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Copper and your health

Wearing copper bracelets may - and may not - be a good idea. It all depends on how much of copper you get from your plumbing.

Statistics imply that some 80% of Americans get around 1mg, or less of this trace mineral from the diet. How it is interpreted depends on which criteria is applied. Minimum adequate  copper intake according to DRI (Dietary Reference Intakes, the most recent set of dietary recommendations set by the government) is a tiny 0.9mg. This is down from the old 1.5mg-3mg RDA figure, and unrealistically low. If one sets a formal deficiency level at less than 2/3 of the DRI, then copper deficiency doesn't seem to be widespread. But taking instead a more realistic 2mg minimum, it all of a sadden appears to be taking epidemic proportions.

Keep in mind that the more realistic 2mg minimum copper level is for healthy individuals; if you are less than healthy, you may need more than that. Also, copper absorption and utilization by the body can be impaired due to dietary (coffee, sugar), and mineral antagonists (iron, sulfur, molybdenum, lead). In all, the big picture doesn't look comforting.

What makes the situation more complicated is that significant number of people have exactly the opposite problem. They have too much copper, from copper leaking plumbing pipes. Copper levels estimates based on its dietary intake doesn't take this factor into account (thus, the above 80% population deficiency figure is open for correction). In fact, unless you are closely monitoring and correcting your mineral levels, you are likely to have either insufficient, or excessive body copper levels. What are the consequences?

Since copper is needed by over 20 enzymes to function in your body, its insufficient levels may cause variety of symptoms. Among most important ones are related to the development of chemical sensitivities and food allergies, inflammation (arthritis symptoms), cholesterol build up and related hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis); also neurological effects, from mood erosion to depression, as well as premature aging.

As with a number of other minerals - and nutrients in general - actual copper efficacy in your body depends not only on its nominal level, but also on its ratio vs. other nutrients - primarily its above mentioned suppressants (antagonists). The word is, again, balance.

The effects of excessive copper intake are, in general, similar to those of deficiency. It may trigger a number of neurological symptoms, from mood swings and depression, to schizophrenia, as well as arthritis, body pains, and even contribute to cancer formation.

Best natural copper food sources are oysters, nuts and seeds, legumes, mushrooms, tofu and whole grains.

In all, it is good to know your mineral status, including copper. Not all lab tests are reliable - including the notorious plasma (or "serum") test, still in widespread use. The RBC (red blood cell) and intracellular tests are much better option. Not knowing your mineral and general nutritional status puts you at unnecessary risk. Correcting mineral imbalances can be tricky, and usually takes months, but what you get in return is - even more than MasterCard® - priceless.