Zinc & Copper
Certain nutrients share a special relationship. This is true of vitamin D and vitamin K. It is also true of copper and zinc.
As with vitamin D and vitamin K, it is equally important to understand the relationship between copper and zinc.
Zinc and copper are two interdependent trace elements. But, they are also antagonists. This means that a surplus of one can lead to a deficiency in the other.
If one element remains chronically deficient, this will then lead to functional issues within the body, and may ultimately cause systemic dysfunctions.
When in balance, copper and zinc work hand-in-hand, performing many important roles within the body.
One of the key functions that zinc and copper perform, is in maintaining a robust natural immune system.
Zinc is vitally important for immune function. A deficiency in zinc will result in a suboptimal immune system that will leave you vulnerable to infection from bacteria, viruses and other infections.
Ensuring that you have enough zinc during the winter months is particularly important. This is because our natural immunity is usually compromised during the winter season.
Residents of the UK do not receive the benefits of the sun between October and April, because the sun is too low in the sky. This means that we become increasingly deficient in vitamin D throughout the winter months.
*Vitamin D is also crucial for a robust immune system.
The sun is also vital for melatonin production and vitamin A assimilation, both of which are also very important for our natural immunity.
Maintaing zinc levels, through our diet or via supplementation is vitally important. Unlike other trace elements, such as iron, zinc is not contained within the cellular components of our bodies. Instead, zinc permeates our cells and soft tissue, where it performs critical catalytic, structural, and regulatory functions.As zinc is required for catalytic purposes, which simply means that it initiates processes within the body, a zinc insufficiency can lead to the failure of important cascades of events within the body, leading to systemic dysregulation.
Zinc Health Benefits
Zinc acts as an adaptogen for several major hormones. Zinc, therefore, helps to rebalance us hormonally.
It plays a key role in balancing the stress hormone, cortisol. Excess cortisol production can lead to anxiety states, impaired emotional health and weight gain.
Zinc also helps to regulate oestrogen and progesterone in women.
Vitamin D also helps to regulate the production and activity of oestrogen and progesterone, as well as helping to balance insulin and blood sugar levels.
This means that both vitamin D and Zinc are vital for hormonal health, and for inhibiting oestrogen dominance.
*Oestrogen dominance is an increasingly concerning condition, owing to the rise in oestrogenic cancers.
Other vital nutrients for hormone balance include:
- Selenium + iodine + magnesium for thyroid health
- B complex vitamins
- Vitamin C
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Adaptogenic herbs, such as Ashwagandha and some traditional Chinese herbs, like He Shou Wu, (Fo-ti) are also helpful for hormone health.
The health benefits of zinc are many. It is vitally important for the following:
- Immune function
- Wound healing
- Energy production
- Proper sense of taste and smell
- Growth & development – stabilises organelles, which control growth & energy production
- Antioxidant function – protecting against free radical damage
- Hormone balance
- Reducing inflammation
- Anti-apoptotic agent – (apoptosis = natural cell death prior to replacement. Zinc prevents premature apoptosis)
- Important cofactor in the synthesising of DNA strands
As with protein, the body doesn’t store zinc. Consequently, this means that we need to consume sufficient zinc as part of our daily diets.
However, during the winter months, or during periods of illness or stress, or when experiencing growth spurts, we may need to supplement with zinc to increase our levels to ensure optimal immunity and the proper functioning of our body. This is also true if we are exposed to higher levels of toxicity.
In addition, whilst we all have the same need for zinc, absorption can decrease as we age.
When considering supplementing with minerals and vitamins, it is important to buy quality products. The cheaper, more mainstream offerings tend to be of poor quality and ineffectual.
Thankfully, dietary sources of zinc are widely available. Meat and fish are the best sources of zinc, so as long as we eat enough animal protein each day, we are unlikely to suffer from a zinc deficiency.
*Small, oily fish are advised. These have less of the profoundly neurotoxic element, mercury, in them, and they also provide excellent amounts of the essential fatty acid, omega-3.
Sadly, those on a vegetarian or vegan diet are more likely to be zinc deficient. This is because plant foods don’t usually provide sufficient levels of zinc.
Vegetarian sources of zinc include cereals, beans, nuts, oats and fermented soybean products.
If supplementing with zinc, please note that the National Institute of Health advises adults to avoid exceeding 40mg of zinc per day. (It is also vital to ensure you have sufficient copper levels, either through your diet, or via supplementation.)
Zinc ionophores act as a shuttle to transport zinc into our cells, where it can combat viral infection.
Zinc cannot enter our cells in the absence of an ionaphore.
Zinc ionophores include quercetin, and potentially Nigella Sativa Oil, (according to recent scientific research, Nigella Sativa Oil shows promise as a zinc ionophore – please see article sources for more information).
Copper Health Benefits
Copper is equally important as zinc within the body. As with zinc, copper is a vital co-factor for many enzymes and biochemical processes.
Copper is as equally important as zinc for antioxidant function within the body, as well as ensuring optimal immune function.
Copper also shares a direct relationship with iron. The correct levels of copper are needed to ensure iron levels are in balance.
When elevated, however, copper contributes to oxidative stress, instead of reducing it. This simply means that instead of supporting detoxification within the body, elevated levels of copper will increase our toxic load.
Copper also has an important role to play systemically and in relation to our organs. More specifically, copper is needed for the following:
- Neurological health: keeping nerve cells healthy
- Making red blood cells
- Collagen production
- Natural immunity
- Protecting against oxidative stress & free radical damage
- Iron absorption
- Converting sugar into energy
- Bone health
Zinc & Copper Together
A balanced copper to zinc ratio is vitally important in the maintenance of optimal immune function. This balance is also crucial for managing the inflammatory responses within the body.
An immune response results in inflammation, so the management of inflammation in relation to our natural immunity is important.
Copper and zinc are both required in the fight against free radicals. This is because they are needed for the proper functioning of the free radical fighting enzyme, known as superoxide dismutase, or SOD.
When imbalanced, elevated copper levels and a deficiency in zinc will lead to systemic inflammation.
Supplementing With Copper & Zinc
There are too many well respected natural health professionals advising us to supplement with zinc, whilst also making no mention of copper.
The same is true of vitamin D. Many doctors are prescribing vitamin D to boost immunity, without prescribing vitamin K. As our diets are often deficient in vitamin K, this will lead to systemic dysfunction, and a depleted immune system.
Zinc is also being advocated to boost immunity, but will also lower natural immunity if it supplemented in the absence of copper.
Thankfully, Morley Robbins has written a book: Cu-RE Your Fatigue: The Root Cause and How To Fix It On Your Own, alerting everyone to the dangers of imbalanced copper to zinc.
Copper Deficiency Symptoms
As many of us have followed the advice to supplement with zinc, but are not supplementing with copper, it is important to know what the symptoms of a copper deficiency look like.
A copper deficiency leads to:
- Gripping fatigue
- A feeling of inebriation
- Lack of coordination
- Slurred speech
- Reduced mental clarity
- Poor problem-solving ability
- Stamina issues
- Numbness & weakness in extremities
Scientific Research / Sources
Potential benefits of combination of Nigella sativa and Zn supplements to treat COVID-19: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7313527/
Zn2+ Inhibits Coronavirus and Arterivirus RNA Polymerase Activity In Vitro and Zinc Ionophores Block the Replication of These Viruses in Cell Culture: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2973827/
The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2161831322004112
Antiviral Activity of the Zinc Ionophores Pyrithione and Hinokitiol against Picornavirus Infections: https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/jvi.01543-08
The Important Role of the Apoptotic Effects of Zinc in the Development of Cancers: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2727867/