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!
(photos from Wikipedia)