Monday, July 22, 2013

Medical Mondays: A Copper Problem

Hey guys!

Back with another Medical Mondays. I haven't been doing these quite as much lately, partly from burn out (they take a while to write and put together). But FYI, behind the scenes I have been fielding LOTS of questions from writers about medical stuff. Most of the time though, the questions aren't quite fitting for actual blog posts, or the authors want to keep the questions super sekret. :) Which is why Medical Mondays has been a little quiet of late.

But I'm going to keep posting when I can. Because this stuff is too fascinating.


A little while back, I did a post on Argyria (silver toxicity). I must be going through a metal phase (cue the head banging. Actually, don't, because OW my neck.)

Today, I wanted to talk about when another metal that can sometimes serious problems--copper.

What do you think of when someone says "copper"? Shiny, good luck pennies? Maybe the greenish tinted roofs of university building (green from oxidation)? How about plumbing pipes?

But not everyone thinks of copper that's inside their bodies. Commence the copper Q & A.

Why is copper needed in the human body?
Copper is a trace element needed for in-cell energy production, iron transportation, neurotransmitter production, connective tissue health, and free-radical scavenging. A better way to understand why it's important is to explain what happens when it's not around, hence the next question!

What happens when people get a copper deficiency?
They can have bad anemias (low white blood cell [infection fighters] and/or red blood cell [oxygen carriers] numbers). They may get a jerky, unstable walk (ataxia), incoordination, spasticiy, and may lose their vision. Also (as if that weren't enough) it can cause pale skin, brittle light-colored hair, enlarged liver and spleen, weak bones, and mental slowing.

Where is copper found in our diet?
Lots of places. The most is found in liver, but you probably get your copper from grains, legumes, fruit, leafy veggies, meat, fish, poultry and nuts. Oh, and chocolate and cherries. (Yeah, I'm not deficient.)

Who gets copper deficiency?
Some types of bariatric surgery can cause problems with copper absorption. A zinc overdose* can cause this, and possibly iron overdose. There is a rare disorder called Menkes Disease, which is a hereditary disease causing copper deficiency. Babies on formula without adequate copper supplements and people on dialysis are also at risk. 

I know, it looks like "In Cod We Trust." Or "In Goo We Trust." Apologies.
*A note on pennies
I always think of pennies being made from mostly of copper, but actually that's not true. Before 1982, most pennies were made of 95% copper; after 1982, they're 99% zinc with a thin copper layer on the outside. (Right now, pennies from 1982 or before are worth more 2-3 cents due to the rising cost of copper). So! If you ate a sack of new pennies, you'd get zinc poisoning, which would also cause a copper deficiency! And if you ate a sack of pre-1982 pennies, you could possibly get copper poisoning. Although acute copper poisoning is really rare. And anyway, you're already in pretty bad shape, psychiatrically, if you feel you need to eat a sack of pennies. I'll just leave it at that. 

What about copper toxicity?
Copper toxicity can happen acutely or over time. With acute toxicity, people can have bloody vomit or diarrhea, and in severe cases, heart, liver, kidney failure and death. With chronic (or slow) toxicity, problems can build up over time, such as cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, heart problems, diabetes (because it affects the pancreas) and neurologic problems. 

What causes chronic copper toxicity?
Wilson's disease is a heritable disease (1 in 30,000 babies) that causes accumulation of copper in tissues. Besides some of the symptoms above, a classic finding is a ring of an orangey deposit of copper around the iris, called a Keyser-Fleisher ring

Every med student knows this image, but few have seen it in real practice.
How else can a person get copper toxicity?
Food cooked or stored in unlined copper cookware can cause leaching of copper into food. Drinking water from contaminated water source, children accidentally ingesting copper objects, and using copper salt-containing creams can also cause toxicity. So if you have a nice aluminum coated copper pan you cook with and the lining is wearing through, don't use it!

Okay. Well that might be enough copper-infused info to last the rest of your life! And remember--don't eat those pennies!

Medical Mondays is a series intended to help writers with their fictional scenarios. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar. :)

(photos from Wikipedia)


Roland D. Yeomans said...

It is said that blood tastes like copper. I never found that to be true -- though I have never sucked on pennies (not even as a baby!)

What about gold? The ghost of King Midas asked me to ask you that!

You are a stellar friend to help your writing buddies with their medical questions.

And that drawing of a penny is worth every cent we paid for it! (Ouch! Bad pun. Sorry. Late hours as a rare blood courier has me a wee bit loopy.) Have a great new week, Roland

Old Kitty said...

I keep a jar of pennies! LOL!! But I'd rather have the chocolates and cherries for my copper fix! Yay! LOL!!

