Copper and Prostate Health

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Published: 12th August 2008
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Copper is a trace mineral. It is the third most abundant trace mineral in the body. Copper is a normal constituent of blood. It is present in every tissue of the body, but is primarily stored in the liver.


Copper and Zinc Balance

Copper is needed with long-term use of zinc, because zinc inhibits copper absorption. The prostate has the highest levels of zinc-more than any othe organ of the body. This indicates that zinc supports prostate health. Most studies have found that low levels of zinc in the prostate are associated with benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) as well as other prostate conditions.   Zinc is also instrumental in making sex and thyroid hormones and it is also important for proper immune system function. A nutritional supplement designed for prostate health should maintain a proper balance between zinc and copper because zinc can reduce the absorption of copper in the body.


Zinc and copper are so similar in their atomic structure. They actually compete with one another for absorption and utilization in the body's biochemical pathways. When your intake of zinc is higher than your relative intake of copper, the excess zinc actually interferes with the activity of enzymes, which depend on copper for their biological function. Zinc takes over copper's proper binding sites in the enzymes. When copper is not properly incorporated into these enzymes, they cannot fulfill their biochemical duties.

A high intake of zinc required for prostate health, without proportionately increasing copper intake, can lead to functional copper deficiency1. Both animal and human evidence suggests that, for optimal utilization of both minerals, the balance between zinc and copper should be about ten-to-one.


Although only a small amount of copper is needed, many men still do not meet this requirement.  This may be the result of not eating enough copper rich foods. Also, some foods may contain indigestible fiber which binds with copper and prevents it from being absorbed. High intakes of vitamin C, zinc, and iron can also decrease copper absorption.


Inadequacy to absorb copper can also be due to inadequate stomach acid. It is estimated that between 15-35 percent of adults over age 60 have some degree of gastric atrophy, including hypochlorhydria (inadequate stomach acid) which can impair the body's ability to absorb acid soluble minerals like copper and zinc. Copper and zinc are acid dependent minerals that require adequate stomach acid to enhance intestinal absorption.


Zinc and copper are both key minerals for prostate health. Both minerals are required in proper balance to one another.


Other Functions

Copper is required in respiration, brain function, hormones and antioxidants.  Studies also show that these other activities of the body may also be dependent on copper


·         Copper is involved in the formation of red blood cells, the absorption and utilization of iron, and the synthesis and release of life-sustaining proteins and enzymes.2,3,4

·         Copper plays an important role in metabolism, because it allows many critical enzymes to function properly. These enzymes in turn produce cellular energy and regulate nerve transmission, blood clotting, and oxygen transport.4

·         Copper is necessary for the growth, development, and maintenance of bone, connective tissue, brain, heart, and many other body organs. 5

·         Copper stimulates the immune system to fight infections, repair injured tissues, and promote healing. Copper also helps to neutralize "free-radicals" which can cause severe damage to cells.6,7

·         Copper aids in the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin. 5

·         Copper assists in the formation of elastin and collagen, which are necessary for wound healing. 

·         Copper supports the thyroid glands and assists in keeping them functioning normally.


Natural Food Sources

Copper and other essential trace minerals cannot be formed by the human body. These minerals must be ingested in the diet. The best dietary sources of copper include seafood (especially shellfish), organ meats (such as liver), whole grains, nuts, raisins, legumes (beans and lentils), and chocolate.





  1. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Copper. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2001:224-257. (National Academy Press)
  2. Ricardo Uauy, Carlos Castillo-Duran, Mauro Fisberg, Nancy Fernandez and Alfonso Valenzuela, Division of Human Nutrition and Medical Sciences, Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology, University of Chile, Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas Health Science Center, Dallas, Red Cell Superoxide Dismutase Activity as an Index of Human Copper Nutrition, Journal of Nutrition Vol. 115 No. 12 December 1985, pp. 1650-1655.
  3. Harris ED. Copper. In: O'Dell BL, Sunde RA, eds. Handbook of nutritionally essential minerals. New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc; 1997:231-273.
  4. Uauy R, Olivares M, Gonzalez M. Essentiality of copper in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(5 Suppl):952S-959S. (PubMed)
  5. Turnlund JR. Copper. In: Shils ME, Shike M, Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006:289-299.
  6. 7. Johnson MA, Fischer JG, Kays SE. Is copper an antioxidant nutrient? Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1992;32(1):1-31.
  7. 8. Percival SS. Copper and immunity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;67(5 Suppl):1064S-1068S. (PubMed)

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