Healthy Aging

Balancing Act: Why Zinc and Copper Should Be Part of Your Daily Supplement Routine

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Zinc and copper work together in the body to support an impressive list of functions that maintain your health. They keep your immune system up and running and help restrain immune cells so they don't lapse into harmful inflammation. They help your body produce its own antioxidants that protect your organs. Each is a key player in promoting better brain function. For all those reasons and more, zinc with copper -- and keeping them in proper balance -- is a requisite for anyone who wants to feel great and perform at their best.

Key Takeaways

Zinc is an essential mineral that works as an antioxidant to defend cells, especially immune cells, from damage by oxidative free radicals. It's also vital for the healing of cuts and wounds by stimulating the production of collagen and stabilizing the regrowth of cell membranes. [1]

Zinc, a crucial player in the body's repair team, acts as an essential ingredient for repairing DNA and preventing the accumulation of genetic damage. It also plays a key role in helping blood coagulate and form clots properly, ensuring your body's defense system is always ready.

If you take a zinc supplement, you should take a copper supplement, too, because zinc can slow your body's copper absorption.

Understanding Zinc

Since you need to consume zinc to support your body's everyday functions, it is considered one of the essential minerals. Every one of your cells needs it and uses it. Run short and you can have problems with your ability to smell odors in the air and clearly see the things around you. Your body also needs it for your thyroid to keep working, your blood to properly clot, and your immune cells to do their jobs keeping you from getting sick.

Its reputation for helping the body mend itself has been known for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians used it as calamine lotion to help wounds heal.

Zinc is an Important Antioxidant

As each cell carries on its daily functions, oxidative substances called free radicals are generated as waste products. Zinc helps fight off the possible damaging effects of these marauding molecular radicals. Unless free radicals are put out of commission, these oxidative molecular terrorists can contribute to heart problems, tumor growth, and many of the diseases that afflict the body during the aging process.

It's hard to say how many people are low in zinc since testing blood samples for it is unreliable. But it is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide are short of zinc. In the U.S., experts figure that 12% of adults don't consume enough zinc -- that's 40 million people! Plus, as you age, your body doesn't absorb zinc well from food, so approximately 40% of people over 65 are running short.

Along with the fact that getting older can slow down your body's ability to take in zinc, a bunch of other conditions can also interfere with how the body absorbs zinc. These include inflammatory bowel disease (which harms the digestive tract and can reduce bioavailability of nutrients), and celiac disease (a reaction to gluten that damages the intestinal lining) along with diabetes, anorexia and alcoholism.

As I'll explain in depth in just a moment, zinc supplementation can reduce the bioavailability of copper (another essential mineral). So if you take zinc supplements, you should also take additional copper to maintain your copper status.

The Health Benefits of Zinc

Immune Function

Continuing research is shedding light on how zinc can boost immunity. For example, studies done during the last couple of years show that zinc is needed for the body to develop immune cells called T cells which help the body defend against infection and also fight cancer.

Important in this process, zinc supports the regeneration of the thymus, the immune organ located between your lungs and behind the breastbone that produces T cells. [2] Research also shows how zinc can boost immune recovery in people undergoing stem-cell transplants. And in England, research shows how zinc can help fight off Candida.

Fighting the common cold

Studies about the effect of zinc on the common cold have sometimes produced mixed results. But it is now agreed that if you want to shorten the time you are sick, published reports demonstrate that sucking on zinc lozenges may help shorten how long you are sick -- by up to 33%. Researchers say it's better to use zinc lozenges than a zinc nose spray. They believe that a nose spray may interfere with your sense of smell. They add that the coating zinc lozenges leave on your tongue and throat (which, admittedly, doesn't taste that great!) helps to keep rhinoviruses -- which cause colds -- from growing and making you sicker. [3]

Truth About Zinc Deficiency

As we detailed before, millions of Americans don't get enough zinc, and as you get older, your body's absorption of zinc slows down. Not getting enough zinc in your diet can be as harmful to your health as missing out on vitamins and calcium.