Take care

Natalie Aguirre said...

We're saving pre-1982 coins, including pennies. Glad to know they're worth something. And thanks for all the info on copper. I definitely do not my copper intake from liver. I'm a vegetarian. But you're reminding me of when my mom used to make me eat it.

Lorelei said...

Hah! I knew about the copper being less in modern pennies, but didn't know what year it happened! Great. I'll keep on picking those pennies up from the sidewalk and see what year they are!

Fantastic post, as always, Lydia!

Em-Musing said...

I actually sucked on a penny when I was a kid and before my mother could make me spit it out, I swallowed it. The taste? Bleh! Chocolate please.

Clarissa Draper said...

I never realized what a problem it was. Thanks for this post. I have never used copper cookware but I know it is popular for some.

Shelly said...

As always, you've enlightened me. I didn't know most of this, but it's just the kind of trivia I like to store up up in my head.

Karen Lange said...

Good to know, thanks! Happy Monday! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Sucking on a penny sounds disgusting. Although I am willing to trust in goo.
Good to know about copper!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

The copper ring around the iris is kind of pretty, but clearly not worth the striking eye color.

Deb Salisbury said...

Very interesting post, as always! I love Medical Mondays.

1000th.monkey said...

I've got the opposite problem, I have a bad reaction to multi-vitamins when they include copper...

Like, hot/cold (feverish) flashes, dizziness/vertigo/nausea, and the same kind of near-hallucinations you get with a high fever.

Interesting how the body reacts in so many different ways :)

1000th.monkey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Southpaw said...

Whoa, the copper ring around the eyes is wild.

mooderino said...

I remember Spock had green blood because Vulcan blood was based on copper instead of iron. That's sort of medically accurate, right?


Connie Keller said...

I love Medical Mondays! Thanks for doing this one--I'm thrilled to have an excuse to eat chocolate covered cherries. :)

walk2write said...

I wonder if plumbers have problems with copper toxicity? Maybe not, though, since plastic pipe is taking over the world.

J E Oneil said...

Cool. I probably get plenty of nickel, too. I could get some more if I got some chocolate covered cherries.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Fascinating post! Thanks. During part of WWII, pennies were actually made of steel. I put a penny in my mouth as a very young girl, and all these years later, I still remember its taste. (And I don't ever want to experience it again.)

Jai Joshi said...

I'm so glad you're carrying on with these Medical Mondays! I love them.

I'm pretty sure I'm not copper deficient. I eat tons of leafy veggies, nuts, legumes, and grains. And I eat chocolate and cherries occasionally, hee hee. What's great is that it's not difficult to stay on target with copper intake!


Krispy said...

That whole section about eating a sack of pennies made me snerk because* Alz and I wrote a whole series of random shorts involving a sack of pennies. She had some weird dream where one person remarks to another that "Killing someone with a sack of pennies is a crime, you know! In some places, you might even be arrested!"

I don't know why the idea of EATING a sack of pennies never showed up in any of these shorts. Seems like it'd be hilarious!

*You thought I was going to say because I tried to eat a sack of pennies once, didn't you?

LD Masterson said...

Interesting. With the exception of iron, I never think of metal being part of the body.

Kim Van Sickler said...

Hmmm. I might just work an orange ring around the eyes and a jerky walk into one of my character descriptions. :-)

Kelly Polark said...

Chocolate covered cherries for the win! :)

I'm still in a metal phase (cue the headbanging). ;)

Great info as always, Lydia!!

Donna said...

can vitamin E help with cholesterol?
I hope you can go to my blog today, it is kind of special to me.

Catherine Stine said...

I LOVE your medical posts--okay, I'm a doctor in some alternate universe. I knew a lot about copper, it turns out, but I didn't know it was good for connective tissue.

Sylvia Liu said...

Very interesting! By the way, I just tagged you in a writer's blog hop ( because I've always found your blog to be excellent. Looking forward to your new novel too.

Linda Gray said...

So interesting. I have a first cousin who has Wilson's Disease. Bodies are amazing, the way they require/manufacture/insist on ingestion of all these disparate elements, in just-so amounts.

Crystal Collier said...

And I'm reminded why we take daily vitamins and try not to worry about the small stuff. Seriously, I could go hypochondriac any day here--but I won't, because life is too short, and apparently so are pennies, on copper. ;)

--Awesome post.

Leslie S. Rose said...

Hmm, I always thought my pale skin was from ye olde Irish heritage. Perhaps copper is to blame. Fascinating post as usual. Love Medical Mondays.

Jenny Woolf said...

I like medical mondays, Lydia, glad to see it back.

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