There is a recognized and poorly understood relationship between iron and copper metabolism in our bodies. Some cases of iron deficiency anemia cannot be relieved by the consumption of iron but can be successfully treated by the consumption of copper.
The best current explanation of the relationship of iron to copper is based on the protein caeruloplasmin (ceruloplasmin),which binds copper and acts as an iron carrier in our bodies. When copper absorption is low due to low consumption the caeruloplasmin levels drop. This means that less caeruloplasmin is available to transport iron around the body where it is needed to make red blood cells. The iron remains where it is stored and the result appears to be a deficiency of iron resulting from a deficiency of copper. The authors report that iron deficiency appears the same as does copper deficiency anemia on laboratory tests of red blood cells.
It has been know since 1928 that copper could improve the blood’s hemoglobin formation. Now, we know that a person who has borderline iron deficiency can become overtly anemic when his or her blood levels of copper drop.
It is not known how low copper levels reduce caerulopasmin. Ninety-five percent of the copper is bound to caeruloplasmin. Caeruloplasmin does not transport copper about the body as it does for iron. Copper balance is partly controlled by the release of copper in the bile and increased amounts of bile production will result in loss of more copper from the body. The average daily intake of copper is .6 to 1.6 mg per day.
The human body contains 3 to 5 grams iron, with eighty percent of the iron in the body contained in red blood cells and twenty percent of our iron is stored in the liver. The red blood cells live about 120 days and the iron contained is released to be recycled in new red cells. There is no specific method for releasing iron from the body and the iron balance is maintained by reducing absorption. There is good evidence that copper controls iron absorption in the intestine.
There are few published reports of copper deficiency and the main reason for deficiency is malnutrition. Copper deficiency can result from babies drinking only cows’ milk because the copper levels in cows’ milk are much lower than in human milk.
CONCLUSION: The authors explore the relationships between iron and copper metabolism in the human body. There is evidence that a protein called caeruloplasmin is necessary for iron transport in the body and caeruloplasmin levels are dependent on adequate levels of copper. Copper deficiency can, therefore, result in what appears to be iron deficiency anemia when there are really adequate stores of iron in the body.