University of California, BERKELEY. Copper, long believed to be be just a metal that is poisonous if consumed, has now been found to be an essential nutrient in humans, according to a new study released today.
Led by Chris Chang at Berkeley Lab, the research team found copper to specifically assist in fat metabolism. According to Chang, copper cannot be made by the body, and therefore it must be acquired through the diet. “We find that copper is essential for breaking down fat cells so that they can be used for energy,” says Chang.
The researchers found copper to act as a regulator within the body. It was observed that the more copper there was amongst adipocytes (fat cells), the more fat breakdown took place. The team believe it worthwhile to conduct further research into obesity disorders to see if there could be a correlation between lack of copper and weight gain.
Chang says that copper may one day play a role in burning fat directly in diets. Copper is found to be abundant in certain seafoods such as shellfish and oysters, and also in green vegetables, certain mushrooms, and in many nuts.
According to the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine, an adult’s estimated average dietary requirement for copper is about 700 micrograms per day. Perhaps surprisingly, the board has found that only 25% of the US population consumes enough copper in their daily diet.
Before you start digging for the copper pipes, it should be noted that consuming copper directly would still be as dangerous as prior research shows, and any direct supplementation of copper would surely be much higher than the recommended 700 micrograms. Therefore, it’s recommended to consume copper from natural healthy sources such as oysters and green leafy vegetables.
The researchers were able to discover the link between copper and fat reduction by examining mice with a genetic mutation that leads to excess copper storage within the liver. It was found that these mice had higher levels of fat and were more obese when compared to normal mice. The condition they suffered from, known as Wilson’s disease, occurs in humans as well. Mice and humans share about 85% identical protein-encoding DNA.
Examination of the mice that had Wilson’s disease showed the abnormal copper build-up was accompanied with lower fat levels in the liver, but greater levels everywhere else. The pattern seemed too consistent; wherever there was copper, there was less fat, and vice versa.
Through a series of extensive biochemical tests and analyses, it was found that copper binds to an enzyme called PDE3. This enzyme usually binds to cyclic AMP in order to stop the breakdown of lipids (fats). By inhibiting the enzyme with copper, there is a “break being put on the break [that stops fat breakdown]” , according to Chang. And thus, it is through the inhibition of this key enzyme that copper’s fat-destroying mysteries come to light.
Interestingly, high amounts of copper are typically found in human brains. According to previous research, copper helps neurons to communicate with one another by serving as a break when a neural signal needs to stop. Coincidentally, the research team initially set out to investigate this neurochemical role of copper, and it was by accident that they found its fat breakdown properties which became the highlight of the study.
Study Source: Nature Chemical Biology