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Copper in health
 The roles of copper 
Health is copper coloured
Copper has been described as the 'workhorse mineral'. As a cofactor for at least 13 enzymes, copper drives a crucial array of chemical reactions that underpin human health and development.

After copper is ingested, it is absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream. Here, copper is bound to transport proteins, which convey it to the liver for subsequent distribution throughout the body.

Where in your body is copper needed?
Roll over the blue dots, starting with the
one in the middle.
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Part of interactive graphic of body
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Picture 4. Roll over the blue dots to find out where copper is needed.

Cu - the essential nutrient
After copper is ingested, it is absorbed from the small intestine into the bloodstream. Here, copper is bound to transport proteins, which carry it to the liver. It then gets distributed throughout the body.
Artwork of absorbing copper
Brain and nervous system
Copper is crucial for the normal development of the brain and nervous system. It plays a role in the production and maintenance of myelin, which insulates nerve cells so ensuring the proper transmission of nerve impulses.

Copper is also involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that allow communication between nerve cells.

COPPER DEFICIENCY: degeneration of the nervous system.
Heart
Copper is essential for the synthesis of collagen. This is found in connective tissue, the main supporting and binding tissue of the body.

Copper is also needed for healthy muscle tone and function and so plays a vital role in the heart.

COPPER DEFICIENCY: heart failure.
Bones
Collagen is the key molecule responsible for the rigidity, mechanical strength and competence of bone.
COPPER DEFICIENCY: fractures; skeletal abnormalities; osteoporosis.
Blood and blood vessels
Copper serves as a cofactor for an enzyme involved in the coagulation of blood. The blood vessels are surrounded and protected by connective tissue, and copper helps to sustain their elasticity, particularly for the aorta and smaller arteries.
COPPER DEFICIENCY: low blood pressure; circulatory problems.
Skin
As the most common protein found in human skin, collagen is important in maintaining elasticity. As a cofactor for the enzyme tyrosinase, copper is involved in the synthesis of the skin pigment melanin.
COPPER DEFICIENCY: skin degeneration; albinism.
Immunity
Copper is necessary for the maintenance of a healthy white blood cell count; many of these white cells are phagocytes which engulf and destroy microorganisms.
Artwork of white blood cells
COPPER DEFICIENCY: depressed immune system - reduced white cell count and increased incidence of pneumonia.
In the cells
The generation of cellular energy (ATP) inside the mitochondria depends on the crucial involvement of a copper-containing enzyme. A similarly vital function for copper as a cofactor is the neutralisation of free radicals that would otherwise oxidise and destroy healthy cells.
Artwork of cell
COPPER DEFICIENCY: cancer; heart disease.
Transport of iron
Copper plays a central role in the conversion of iron to its useable ferric (Fe III) form and also helps transport iron around the body.
COPPER DEFICIENCY: anaemia; tissue iron overload.
Excess copper
Patients with the genetic disorder Wilson's disease accumulate copper in the liver, which results in liver cirrhosis and degeneration of the nervous system. This disease highlights the critical requirement for proper absorption and transport of copper around the body.

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Question 4
Look at this paragraph about the role of copper in the liver. Fill in the blanks by choosing from the drop down lists.

The cells of the liver have a very high rate, which means many chemical reactions are taking place simultaneously. All of these reactions are by ; for many of these enzymes, copper acts as a .