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Life Extension Magazine

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September 2000


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Copper bioavailability and requirements

Knowledge of factors affecting the bioavailability of dietary copper is limited. Intestinal absorption of copper appears to be facilitated by L-amino acids. Picolinic acid has a favorable binding affinity for copper and may facilitate its absorption. Measurements of the dietary requirements for copper in adult men have shown the requirement to range from about 1.5 to 2.0 mg daily, levels similar to the 2.0 mg estimate suggested in the past. Comparison of the copper requirements with the levels of copper present in some contemporary diets suggests that marginal copper nutriture may not be rare. Persons who consume diets high in zinc and low in protein are at risk of copper deficiency. High intakes of sources of dietary fiber apparently increase the dietary requirement for copper. Studies in one man have shown that signs of mild copper deficiency can be produced experimentally when a conventional diet containing about 0.8 mg of copper is fed. At this time, the 2 to 3 mg daily intake of dietary copper suggested by the National Research Council (63) seems appropriate.

JAm J Clin Nutr 1982 Apr;35(4):809-14

Adverse effects of high dietary iron and ascorbic acid on copper status in copper-deficient and copper-adequate rats

The effects of elevated dietary ascorbic acid and iron on copper utilization were examined. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were fed one of two levels of Cu (deficient, 0.42 microgram Cu/g, or adequate, 5.74 micrograms Cu/g), Fe (moderate, 38 micrograms Fe/g or high, 191 micrograms Fe/g), and ascorbic acid (low, 0% or high, 1% of the diet) for 20 d. High Fe decreased (p less than 0.05) Cu absorption only in Cu-deficient rats. High ascorbic acid significantly decreased tissue Cu levels in Cu-adequate rats. High Fe with ascorbic acid caused severe anemia in Cu-deficient rats and decreased plasma ceruloplasmin by 44% in Cu-adequate rats. Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase activity in erythrocytes was decreased (p less than 0.05) by 14% during Cu deficiency but was not affected by Fe or ascorbic acid. These results may be important to individuals with high intakes of Fe and ascorbic acid.

Am J Clin Nutr 1988 Jan;47(1):96-101

Copper and immunity

The immune system requires copper to perform several functions, of which little is known about the direct mechanism of action. Animal models and cells in culture have been used to assess copper's role in the immune response. Some of the recent research showed that interleukin 2 is reduced in copper deficiency and is likely the mechanism by which T cell proliferation is reduced. These results were extended to show that even in marginal deficiency, when common indexes of copper are not affected by the diet, the proliferative response and interleukin concentrations are reduced. The number of neutrophils in human peripheral blood is reduced in cases of severe copper deficiency. Not only are they reduced in number, but their ability to generate superoxide anion and kill ingested microorganisms is also reduced in both overt and marginal copper deficiency. This mechanism is not yet understood. Neutrophil-like HL-60 cells accumulate copper as they differentiate into a more mature cell population and this accumulation is not reflected by increases in Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase or cytochrome-c oxidase activities. The identity of copper-binding proteins in this cell type may be useful in learning new functions of copper or assessing copper status. Neutrophils, because they are short-lived and homogeneous cell populations, are predicted to be an effective and valuable tool for assessing nutrient status in human populations.

Am J Clin Nutr 1998 May;67(5 Suppl):1064S-1068S

Essentiality of copper in humans

The biochemical basis for the essentiality of copper, the adequacy of the dietary copper supply, factors that condition deficiency, and the special conditions of copper nutriture in early infancy are reviewed. New biochemical and crystallographic evidence define copper as being necessary for structural and catalytic properties of cuproenzymes. Mechanisms responsible for the control of cuproprotein gene expression are not known in mammals; however, studies using yeast as a eukaryote model support the existence of a copper-dependent gene regulatory element. Diets in Western countries provide copper below or in the low range of the estimated safe and adequate daily dietary intake. Copper deficiency is usually the consequence of decreased copper stores at birth, inadequate dietary copper intake, poor absorption, elevated requirements induced by rapid growth, or increased copper losses. The most frequent clinical manifestations of copper deficiency are anemia, neutropenia, and bone abnormalities. Recommendations for dietary copper intake and total copper exposure, including that from potable water, should consider that copper is an essential nutrient with potential toxicity if the load exceeds tolerance. A range of safe intakes should be defined for the general population, including a lower safe intake and an upper safe intake, to prevent deficiency as well as toxicity for most of the population.