Signs and symptoms that you aren't getting enough zinc can include:

  • Skin problems that may look like psoriasis, eczema, or acne but which persist even if treated with things like skin creams, moisturizers, or topical steroids
  • Fingernail irregularities like white spots and lines (called Beau's lines)
  • Hair loss when lack of zinc weakens hair follicles [4]
  • Digestive tract issues like diarrhea
  • Greater risk of suffering illnesses like pneumonia and measles
  • Vision problems, including night blindness
  • Cuts and other injuries that heal very slowly

If you eat a lot of high-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables as well as foods containing phytate, a compound found in nuts, beans, whole grains, and seeds, you may run low on zinc because this natural chemical reduces the bioavailability of zinc. [5]

The most effective way to ensure you are getting enough zinc is with zinc supplementation -- because how many of us can eat a perfect diet with every nutrient we need?. Zinc in supplements can often be more easily absorbed than zinc in foods. The recommended daily allowance for zinc intake is 8 mg for adult females and 11 mg for adult men. If you are taking supplemental zinc, you should not have a daily intake of more than 40 mg of zinc daily, otherwise you run an increased risk of taking in too much, which can create its own health problems.

Foods high in zinc include:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Oysters
  • Red meat
  • Poultry
  • Cheese
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Cashews

Forgotten Mineral: Why You Need Copper

If you take zinc dietary supplements, remember that taking copper is also a good idea. Zinc can compromise your copper absorption, and a copper deficiency can trip up your health. Unfortunately, the need for copper, an essential nutrient and a key player in metabolic processes, doesn't get much attention.

Health Benefits of Copper

Copper is one of the essential minerals that the body needs to function properly. Its most important duties include: [6]

  • Supports the immune system in fighting off disease.
  • Helps the body manufacture red blood cells.
  • Kickstarts the body's production of collagen, the material that forms the building blocks for new skin and bones.
  • Lends a helping hand in assisting the body's absorption of iron (another essential mineral).
  • Necessary for the neurons in the brain to function properly.
  • It takes a central role in supporting the facility of mitochondria by making energy to keep cells functioning optimally.
  • Acts as an antioxidant that slows skin aging.

Testing your copper levels

Your copper levels can be checked with several tests:

  • A blood test known as a ceruloplasmin test, which measures a protein that carries copper in your blood.
  • A urine test that measures how much copper your body is excreting.
  • A liver biopsy that examines the copper stored in your liver.

When You have a copper deficiency

Signs that your copper is low can include:

  • Weak bones
  • Anemia
  • Drop in body temperature
  • Heartbeat irregularities
  • Thyroid issues
  • Low white blood cell count

Dynamic Duo: Zinc With Copper

Copper and zinc work together to support many of your organs, as well as helping the body supply itself with sufficient energy and blood cells. For example, a study in Australia shows that zinc helps to reduce the inflammatory processes that can lead to cirrhosis. [7] At the same time, research at the University of Washington has shown that running low on copper can increase your risk for cirrhosis and a wide range of liver diseases. That study demonstrated that copper supplementation could help improve liver function for folks who are low in copper.

Research also indicates that both zinc and copper work together to preserve your vision and help drop the risk of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness linked to aging. Studies show that your eyes often lack sufficient amounts of both zinc and copper as you get older and that zinc with copper can work together to help you keep your eyesight. [8]

If you want healthy skin and stronger bones, zinc with copper may also help. Both of these essential minerals help the body make collagen -- which is necessary for good-looking skin as well as firmer bone tissue.

And there's more: Zinc with copper is necessary for the body to form superoxide dismutase, a crucial enzyme that protects cells from damage from oxidative free radicals. That effect can boost your heart health. Studies show that superoxide dismutase can be a key player in protecting the cardiovascular system in people with diabetes. [9]

In addition, a clinical trial involving people with metabolic syndrome (a condition where you often gain weight, become insulin resistant and have high blood pressure that often leads to diabetes) shows that the herb curcumin along with copper and zinc could possibly support better cardiovascular function. [10]

Supplementation: Zinc With Copper

If you decide to take supplemental zinc along with copper supplements, many experts recommend taking 2 mg of copper with your zinc. But experts say in any case you should never take more than 10mg of copper daily. The upper level for zinc is 40 mg for adults.

