Hold the Copper: Accelerated Mental Decline and Other Risks of a Diet Too High in Copper
Copper is an essential trace mineral in the body, and is
more abundant in humans than all but two other trace minerals
(iron and zinc). Its primary role is to help enzymes function
properly, which means it's involved in a range of the body's
The amount of copper needed in the human body is less
than that in a penny.
Elimination of free
Development of bone and connective tissue
Production of melanin, a skin and hair pigment
Still, the amount of copper that the body needs is small
-- less than the amount in a penny -- and studies are finding
that too much copper can lead to a number of health problems.
Copper and Alzheimer's Disease
Most recently, a study in the journal Archives of Neurology
found that elderly people who had diets high in copper, along
with saturated and trans
fats, had faster mental decline, which could be associated
with Alzheimer's disease.
In the study, among those who ate at least 1.6 milligrams
of copper a day (the recommended daily amount is 0.9 milligrams),
along with foods high in saturated and trans fat, many progressed
their rate of mental decline the equivalent of 19 years.
Why would copper be related to Alzheimer's? It's thought
that too much of the mineral may hinder the body's ability
to get rid of proteins that form plaques, which are found
in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.
Copper Toxicity: Health Effects
Copper has been found in higher levels in the bloodstream
of people with Alzheimer's disease, but too much copper can
cause other health problems as well.
If you take in too much copper, you may have abdominal pain,
cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and liver damage. Meanwhile,
elevated copper levels, in particular when zinc levels are
also low, have been linked to a number of conditions, including:
Copper toxicity is of particular concern to pregnant women,
as copper levels nearly double in women during this time.
It can take three months after delivery for copper levels
to return to normal, and the excess copper during this time
has been linked to postpartum depression in some women.
How are We Exposed to Copper?
Most Americans get less than the recommended amount
of copper from their diets.
We get copper from our diets in foods like liver, mushrooms,
spinach, greens and other vegetables, nuts, shellfish, legumes,
some fruits, potatoes and chocolate.
However, it's not likely that you'll overdose on copper from
dietary sources alone. In fact, most Americans consume less
than the recommended amounts of copper in their diets. In
the Alzheimer's study above, many of the participants with
high copper levels got them from taking multivitamins that
You can also be exposed to copper from drinking water that
travels through copper pipes, and even cooking with copper
cookware can increase the copper levels in foods.
How Much Copper Should You Get?
Copper is an important mineral, and not getting enough of
it can lead to a number of health problems as well (iron-deficiency
anemia, osteoporosis, elevated LDL cholesterol and low
HDL cholesterol, to name a few). However, copper deficiency
is relatively rare in the United States.
The U.S. daily recommended intake of copper is 0.9 milligrams,
which should be easily attainable by eating a healthy diet
with a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. For
instance, 5 ounces of raw crimini
mushrooms will give you over 35 percent of your daily
value of copper, 1 cup of boiled spinach will give you over
15 percent, and 1/4 cup of raw cashew nuts will give you 38
If you are concerned about getting too much copper, the primary
routes to reduce exposure would be to:
Not take a multi-vitamin that contains extra copper
Find out if your drinking water travels through copper
pipes, and consider alternative water sources if it does
Not use copper cookware
Avoid foods extremely high in copper, such as organ meats (four ounces of
liver will give you over 450 percent of the recommended
daily amount of copper)
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