Am J Clin Nutr 1998 May;67(5 Suppl):952S-959S

Primary structure of rat ceruloplasmin and analysis of tissue-specific gene expression during development

cDNA clones corresponding to rat ceruloplasmin were isolated from newborn rat lung and liver cDNA libraries and the nucleotide sequence was obtained. The derived amino acid sequence of rat ceruloplasmin is 93% homologous to the corresponding human sequence and contains a 19-amino acid leader peptide plus 1040 amino acids of mature protein. Southern blot analysis indicates that the ceruloplasmin gene exists as a single copy in the rat haploid genome. Using these cDNA clones in RNA blot analysis, a single 3.7-kilobase ceruloplasmin-specific transcript is detected in fetal rat liver and lung by day 15 of gestation. During fetal development the abundance of this transcript increases selectively in these two tissues and at birth is 60% of that found in the adult liver. Postnatally the temporal pattern of ceruloplasmin gene expression in lung and liver differs. Within the first 3 weeks postpartum ceruloplasmin mRNA content decreases in lung to undetectable levels, while that in the liver reaches adult levels. Primer extension reveals a single identical start site of ceruloplasmin gene transcription in lung and liver and biosynthetic studies indicate that each tissue synthesizes a ceruloplasmin protein which is qualitatively similar to that synthesized by adult liver. Ceruloplasmin mRNA is also detected in human fetal lung explant and a human lung adenocarcinoma cell line suggesting that a similar pattern of expression occurs in the developing human lung. These data indicate that lung is the predominant extrahepatic site of ceruloplasmin gene expression during fetal development and suggest that this protein may play a previously unappreciated role in lung development or pulmonary antioxidant defense.

J Biol Chem 1990 May 5;265(13):7701-7

Human whole-body copper metabolism

Whole-body copper metabolism is difficult to study in human subjects. However, the use of isotopic tracers and kinetics modeling has added a dimension beyond what can be learned in humans by direct measurement. Mechanisms regulating total body copper seem to be strong, given the relatively small and constant body pool, but they are not yet well understood. The efficiency of copper absorption varies greatly, depending on dietary intake. Changes in efficiency of absorption help to regulate the amount of copper retained by the body. In addition, endogenous excretion of copper into the gastrointestinal tract depends heavily on the amount of copper absorbed. When dietary copper is high and more is absorbed, endogenous excretion increases, protecting against excess accumulation of copper in the body. When intake is low, little endogenous copper is excreted, protecting against copper depletion. Regulation is not sufficient with very low amounts of ietary copper (0.38 mg/d) and appears to be delayed when copper intake is high. The use of isotopic tracers and kinetic modeling should aid in elucidating the regulatory mechanisms.

Am J Clin Nutr 1998 May;67(5 Suppl):960S-964S

A role for ascorbic acid in copper transport

Scurvy-like symptoms have been seen in experimental copper deficiency. This forecasts a role for the vitamin in copper metabolism. Ascorbate has been known to antagonize the intestinal absorption of copper. More recent studies have characterized a postabsorption role for ascorbate in the transfer of copper ions into cells. The vitamin reacts directly or indirectly with ceruloplasmin, a serum copper protein, specifically labilizing the bound copper atoms and facilitating their cross-membrane transport. Ascorbate at physiological levels and above impedes the intracellular binding of copper to Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase. The mechanism is unclear but nonetheless suggests both positive and negative regulatory functions for ascorbate in copper metabolism.

Am J Clin Nutr 1991 Dec;54(6 Suppl):1193S-1197S

The effect of dietary zinc on intestinal copper absorption

Everted duodenal segments, tied into sacs, taken from animals fed different amounts of zinc were used to investigate the antagonistic effect of dietary zinc on copper absorption. The intestinal segments taken from animals fed low amounts of zinc transferred more copper from a nutrient medium across the mucosal cells than did intestines from rats fed high levels of zinc. The mucosal cells from animals fed low amounts of zinc retained less copper than the cells from animals fed high amounts of the element. This retained copper was bound to a protein fraction having a molecular weight similar to that of metallothionein. The data suggest that zinc exerts its antagonistic effect by inducing the synthesis of a copper-binding ligand, probably a thionein, in the mucosal cells which sequesters copper from the nutrient medium, making it unavailable for serosal transfer. This may be a possible mechanism by which dietary zinc decreases copper absorption and leads to a decreased copper status.

Am J Clin Nutr 1981 Sep;34(9):1670-5

Mechanisms of copper conservation in organs

Organ copper is conserved in response to dietary copper restriction. In organs such as brain and heart, conservation is highly efficient, resulting in the loss of little organ copper. In contrast, conservation of copper in liver is induced only after a significant amount of organ copper is lost. Thus, the conservation of copper during dietary restriction is highly organ specific. Although the long-term pattern of organ copper conservation in rats has now been described through use of the continuous feeding of a single stable isotope, the mechanisms responsible for this conservation have not been identified or studied. These mechanisms may include copper-regulated changes in gene expression as well as other mechanisms. We now have the molecular tools that will permit the isolation of copper-regulated genes that may play a role in the conservation of organ copper. Identification of these mechanisms will allow the exploration of the effects of mild short-term and long-term copper deficiency and the role of copper in other physiologic and biochemical systems.