When picking out your supplements, make sure you choose quality products.

Side Effects and Considerations

If you take way too much zinc it can produce uncomfortable side effects and lead to myriad, troubling health problems. These include vomiting and nausea, cramping, diarrhea and severe headaches. And while it can also lead to anemia and iron deficiency it can also, ironically, mess with your immune system. I say that's ironic because while too little zinc hurts your immune system's ability to fight off infections, too much can cause your T cells, immune cells that kill off infectious organisms, to lose their ability to combat disease.

In addition, if you take prescription medications like blood pressure medicine, antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs or diuretics, you should consult your health practitioner about your supplements. Zinc can interact with many of these drugs. [11]

Summary

Zinc and copper are essential minerals that work together to support immune function, reduce inflammation, aid in antioxidant production, and promote brain health. Taking zinc supplements without copper can lead to a copper deficiency, so it's important to maintain a balance. Zinc helps with healing, DNA repair, and immune support, while copper assists with red blood cell production and collagen synthesis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why take zinc with copper?

You need your copper zinc ratio in proper balance in your body to support your immune system functioning properly. That includes keeping inflammation under control to make sure immune cells attack pathogens and don't succumb to chronic inflammation which can lead to attacking the bodies own organs.

If you take zinc alone, it can impair copper absorption and that can potentially lead to a copper deficiency.

Your choices among zinc supplements are many. They include:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Zinc citrate
  • Zinc gluconate
  • Zinc orotate
  • Zinc picolinate
  • Zinc acetate
  • Zinc sulfate

All of these forms of zinc are fairly well absorbed. Gluconate and acetate are often found in lozenges. There's some evidence that sulfate may help if you are particularly concerned about acne.

How much copper to take with zinc?

Many experts recommend taking about 2mg of copper with zinc supplementation of 25mg. However, if you are taking 40mg of zinc daily, you may want to take 4mg of copper.

What is the role of zinc and copper in the body?

Zinc with copper in the body helps to control inflammation, support better immune function and help the body protect itself with superoxide dismutase, a crucial enzyme for lowering oxidative stress. Both of these essential minerals also help protect your vision and heart health.

What are the symptoms of copper deficiency?

A copper deficiency can lead to a wide range of health problems. These include heartbeat issues, osteoporosis and thyroid dysfunction. And since copper is used to make pigment for your skin, a copper deficiency can lead to pale skin.

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff. "Zinc Overview" https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112
  2. Science Daily. "Burst of accumulated zinc shows how the mineral boosts immune function, suggesting ways to improve health" https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220331185359.htm
  3. Keck Medicine of USC, "The Pros and Cons of Taking Zinc for a Cold" https://www.keckmedicine.org/blog/the-pros-and-cons-of-taking-zinc-for-a-cold/
  4. Wimpole Clinic "Zinc and Hair Loss: Understanding the Essential Mineral's Role " https://wimpoleclinic.com/blog/zinc-and-hair-loss-understanding-the-essential-minerals-role/#Why_could_zinc_deficiency_cause_hair_loss
  5. Lonnerdal B. "Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption" J Nutr 2000 May;130(5S Suppl):1378S-83S https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10801947/
  6. Mt. Sinai. "Copper" https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/copper
  7. Read SA, et al. "Zinc is a specific inhibitor of IFN-λ3" Nat Commun. 2017 May 17:8:15245 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28513591/
  8. Erie JC, et al "Reduced zinc and copper in the retinal pigment epithelium and choroid in age-related macular degeneration" https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18848316/
  9. Litwack G. "Copper-Zinc-Superoxide Dismutase" Science Direct https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/copper-zinc-superoxide-dismutase
  10. Safarian H. et al "The effect of curcumin on Serum Copper and Zinc and Zn/Cu Ratio in Individuals with Metabolic Syndrome: A Double-Blind Clinical Trial" J Diet Suppl 2019;16(6):625-634 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30020812/
  11. WebMD Editorial Contributors "The benefits of zinc what you need to know" https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/what-to-know-about-benefits-of-zinc
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