Copper and its benefits have been recorded throughout the past and even now we prefer to drink water from copper utensils. It is a naturally occurring element which is essential for development and functioning of the body. Copper is a trace mineral which is heavily involved in the oxidation process of the body. The presence of copper deficiency is very common, and it can occur in different forms like anaemia, neutropenia, myelopathy, neuropathy and genetic disorders like Menkes.

Functions of Copper

Copper is present is in proteins and almost all the body copper is associated with proteins. Adequacy of copper concentration in body is required for the proper functioning of other vitamins like B12 and minerals such as zinc and iron. 

Copper deficiency may lead to connective tissues issues, impaired bone calcification, myelopathy and neuropathy. These health conditions are mainly due to acquired deficiency however, inherited deficiency is caused by the Menkes a rare form of genetic disorder.  

What is Copper Deficiency?

Clinical evidences of acquired copper deficiency can be caused by the inadequate consumption of copper in our daily intake it can be food item or drinking through copper utensils. It can also be caused by the malabsorption of copper due to several health conditions like gastrointestinal surgeries, sprue, cystic fibrosis. 

Another form of copper deficiency is inherited deficiency which is caused by Menkes. It occurs in male infants who inherit mutant X-linked gene. It is very rare, and the possibility of its occurrence is 1 in 250,000 live births.  

Causes of Copper Deficiency

The condition of copper deficiency can be developed due to various factors. Some of the major cause have been illustrated below:

  • Inadequate Diet: The long-term deprivation of copper rich diet is the common cause of its deficiency. In children it is caused by the low consumption of protein rich diet. The major source of copper are fruits, nuts and vegetables which are unavailable to certain groups of people. This condition is very much common in South-Asian and African countries than developed countries.
  • Unavailability of Nutritious Food: Copper deficient soil can be another cause of availability of copper deficient food item. It occurs in different geographies and can be resolved with fortified seeds.
  • GI Disorders: Copper is mostly stored in in the form of protein. However, its absorption is affected by the gastrointestinal surgeries like bariatric surgeries. This kind of surgeries are very common in countries with huge consumption of fast foods. 
  • Zinc Intake: Excessive zinc intake is another cause of copper deficiency. Based on the reactivity series, zinc is more likely to replace copper as it is more active than copper. This results in malabsorption of copper in the body. 
  • Chronic Diarrhoea: The long-term condition of diarrhoea and vomiting leads to the deficiency of copper in the body. It doesn’t provide any settling time for copper rich food to absorb properly through GI tracts and causes its deficiency. 

Symptoms of Copper Deficiency 

The common symptoms of Copper deficiency include:

  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Pale skin
  • Arterial Rupture
  • Sparse hair
  • Muscle soreness
  • Always feeling cold

Health Risks due to Low Copper

  • Anaemia: The role of copper deficiency in human is complex and multifunctional. Its heavily involved in cell oxidation process and certain copper binding protein participates in oxidation to make certain compound like ferrous oxide into more usable form like ferric oxide. Copper deficiency can also cause low with blood cell counts. It may also cause non-responsive of iron to chronic anaemia.
  • Neural Disorders: Copper acts as cofactors of several protein responsible for proper structure and function of nervous system. It also participates in cell division and protein synthesis. Copper deficiency can cause several neuro-disorders like myelopathy and neuropathy. 
  • Menkes: It is a rare genetic disorder which causes malabsorption of copper in children. The victims of Menkes rarely survive more than 10 years. The common symptoms of Menkes are impaired cognitive abilities, vomiting, diarrheas, arterial rupture, bone deformation. 

Some other health risk associated with copper deficiencies are impaired bone calcification, enzootic ataxia, hyper flexibility of the joints and fragility of the veins in newborns, increased risk of atherosclerosis and impaired bone marrow.

Tests for Copper Deficiency

Copper is the trace mineral present in body. It is mainly available as cofactor with several proteins. The blood test of copper involves the measurement of copper binding protein ceruloplasmin.

  • Serum Test: In order to measure the concentration of copper in human body serum copper test is performed. It involves the measurement of copper binding protein ceruloplasmin. However, the results obtained from these tests are not very reliable. The same test has been used for the diagnosis of Menkes as well.

Remedies of Copper Deficiency 

  • Copper Supplements: The clinical remedies of copper deficiency are to take copper supplements. If you are diagnosed with severe Copper deficiency, you should consider medical supplements under supervision of doctors. As higher Copper may lead to copper toxicity.
  • Copper Rich Diet: The simple way to prevent copper deficiency is intake copper rich food items in daily diet. Some of the copper rich food items are liver, crab, oyster, mushrooms, lobster, leafy veggies, nuts.
  • Fortified Food Items: Several agricultural lands across the globe are poor in micronutrients which produces nutrient deficient food items. It can be overcome by copper rich fertilisers and fortified seeds. 
  • Balanced Zinc Diet: Presence of excessive zinc in the body interferes with the absorption of copper. It is necessary to maintain the balance between zinc and copper concentration in the body.

Prevention of Copper Deficiency

It is often said that “Prevention is better than Cure” and indeed this is very much true with reference to micronutrient deficiencies. Copper deficiency can be prevented through consumption of Copper rich diet.

Food items rich in copper:

  • Organ Meat
  • Crab
  • Oyster
  • Mushrooms
  • Lobster
  • Leafy veggies
  • Nuts 

 Adequate Intake (>19 yrs.):

Simple way to prevent Copper deficiencies is to maintain recommended daily intakes. The intakes of copper vary with the different age groups however, the recommended daily intake of copper for an adult is 900 mcg.

Copper is essential trace mineral require to performs multifactorial roles for the proper function of the body. It acts as cofactor for several proteins responsible for proper structure & function of nervous system and enzymes responsible for absorption of other essential minerals in the body.  Copper deficiency causes one of the rare and deadliest genetic disorder Menkes. 

Although Copper deficiency has several ill effects, it can be treated with the right consultation and medical supplements as prescribed by medical experts however, high concentration of copper may be deadly. The best possible way to avoid these complications by consuming adequate amount of Copper as per RDA through various Copper rich diet.