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Minerals and trace elements - Copper

CopperCopper is the third most abundant dietary trace metal after iron and zinc. It is a component of many enzymes and is needed to produce red and white blood cells. The body also needs copper to utilise iron efficiently and it is thought to be important for infant growth, brain development, the immune system and for strong bones.

Dietary induced copper deficiency is extremely rare due to the plentiful supply in the diet and the high efficiency of absorption. However, a rare genetic condition, known as Menke’s disease, results in the inability to absorb copper and leads to severely impaired mental development, failure to keratinise hair and skeletal and vascular problems.

As with some other minerals, under normal circumstances absorption of copper is tightly controlled so overload of copper is very rare. However, Wilson’s disease, another genetic condition, leads to the inability to excrete excess copper in bile and results in copper accumulation in the body, especially the liver and brain, with consequent pathological damage.

Sources of copper include shellfish, liver, kidney, nuts and wholegrain cereals (about a third of intake in the UK is from cereals).

© British Nutrition Foundation

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