Some laboratory and animal studies have found that copper has antioxidant properties and may have some anticancer effects. Other studies have found that high copper levels in the blood were linked with cancer and other diseases. More extensive human studies are needed to determine what role copper may play in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
How is it promoted for use?
There are claims that copper aids the body in functions such as the healing process, expelling toxins from the body, and preventing heart problems. Copper is also used in some preparations of Iscador (a species of European mistletoe) for tumors of the liver, gallbladder, stomach, and kidneys.
There are also claims that copper actually promotes cancer growth. Proponents of this theory recommend a low copper diet and use of chelating agents that bind to copper and promote its elimination from the body (see Chelation Therapy). There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.
What does it involve?
Copper supplements are available in pill or capsule form. Copper is often added to multiple vitamin supplements. However, most people are able to get enough copper in their bodies by eating balanced meals. Fruits and vegetables can make up to 30% of a person's total copper intake. Some copper is also present in drinking water, and copper pipes can leach extra copper into the water they carry.
The minimum recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for copper is 0.9 mg per day for most adults, 1 mg for pregnant women, and 1.3 mg for women who are breastfeeding. The RDA is enough to meet the needs of most people in these groups. Some people may not get enough copper from foods, especially if they take zinc supplements, which can partly block copper absorption. Large doses of vitamin C supplements can also block copper. People who take zinc supplements or large doses of vitamin C may need to take extra copper to absorb enough. Those with malabsorption diseases or malnutrition may also need extra copper.
What is the history behind it?
While research into the antioxidant properties of copper is quite recent, healing properties have long been attributed to copper in folk medicine. People wear copper bracelets, for example, to help with arthritis. Today, many multivitamins and other herbal and mineral supplements include copper.
What is the evidence?
Copper is a trace mineral that is needed for many important body processes. Animal studies have shown that copper is useful in maintaining antioxidant defenses. Antioxidant compounds block the action of activated oxygen molecules, known as free radicals, that can damage cells. While the involvement of copper in the cancer process via antioxidant effects is still unclear, copper complexes have been shown to have anticancer properties in lab studies.
Other lab and animal studies suggest that high copper levels may be linked to liver cancer and brain tumors. More recently, many studies have shown that blood copper levels are higher in several types of cancer as well as in other diseases. To add to the confusion, blood tests can show high copper levels even when there is little in the tissues. These high copper levels may be due to injury, disease, or inflammation,
Because copper is needed to form new blood vessels, one group of researchers used a copper-lowering drug to find out if it helped patients with advanced kidney cancer. Some patients cancers stopped growing during the 6-month treatment period. A few people had low white blood counts during treatment, requiring that treatment be stopped until they recovered. This was a small study, and further research is needed to find out if it can help more people with advanced cancer.
Another study measured copper levels in the blood of people who died from heart disease, and noted that their levels were high. It is not known whether the lab testing truly reflected copper levels in the body tissues, or exactly what caused the high levels. In contrast, a recent study gave copper supplements to healthy women with no signs of copper deficiency. Their cholesterol and triglyceride levels improved, as did some other markers of heart disease risk. This small study did not look at actual heart disease, however. Other studies in which people were given copper have not shown it to be helpful. Further research is required to see if copper can affect heart disease risk.
Many people wear copper bracelets for their arthritis, and some people report that their arthritis symptoms are better. However, scientific studies have not proven the bracelets effectiveness. A gel form of copper salicylate (an aspirin-copper compound) was found no better than sham gel, although the copper gel produced more rashes. Further research on copper may help determine if any form of copper might be helpful in arthritis.
One lab study showed that the white blood cells of men who had been on a low copper diet did not attack germs as effectively as they had when the same men had received enough copper. An older study in a group of children recovering from malnutrition showed that those who got copper supplements had significantly fewer lung infections than those who got sham supplements. While severe copper deficiency is known to result in poorer immune function, further studies are needed to find out what effect, if any, milder deficiency might have. These studies are hindered by the fact that copper levels in the blood do not always reflect nutritional status.
There is some evidence that trace metals, including copper, iron and zinc, may have a role in forming the brain plaques of Alzheimer disease. However, there is not enough evidence to define the role of copper intake in this process.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
Problems may happen when a person has too little copper. Copper is required for iron to be absorbed into the body, and is necessary for babies to develop normally. Infants and adults with too little copper can have osteoporosis (weak bones.) In adults, low copper levels can result in anemia (low red blood count) and low white blood cell counts. Low copper levels in adults have been reported to cause muscle spasms in the legs and trouble walking. Severe copper deficiency can cause poor heart function (cardiomyopathy.)
Copper can interfere with some medicines, so it is helpful to talk with your doctor or pharmacist about all medicines and supplements that you are taking.
People with Wilson Disease (a genetic disorder that allows copper to build up in the body) should not take copper supplements or multivitamins containing copper. Diabetics should also avoid these supplements because copper can affect blood sugar levels.
Copper supplements are considered safe when taken in recommended amounts. Copper toxicity is rare. However, doses over 10 mg per day are not advised due to increased risk of liver damage. Overdoses can cause serious problems such as liver damage, kidney failure, coma, and death. Earlier symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, depression, anxiety, trouble concentrating, sleeplessness, tiredness, confusion, and seizures.
Other useful Minerals information: Calcium | Zinc | Boron
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