What is copper deficiency?A pronounced copper deficiency manifests itself in anemia that resembles iron deficiency anemia. There are not enough red blood cells left.
© happy_lark - stock.adobe.com
In the industrialized countries, a pronounced copper deficiency occurs only very rarely. The daily human requirement for copper is 1.5 to 3 mg. Especially in nuts, meat, seafood, cereals and beans is much copper. The higher the physical load, the higher the copper requirement will be. It is excreted mainly via the urine. The body can store between 40 mg and 80 mg of copper. Both too low and too high concentrations of copper lead to health problems.
Copper is a central trace element that controls many metabolic processes. It is present in many enzymes that protect against reactive oxygen, that support dopamine production, and that are responsible for elastin and collagen synthesis. Furthermore, it is closely linked to the metabolism of vitamin C and controls the absorption of iron from food. Due to these diverse functions of copper, a pronounced copper deficiency has a very negative effect on the organism.
The causes of a copper deficiency are very diverse. The main reason is the reduced copper intake from the diet. There is sufficient food supply in the industrialized countries, so that the demand for copper is generally covered. In developing countries, copper deficiency is a major problem due to insufficient food supplies. However, malnutrition can also lead to it.
Although there is sufficient food for malnutrition, one-sided consumption of low-copper foods can lead to copper deficiency. Other causes include eating disorders and alcoholism. Elderly people in particular are at risk of having copper deficiency because, for various reasons, normal food intake is no longer guaranteed. However, there are other deficiencies besides copper deficiency.
Medicines can also hinder the absorption of copper. Especially zinc-rich preparations inhibit copper uptake. Certain diseases associated with malabsorption of the dietary constituents, such as chronic gastrointestinal diseases or celiac disease, may also cause copper deficiency. Hereditary diseases such as Wilson syndrome or Menkes syndrome also lead to low copper concentrations in the blood.
The Wilson syndrome is a copper-storage disorder and in Menkes syndrome copper uptake is disturbed. In case of serious injuries with blood loss, burns, certain illnesses or medicines the copper requirement is increased. If copper is no longer supplied in this situation, it also leads to copper deficiency.
Symptoms, complaints & signs
A pronounced copper deficiency manifests itself in anemia that resembles iron deficiency anemia. There are not enough red blood cells left. The lack of copper causes by a reduced intake of iron from the diet secondary to iron deficiency, which can not be resolved by oral administration of iron supplements.
The colorant distribution in the skin changes. Furthermore, it comes to rapid graying of the hair, fatigue, pallor, performance and concentration weakness and frequent infections. The bones become brittle. Above all, psychological problems such as depression often occur. Often the copper deficiency occurs together with other deficiencies together.
Diagnosis & disease course
Since the pronounced copper deficiency is very rare, it is often not examined and diagnosed. For this blood tests must be carried out. The normal concentration of copper in the blood is between 80 and 140 micrograms per 100 ml. Because of the many possible causes, a copper deficiency may not be so rare.
However, a lack of copper causes no complaints. The symptoms only appear when it is already more serious. In these cases, however, in addition to the copper deficiency already other deficiencies in appearance such as iron deficiency.
Prolonged copper deficiency can cause various complications. At first, a lack of copper causes tiredness and poor concentration as well as breathing difficulties. This increases the risk of accidents and it can rarely lead to circulatory problems. A severe copper deficiency can lead to fainting and other complications.
Without copper, the defense system is less efficient and it comes increasingly to infections and skin diseases. The nervous system is weakened, reducing fertility, for example, and causing growth disorders. If the trace element copper is missing, this also leads to a reduced intake of iron from the diet. This causes headaches, dizziness, fatigue and a general decline in performance.
Long-term physical complaints such as chapped lips, dry skin and brittle nails, which in turn can be associated with serious complications. Sometimes physical changes can lead to psychological problems. Since a copper deficiency as the cause is difficult to diagnose, it can develop a lengthy emotional suffering.
Dietary supplements containing copper can cause allergic reactions and other discomforts. In addition, a targeted intake of copper can lead to weight gain and a one-sided diet through dietary measures, each associated with other problems and complications.
When should you go to the doctor?
If symptoms such as tiredness, loss of appetite, and external changes are noticed, consult with a doctor. Signs of physical or mental weakness indicate a deficiency that needs to be diagnosed and treated. Since a copper deficiency can be remedied only with appropriate diagnosis purposeful medical help must be sought with mentioned symptoms. If repeated fractures or disorders of the central nervous system occur, the deficiency may have been present for some time.