Am J Clin Nutr 1998 May;67(5 Suppl):978S-981S

Cellular expression of ceruloplasmin in baboon and mouse lung during development and inflammation

Ceruloplasmin (CP) is an important extracellular antioxidant and free radical scavenger. Although CP is expressed mainly in the liver, recent studies have identified the lung as another major site of CP synthesis. The sites and cell types that are responsible for CP expression in baboon and mouse lung are described. CP mRNA is detected in primordial bronchial epithelium in baboon fetuses by 60 days of gestation. At 140 days of gestation and thereafter, CP mRNA is found in airway epithelium and in the ductal cells of the submucosal glands. In developing and mature mice, CP mRNA is present in epithelial cells throughout the airway. In endotoxin-treated mice, the amount of CP mRNA increases several-fold in large airways but increases only moderately in small airways. This suggests that the high concentration of CP in the mucus lining of the upper airway, which serves to filter harmful substances, is particularly important during stressful conditions. Endotoxin treatment in mice also results in the induction of high levels of CP mRNA in a subset of alveolar wall cells. The data suggest that the airway epithelial cells are the major source of CP in the lung fluid and support ceruloplasmin's critical role in host defense against oxidative damage and infection in the lung.

Am J Respir Cell Mol Biol 1996 Feb;14(2):161-9



Methylation of the estrogen receptor gene is associated with aging and atherosclerosis in the cardiovascular system

OBJECTIVE: Methylation of the promoter region of the estrogen receptor gene alpha (ER alpha) occurs as a function of age in human colon, and results in inactivation of gene transcription. In this study, we sought to determine whether such age-related methylation occurs in the cardiovascular system, and whether it is associated with atherosclerotic disease. METHODS: We used Southern blot analysis to determine the methylation state of the ER alpha gene in human right atrium, aorta, internal mammary artery, saphenous vein, coronary atherectomy samples, as well as cultured aortic endothelial cells and smooth muscle cells. RESULTS: An age related increase in ER alpha gene methylation occurs in the right atrium (range 6 to 19%, R = 0.36, P < 0.05). Significant levels of ER alpha methylation were detected in both veins and arteries. In addition, ER alpha gene methylation appears to be increased in coronary atherosclerotic plaques when compared to normal proximal aorta (10 +/- 2% versus 4 +/- 1%, P < 0.01). In endothelial cells explanted from human aorta and grown in vitro, ER alpha gene methylation remains low. In contrast, cultured aortic smooth muscle cells contain a high level of ER alpha gene methylation (19-99%). CONCLUSIONS: Methylation associated inactivation of the ER alpha gene in vascular tissue may play a role in atherogenesis and aging of the vascular system. This potentially reversible defect may provide a new target for intervention in heart disease.

Cardiovasc Res 1999 Sep;43(4):985-91

Effects of 3-week oral treatment with the antioxidant thioctic acid (alpha-lipoic acid) in symptomatic diabetic polyneuropathy

AIMS: To evaluate the efficacy and safety of short-term oral treatment with the antioxidant thioctic acid (TA) on neuropathic symptoms and deficits in patients with Type 2 diabetes mellitus with symptomatic polyneuropathy. METHODS: Patients were randomly assigned to oral treatment with 600 mg of TA t.i.d. (n = 12) or placebo (n = 12) for 3 weeks. Neuropathic symptoms (pain, burning, paraesthesiae, and numbness) in the feet were scored at weekly intervals and summarized as a Total Symptom Score (TSS). The Hamburg Pain Adjective List (HPAL) and the Neuropathy Disability Score (NDS) were assessed at baseline and day 19. RESULTS: At baseline the TSS, HPAL, and NDS were not significantly different between the groups. The TSS in the foot decreased from baseline to day 19 by -3.75 +/- 1.88 points (-47%) in the TA group and by -1.94 +/- 1.50 points (-24%) in the placebo group (P= 0.021 for TA vs. placebo). The total HPAL score decreased from baseline to day 19 by -2.20 +/- 1.65 points (-60%) in the TA group and by -0.96 +/- 1.32 points (-29%) in the placebo group (P = 0.072 for TA vs. placebo). The NDS decreased by -0.27 +/- 0.47 points in the TA group, whereas it slightly increased by +0.18 +/- 0.4 points in the placebo group (P = 0.025 for TA vs. placebo). No differences between the groups were noted regarding the rates of adverse events. CONCLUSIONS: These preliminary findings indicate that oral treatment with 600 mg of TA t.i.d. for 3 weeks may improve symptoms and deficits resulting from polyneuropathy in Type 2 diabetic patients, without causing significant adverse reactions.

Diabet Med 1999 Dec;16(12):1040-3