International Copper Association Reports High Copper Levels in the Blood Do Not Equal High Copper Levels in the Body

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When the amount of a metal in the blood rises, this usually is equal to a rise of that metal in the body. The blood level of lead, for example, is a precise indicator of whether or not a person may be at risk of suffering from lead-toxicity. This relationship is used to predict toxic effects from many metals, including copper. However, copper is unique in that, unlike most metals, high levels of copper in blood are completely independent of the copper level in the body, a recent review in the British Journal of Nutrition* shows. "Elevated blood copper tells us nothing about whether or not a person may be at risk of toxicity from high copper in the body," said Harry McArdle, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. "This is an extremely rare condition, but potentially serious. We have been struggling to find an early-warning blood marker of copper toxicity for decades."

    By incorrectly assuming that blood copper reveals the body content of copper, copper often has been implicated in pathologic conditions ranging from Alzheimer's disease to premature death from heart disease. It is important for physicians and public health professionals to realize that blood levels of copper are independent of the level of copper in the body. Instead, copper in the blood is a good indicator of an active immune-defense. For example, during a flu or cold, your copper blood levels will triple, although - on the whole - you have no more and no less copper in the body. The correlation of elevated blood copper with elevated risk for disease is scientifically flawed, and results based on such a correlation need to be reconsidered.

Major research efforts are currently underway to identify a good blood biomarker for copper. Only when one or more biomarkers are available can copper status be monitored and studied in certain disease conditions. Until then, caution is advised in the interpretation of studies on copper status and risk for disease.

Copper is an essential nutrient for humans, and needed for wide range of biological processes. The list of copper's activities is long: we need it for cellular energy production, skin and connective tissue stability, bone growth and strength, the brain and nervous system, as well as the control of free radicals that cause cellular damage. Copper also plays a role in fetal and infant development, and a healthy immune system. Like many other essential elements of the body, too much copper can be harmful, although toxicity from too much copper is extremely rare.

The International Copper Association (ICA) is the leading organization for promoting and defending the use of copper globally, inspiring the world about copper's essentiality for health, technology, and the quality of life. Headquartered in New York, ICA develops programs and initiatives through regional offices in Brussels, Santiago, Singapore, and New York, and through 31 copper promotion centers on six continents.

*R. Danzeisen, M. Araya, et al.: How reliable and robust are current biomarkers for copper status? British Journal of Nutrition (2007) 98, 676-683

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Steve Kukoda
International Copper Association
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