally good for your skin. Cosmetics manufacturers add copper to many products for this reason.

And it's true that copper has an intrinsic disease-fighting, antimicrobial property. Copper kills certain bacteria, otherwise known as microbes, or just plain germs. Put some of the deadliest of these organisms on a sheet of copper, or on several of copper's many alloys, and the microbes die within two hours.

This is important. And it's becoming more important every day in our crowded, bacteria-rich world. In the U.S. alone, some 100,000 people die every year as a result of infections they acquire in hospitals. To focus attention on this growing problem, Oct. 19-25 has been named International Infection Prevention Week.

So how can copper help? Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the registration of 275 copper alloys as antimicrobial materials, allowing public health claims that copper, brass and bronze are capable of killing potentially deadly bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus-the so-called "superbug" MRSA, which is blamed for many hospital infection deaths.

"Research continues to show that copper is a vital element and has far-reaching benefits beyond the uses it is traditionally associated with, such as electrical wire, cookware, roofing material, water pipe and jewelry," says Andy Kireta, Sr., president and CEO of the Copper Development Association (CDA). "Copper's effectiveness in killing harmful bacteria will one day help all kinds of public facilities reduce community-acquired infections and become more sanitary environments."

Now that EPA has recognized copper's antimicrobial properties, research into how this potentially lifesaving benefit can be applied has begun. Clinical trials are currently underway in government and private hospitals, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, to replace frequently touched surfaces-over-bed tables, bed rails, IV poles, doorknobs, chair arms and the like-with copper alloy materials. These studies expect to demonstrate that infection rates will noticeably decline due to the fact that bacteria cannot survive on these surfaces.

Meanwhile, people everywhere continue to benefit from copper in their diet, or suffer from a lack of it, even if they are unaware of it. Numerous health disorders are linked to copper deficiency, including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, chronic conditions involving bone, connective tissue, heart and blood vessels. In infants and children, the repercussions of copper deficiency can be worse, resulting in bone abnormalities, impaired growth, weight gain, anemia, frequent infections (colds, flu, pneumonia), poor motor coordination and low energy.

However, simply eating a balanced diet can prevent such ailments and diseases.
Most of the copper our bodies need comes from food that we eat on a regular basis, such as milk, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, seafood, particularly shellfish, fruits like coconuts, papayas and apples, and chocolate.

According to the Health Research Institute and Pfeiffer Treatment Center, copper deficiencies may also lead to mood swings and changes. Feelings of irritability and anger, as well as stress, memory loss and depression, can be linked to nutrient imbalances. Two key nutrients that are important in controlling these emotions are zinc and copper.

While zinc supports enzymes that affect brain activity, copper plays a more direct role in brain function. It helps to convert dopamine, a chemical produced by the body and used in the brain, into norepinephrine, which is associated with heightened alertness and mood elevation.

A balanced diet plays an equally important role in health and fitness. Maintaining the proper levels of essential metals and nutrients ensures that our bodies function the way they're supposed to. Here again, copper plays a key role, aiding the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin-both vital for transporting oxygen throughout the body.

Copper is also often found in muscle supplements, typically compounded into less-familiar forms such as copper citrade, copper aspartate, copper fumerate, copper malate and copper AKG. In these forms, the copper attaches to amino acids to help the body absorb nutrients much more quickly.

New findings also indicate that maintaining adequate amounts of copper in the body may be vital for fetal brain function and development. Studies have shown that even moderate copper deprivation can cause underdevelopment of memory-control areas in newborns.

Research has also shown that adding trace amounts of copper to creams and lotions may help delay and even reverse the effects of aging. According to Loren Pickart, Ph.D., who has been researching anti-aging processes since the 1970s, creams and lotions that contain copper peptides (proteins containing copper ions) dramatically improve skin tone and elasticity.

In addition to Pickart, who owns and distributes a skin-cream product line called "Skin Biology," well-known brands such as Neutrogena™ from Johnson & Johnson use copper peptides in their skin cosmetics.

According to a study by James J. Leyden, a professor of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the school's Skin Study Center, "Products containing GHK-Cu, including a facial cream, eye cream and foundation, result in rapid improvement in skin condition, including reduction in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, roughness, sallowness (a sickly yellowish skin color), laxity and hyperpigmentation (brown spots)."

Copper peptides have also been found to be helpful in:

  • Aiding skin healing after surgery, as well as after laser resurfacing, dermabrasion treatments and chemical peels
  • Stimulating hair growth and hair transplants
  • Improving skin conditions due to acne, diabetes and psoriasis
  • Increasing the safety and efficiency of sun-tanning lotions, and reducing post-tanning skin peeling
  • Reducing inflammation after men's shaving and encouraging new skin growth

Researchers continue to uncover the benefits of copper to our health and well being. The next time you drive by a building with an ornamental copper roof or pick up a penny, be sure to ask yourself if you've eaten your daily requirement of this rich, essential metal. Cu


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