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May 2010

Copper: It Does a Body Good

The Metal Known For Its Architectural Superiority Also Helps Regulate Daily Bodily Functions

Copper is an essential element in all aspects of construction: plumbing, air conditioning, heating and electrical wiring. But did you know that it is also an essential element in building a healthy body? Copper is an essential trace mineral that serves several important bodily functions.

Just like zinc and iron, copper is part of the small group of metallic minerals that are critical to health, and help maintain normal metabolic functions in the body. Copper is needed to properly absorb and store iron, it helps regulate blood pressure, plays a role in strengthening connective tissue and bone, and is important for building red blood cells. It is also a critical component in protecting our bodies from free radicals that cause cell damage.

Copper-rich foodsWhole grain is one source of copper for your diet

High-resolution version of this photo.

Because of the important role copper plays in so many biological functions, the mineral is frequently included in dietary supplements. But a food-first approach is always preferred, according to nutrition experts. Fortunately, copper is found in a wide variety of foods, from fruits and vegetables to nuts and seeds to seafood and whole grains.

"Eating a balanced diet that is rich in plant-based foods is the best way to ensure that you are getting the copper your body needs," says Sarah Wally, a New York-based dietitian. Dietary copper deficiencies are rare, Wally notes, with most deficiencies resulting from inherited genetic conditions.

Maintaining adequate amounts of copper in your diet can also be important for fetal development. A study by biologist Cutiss Hunt used rats to show that copper deprivation in pregnant rats caused underdevelopment of memory-control areas of their pups' brains. There was slower development in the copper-deprived group compared to a control group in which the rats had sufficient amounts of copper in their diets. This is especially important for pregnant women, because in the study, the specific areas of the brain that were affected are linked to higher brain functions, such as learning.

Because of the role copper plays in the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin, which transport oxygen to our muscles, copper is also vital in building muscle and cardiovascular strength.

If you've ever taken supplements when weight training, there is a good chance that copper is one of the active ingredients. That is because copper is often compounded into less-familiar forms such as copper citrade, copper aspirate, copper fumerate, copper malate and copper AKG, because the compounds are created because copper is absorbed by the body more quickly when it is attached to certain amino acids.

So, while it may not be as obvious as the copper roof that protects you from the elements or the copper plumbing that brings water to your home, copper in on the job, helping you maintain a healthy body. Cu


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