Copper (Cu) is a trace mineral and has the atomic number 29.  It is one of the earth’s basic elements.


Our bodies usually contain between 1.5 to 2 mg of copper per kg of body weight and it is essential to our good health.  Its journey begins in our gut and then is taken bound to a protein called albumin to the liver.  It is distributed widely throughout our bodies on ceruloplasmin which is a blood plasma protein and it is delivered primarily to the liver, muscle and bone.  The ceruloplasmin controls the metabolism of copper and also the excretion of copper into bile.  









Copper operates in our bodies primarily in its Cu2+ form although it does shift between its Cu2+ and Cu1+ forms.  


Cuproenzyme is the name given to enzymes that have copper as one of their most important components.  


Cuproenzymes as building blocks:


1. Cytochrome c oxidase is a cuproenzyme that is involved in the creation of adenosine triphosphate, ATP, which is used to transport energy within every cell in our bodies.

 2. Lysyl oxidase is a cuproenzyme that is used to create flexible and

tough connective tissue in the heart, blood vessels and in the formation of bones.

3. The cuproenzymes ceruloplasmin and ferroxidase lll alters ferrous iron into ferric iron so that it can be used for red blood cell formation.


4.  Cuproenzymes are used to generate reactions in both the nervous system and the brain.


5.  Copper assists dopamine-b-monooxygenase in converting dopamine to the neurotransmitter norepinephrine.


6.  The copper containing enzyme monoamine oxidase helps metabolize the fight or flight neurotransmitters norepinephrine, epinephrine and the feel good neurotransmitter dopamine. 

7. Melanin, the pigment in our skin, hair and eyes is formed in part by

the cuproenzyme, tyrosine.

8. The copper dependent enzyme cytochrome c oxidase is used in

creating the myelin sheath out of phosphorous containing fats. The myelin sheath gives our cell membranes structure.



Cuproenzymes as Antioxidants:


1. Copper easily accepts and donates electrons and is therefore important in destroying free radicals.  


Free radicals are molecules that are missing electrons and are on the hunt to replace them.  They cause damage by taking electrons that are part of complete and stable molecules thus destroying the stable molecule’s ability to perform its biological task.  


Copper supplys the missing electron to the free radical through a process called oxidation reduction or redox and in so doing stabilizes the free radical.   



2. Superoxides are oxygen molecules that are missing two electrons.  Because they are missing these electrons they are extremely aggressive in trying to replace them.  Our immune system uses superoxides to hunt and acquire electrons from foreign invaders thus destroying the invaders.  


However once this mission has been accomplished the superoxides become highly toxic and need to be broken down so that they will not scavenge for electrons from the healthy molecules in our bodies. 


Superoxide dismutase is a cuproenzyme that reduces (dismutase), superoxide into both oxygen and hydrogen peroxide molecules which makes superoxide dismutase an important antioxidant defense in nearly all cells that are exposed to oxygen. 


3. Ceruloplasmin is a cuproenzyme that binds copper ions.  This is a good thing because both free copper and free iron ions are powerful catalysts for free radical damage. 



Other Copper Dependent Proteins: 


1.  Proteins that manage the flow of information from our DNA called

transcription factors are dependent on copper in order to function.


2.  Azurin and plastocyanin are ‘blue copper’ proteins that are used in electron transport from one molecule to another. 





Over 50 mg of zinc per day over extended periods of time increases the creation of a protein called metallothionein which binds metals and prevents them from being absorbed into the body.  This protein binds copper and produces a copper deficiency.


Copper deficiency produces anemia like symptoms because of iron dependency on copper for iron uptake.  Anemia occurs when iron dependent red blood cells are not being formed.


Chronic depletion of copper leads to abnormalities in fat metabolism, high triglycerides, and fatty liver disease as well as poor melanin synthesis leaving the skin susceptible to sunburn and to dopamine synthesis causing depression.  


Food rich in copper should not be eaten with milk or egg proteins because they block absorption once again leading to deficiency.





There is a genetic defect that can result in copper toxicity, particularly in children with this defect who have consumed too much copper from uncoated copper cookware.  This is called Wilson’s disease.  If there is no genetic component then toxicity is rare. 


Attempted suicide by people with normal gene expression by the ingestion of large doses of copper salts has led to copper toxicity resulting in cirrhosis of the liver.  


Symptoms of acute copper toxicity are nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.  The vomiting and diarrhea help to rid the body of the excess.  However in the extreme, liver damage, kidney failure and finally death can result.


The major concern for copper toxicity is that too much is being ingested daily over a long period of time so the health boards have established an upper daily limit of 10 mg per day.





The immune system appears to depend on copper to function properly but so far science has not figured out exactly how.