An immediate medical visit is necessary to avoid permanent damage. Individuals suffering from an eating disorder, alcoholism or chronic gastrointestinal disorders are very susceptible to nutritional deficiencies. Patients with Wilson syndrome, Menkens syndrome and celiac disease are also at risk and should be promptly screened for signs of deficiency. In the case of copper deficiency, it is best to visit the family doctor or an internist. If the disorder occurs in the context of an existing illness, the responsible physician must be informed. During therapy further examinations and adjustment of the medication may be necessary.
Therapy & Treatment
The treatment of a copper deficiency depends on the underlying cause. As a rule, the treatment consists in the adequate oral administration of copper preparations. However, these should not be given together with zinc containing preparations or medications because zinc inhibits copper uptake. In severe malabsorption conditions, it may sometimes be necessary to administer copper parenterally. Parenteral means that the intestine must be passed over for admission. In these cases there is a particularly severe disturbance of copper uptake in the intestine. In addition, iron deficiency anemia, iron must also be administered parenterally, because the copper deficiency prevents iron absorption in the intestine. The main causes of copper deficiency are severe diseases in industrialized countries. Malnutrition does not matter here. However, mental disorders such as bulimia or anorexia can lead to copper deficiency. Therefore, it is paramount to treat these eating disorders.
Other serious illnesses such as cancer, depression or dementia may be associated with reduced food intake. Again, it is important to treat the underlying disease. Recording disorders for copper are to be expected in severe gastrointestinal diseases and celiac disease. In addition to the parenteral administration of copper preparations, the prerequisite for a sufficient supply of copper is the healing of the corresponding disease.
Outlook & Forecast
The likelihood of copper deficiency is very low in the Western world. The trace element is present in many foods available everywhere. In addition, a disease can be treated successfully, resulting in a good prognosis.
However, if there is permanent copper deficiency, anemia and immunodeficiency can occur. In addition to typical physical ailments also suffers the psyche. Because dry skin or brittle nails reduce the attractiveness. Non-treatment poses a long-term risk to the entire human organism.
In the industrialized countries, copper deficiency is often a consequence of serious illnesses. Especially cancer and dementia are considered triggers. The treatment consists of the oral administration of tablets containing the trace element. In severe cases, the intestine must be passed over, which is unproblematic according to the current state of science. Copper deficiency is usually treated as secondary. The main focus of the doctors is on the causative disease. For eating disorders and the propensity for a one-sided diet, the prospect depends on the person's willingness to cooperate. For here the wrong food intake and problematic ideals cause the complaints.
The prevention of a copper deficiency consists in a sufficient supply of the body with copper. This is usually not a problem because the food contains enough copper. For signs of eating disorders, medical advice should be provided. Severe gastrointestinal diseases must be urgently clarified and treated to prevent deficiency symptoms such as iron or copper deficiency.
Unlike, for example, in the case of a tumor disease, follow-up care for a detected copper deficiency usually does not belong to the therapy. This is mainly due to the fact that the risk of disease in the western industrialized countries is minimal anyway and can be easily remedied by suitable drugs. The supply situation could hardly be better for avoiding a disease.
To prevent a recurrence, a balanced diet is sufficient. However, this is not within the remit of the health care system; rather, the patient has to change his or her everyday life. If necessary, a nutritional consultation can be attended. Continuous treatment is only necessary in cases where other diseases cause copper deficiency. Eating disorders, cancer and depression can cause the typical symptoms.
The follow-up consists of regular check-ups, which are discussed with the attending physician. This refers to a symptom-related examination and a blood analysis. The patient also receives nutritional tips and other recipes. Scheduled follow-up examinations therefore do not play a significant role in diagnosing copper deficiency in the Western industrialized countries. They only take place in permanent and severe underlying diseases to prevent complications.
You can do that yourself
Normally, a balanced diet is sufficient to compensate for copper deficiency. Those who feel the typical symptoms, should first of all take mushrooms, whole grains, liver and mussels. Iron-containing foods such as nuts, cabbage, lentils and oatmeal relieve the symptoms and prevent the often accompanying iron deficiency.
In the case of severe copper deficiency, the doctor may also prescribe copper-containing supplements. In addition, a healthy lifestyle should be sought. Regular exercise and a good diet strengthen the entire organism and help regulate deficiency symptoms in a natural way. A food diary can also help to recognize the symptoms early and prevent deficiencies before it comes to pronounced physical and psychological complaints.
Those who have difficulty in putting together a balanced diet should talk to a specialist or directly to a nutritionist. This is especially useful if there is an eating disorder, cancer, depression, dementia or some other chronic disease that favors copper deficiency. In the case of a first underlying disease consultation with the doctor should also be considered. This can monitor the diet and give other tips and measures that counteract a copper deficiency.