Copper Facts: Copper in Health

Copper Fact 1

Copper is essential in the human diet. It is needed for the normal growth and development of human fetuses, infants and children. In adults, it is necessary for the growth, development and maintenance of bone, connective tissue, brain, heart and many other body organs. Copper is involved in the formation of red blood cells, the absorption and utilization of iron, and the synthesis and release of life-sustaining proteins and enzymes. These enzymes produce cellular energy and regulate nerve transmission, blood clotting and oxygen transport. Copper is also known to stimulate the immune system, help repair injured tissues and promote healing. Copper has been shown to help neutralize "free radicals," which can cause severe damage to cells.

Copper Fact 2

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences' Food and Nutrition Board has issued a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of 0.9 mg of copper per day for both men and women between the ages of 19 and 70. Copper is an especially important nutrient for expectant mothers and developing fetuses (1.0 mg per day), as well as nursing mothers and newborns (1.3 mg per day). Children between 9 and 18 need only 0.7 mg to 0.89 mg per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutrition Center estimates that less than half of the U.S. population consumes the MDR for copper.

Copper Fact 3

Copper-rich foods include grains, nuts and seeds, organ meats such as liver and kidneys, shellfish, dried fruits, legume vegetables like string beans and potatoes, chicken and some unexpected and delightful sources such as cocoa and chocolate. Vegetarians generally get ample copper from their diet.

Copper Fact 4

A deficiency in copper is one factor leading to an increased risk of developing high cholesterol levels and coronary heart disease in humans. Copper deficiencies are also associated with premature births, chronic diarrhea and stomach diseases.

Copper Fact 5

Although excessive ingestion of copper can cause nausea and other adverse effects, the World Health Organization (WHO) has determined there is no major concern for setting an upper threshold, because toxic risk levels rarely exist.

The WHO board of environmental scientists said any risk should be assessed on the bioavailability of copper at a specific site; i.e., evaluation should not be based on total copper content, but rather on the volume of soluble copper that can actually be absorbed by humans or wildlife.

Copper Fact 6

The Copper Development Association, along with manufacturers and governmental agencies, works actively with NSF International, a private organization that sets voluntary standards for public health and safety related to food, water and consumer goods.

Copper Fact 7

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "Lead-Copper Rule" limits the amount of those metals measured at the faucet (after being held overnight) to 15 and 1,300 parts per billion, respectively. Based on these limits, NSF International has set a standard that limits the lead leaching from faucets to 11 parts per billion. NSF International certifies and labels products that meet these standards.

Copper Fact 8

CDA, along with its brass and bronze ingot-producing member companies, has developed lead-free brass casting alloys. The alloys, called EnviroBrass I, II and III, employ a combination of selenium and bismuth to provide good castability and free-machining performance while offering significant environmental, health and safety benefits to foundrymen, machine shops, plumbing manufacturers and end users.

Copper Fact 9

According to the Bible, Moses wrapped a brass serpent around a pole to help cure Jewish people who had been bitten by deadly snakes (Numbers 21:4-9). A similar theory of the origin comes from Greek mythology and is known as the Staff of Aesculapius. A rendition of it is the logo of the American Medical Association. Military doctors, for a time, displayed another version called the Caduceus which has two snakes twisted on a pole. Nowadays, both versions of the brass serpent on a pole are often used by health organizations.