Calcium is important for strong bones. But drinking milk or popping a calcium supplement every day is only half the battle.
When it comes to bone health, it’s important to combine calcium with vitamin D, or else your body won’t properly absorb the mineral. And you need to be getting enough magnesium since it helps convert vitamin D into its active form for optimal calcium absorption.
The trace mineral zinc is also good for your bones. Zinc supports bone-building cells while inhibiting the formation of cells that encourage the body to break down bone.
But copper may be the forgotten trace mineral that’s instrumental for bone health. Copper plays a key part in cross-linking collagen, a major component of bone tissue’s extracellular matrix, with elastin to produce bone. The mineral also supports the growth and function of osteoblasts, the cells that synthesize and mineralize bone.
In fact, researchers are uncovering more evidence as to just how critical copper is for protecting against bone loss….
More copper improves bone density
A recent study has determined those who get more copper in their diet have better bone mineral density and are less likely to develop osteoporosis than those with low copper levels.
The study used data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys (NHANES) conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The subjects were divided into four quartiles ranging from lowest to highest dietary and total copper intake.
Results showed copper intake was independently associated with a lower risk of osteoporosis, and that there was a link between increased levels of copper and higher total spine/femur bone mineral density. When solely looking at the connection between increased total spine bone mineral density and higher copper levels, the researchers only found that connection in women participants, not in men.
Of the 8,224 participants in the study, 4.3 percent met the diagnosis criteria for osteoporosis. The patients with osteoporosis tended to be older, more emaciated women with hypertension who were taking prednisone or cortisone. Patients who did not have osteoporosis were found to consume higher levels of dietary or total copper.
The researchers say this is one of the few studies to measure the relationship between copper status and bone mineral density in adults. There have been previous observational studies examining the link between serum copper and osteoporosis, and some animal studies have found copper consumption to be associated with bone strength.
Getting the right balance of copper
If you have a copper deficiency, it’s important to correct it to maintain good health. In addition to the role it plays in bone health, copper is essential for immune system support and the proper growth, development and maintenance of the brain, heart and other organs. It can even help with shedding excess fat and give you an energy boost.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend adults over 19 get 900 micrograms of copper daily. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need more and should be consuming 1,000 micrograms and 1,300 micrograms per day, respectively.
But with copper, you need to be careful not to overdo it. Having too much copper in the body can cause problems like abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even liver damage. The NIH cautions adults not to get more than 10,000 micrograms of copper per day.
To maintain this balance, it’s probably best to avoid taking copper in supplement form, since a supplement could tip the scale toward too much. Stick with eating these copper-rich foods:
- Shellfish (especially oysters)
- Leafy greens (especially kale)
- Nuts and seeds (especially pecans and hazelnuts)
- Seeds (especially sesame seeds, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds)
- Dates and figs
- Goat cheese
- Dark chocolate
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National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Osteoblast — Britannica