Copper and zinc are important metals that have a wide variety of uses. Copper is commonly used to make pennies and wires, and zinc is typically used to galvanize steel. However, did you know that your body is also in need of these elements? While the thought of having these metals absorbed by your body may seem strange, these elements are in fact essential and play vital roles in the different processes that happen inside your body.
Copper is a reddish-gold element. In the periodic table, it has an atomic number of 29 and an atomic weight of 63.54 grams per mole. At room temperature and in its pure form, copper is soft, malleable and can be stretched without breaking. Copper has a bright metallic sheen, but when exposed to moisture and weathering, it becomes coated with a dull green outer layer called patina. This chemical reaction prevents the copper from being further oxidized.
Zinc is silvery-white metal with a bluish shade. In the periodic table, it has an atomic number of 30 and has an atomic weight of 65.38 grams per mole. At room temperature, zinc is solid and becomes malleable when it reaches temperatures between 100-150°C. The surface of pure zinc tarnishes rapidly when exposed to oxygen.
Functions of Copper and Zinc
Earliest uses of copper include being crafted into utensils, tools, weapons, ornaments, and jewelry. Today copper is used in automobile manufacturing, building and construction. It is also widely used in electronics due to its high electrical conductivity.
Zinc was used thousands of years ago even before the element was discovered. It was only through the discovery of gas condensation that zinc could be acquired. Today, zinc is used to coat steel structures (known as galvanization) and is primarily used in construction, shipbuilding, and lighting industries, among others.
Copper’s Antimicrobial Properties
Copper also has antimicrobial properties. In fact, copper alloys were registered as public health antimicrobial products by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2008. Copper has been claimed to be able to kill 99.9 percent of disease-causing bacteria within two hours of contact.
Copper’s disinfecting activity is known as the oligodynamic effect and can be explained in two steps. The first step is the contact between the copper’s surface and the bacteria’s outer membrane. Copper has been discovered to “puncture” a hole in the bacteria’s membrane wall, which makes the bacteria lose essential nutrients and water, thus weakening it. Second, copper further damages bacteria through the entry of copper ions which block the bacteria’s metabolism.
One study that explored copper’s antimicrobial properties was conducted by Faúndez et al. In their research, they tested the reaction between copper and disease-causing bacteria. They observed the bacterial count at specific intervals, and found significant antibacterial activity in the copper surface as compared to the control groups composed of stainless steel and synthetic polymer, where the bacteria remained unchanged and even increased.
For these and other reasons, copper pitchers have become a popular choice of vessels to store water. As stated above, copper has been discovered to have antimicrobial properties and can be used to rid water of bacteria. In one such study by Sudha et al., researchers explored the effects of copper water vessels on microbially-contaminated drinking-water. The researchers stored bacteria-contaminated water in copper pots for 16 hours at room temperature. When they tested the water at the end of period, they could not retrieve any bacteria from the water. Drinking water from a copper vessels is also a highly recommended practice in Ayurveda.
Copper and Zinc in the Human Body
Copper and zinc are vital trace elements in the body, which means that the body only needs minute amounts of each. Chan et al. reviewed the benefits of copper, zinc, and other elements to the biochemical processes of the human body. These processes include cellular respiration, cellular utilization of oxygen, DNA and RNA reproduction, maintenance of cell membrane integrity, and sequestration of free radicals.
Copper, zinc, and selenium work to destroy free radicals by means of cascading enzyme systems. Free radicals are unbonded electrons that cause oxidative stress in the body and are connected to a variety of disease, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Copper and zinc are able to reduce superoxide free radicals. This helps maintain the integrity of membranes, decreases cancer risk, and decelerates the aging process.
How Copper Functions in the Body
Olivares and Uauy reviewed the role of copper in the human body. They noted that copper is essential to a plethora of bodily functions, including nervous system defense mechanisms, strengthening of the bones, maturation of red and white blood cells, transportation of iron, metabolism of cholesterol and glucose metabolism.
When a body becomes deficient in copper, it may suffer from weight gain, failure to grow at an expected rate, and deterioration of the nervous system. Other adverse effects of insufficient copper amounts in the body include anemia, neutropenia, and bone abnormalities.
How Zinc Functions in the Body
In a study by Tapiero and Tew, researchers determined that zinc is found in all body tissues, with 85% present in muscles and bones and 11% in the skin and liver. The required amount of zinc in the human body is approximately 15 milligrams per day.
In a study by Prasad, it was noted that zinc-deficient patients were observed to manifest severe immune dysfunctions, and sometimes died of infections. The researchers conducted an experimental human model of zinc deficiency, and documented decreased serum testosterone levels, oligospermia, severe immune dysfunctions, hyperammonemia, neurosensory disorders, and decreased lean body mass. Deficiency in zinc was also discovered to lead to cognitive impairment.
Sources of Copper and Zinc
There are many sources from which we can acquire our requirement for copper and zinc. In a survey by Ma and Betts, researchers explored the average dietary consumption of copper and zinc. The daily zinc intake range was 12 to 6.4 mg for men and 8.0 to 4.0 mg for women. On the other hand, the daily copper intake range was 1.3 to 0.7 mg for men and 1.0 to 0.5 mg for women.
In the same study, it was determined that our main sources of zinc are foods such as beef, legumes, poultry, ready-to-eat and hot cereals, and pork. The study also showed that copper can be acquired from consuming legumes, potatoes, beef, nuts, and seeds.
A study by Turnlund determined that the efficient absorption of copper varies greatly depending on the dietary intake. It was also determined that changes in the efficiency of copper absorption help in regulating the amount of copper retained by the body. When there is a high amount of dietary copper absorbed by the body, the body reacts to prevent the excess accumulation of copper in the body. On the other hand, low copper intake causes the body to react differently in order to protect the body from copper depletion.
In the same study, researchers discovered that water stored in copper pots was infused with amounts of copper at a range of 0.177 to 0.016 milligrams per liter. This amount was still well within the recommended limits set by the World Health Organization.
Copper and Zinc Imbalance
Copper and zinc amounts in the body must be in an equilibrium state, failing which the body may suffer from health issues. In the same study by Chan et al. mentioned above, trace element-deficient patients typically manifested symptoms such as malaise, loss of appetite, anemia, infection, skin lesions, and low-grade neuropathy. Symptoms for intoxication by trace elements include flu-like symptoms, fever, coughing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and neuropathy.
One study by Russo investigated the connection between anxiety and decreased zinc levels and increased copper amounts. It was observed that participants with anxiety had higher copper and lower zinc levels compared to the control group. The participants were later given zinc supplementation, which put their copper/zinc levels into balance. The researchers observed significant improvements in the participants’ symptoms after the zinc therapy. They suggest that zinc supplementation may have the capacity to improve anxiety symptoms.
Copper and zinc are vital elements and important for brain development, respiration, removal of free radicals, production of energy, formation of connective tissues, and metabolism of oxygen and iron. It is critical to remember that the body must only absorb minimal amounts of copper and zinc. Too much or too little amounts of copper and zinc may lead to negative health effects.
There are many sources where you can obtain your daily amounts of copper and zinc. Copper water vessels have become an increasingly popular way to ensure that you are obtaining an optimal amount of copper on a daily basis.
Please also take note that this information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any health practices.