Key Findings

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  •     Both zinc and copper are trace minerals that work together to support healthy digestive, immune and nervous systems.
  •     While in balance, they work synergistically and are also able to perform their individual functions.  When levels are out of whack, deficiencies can cause health challenges.
  •     Zinc can be obtained through a variety of animal sources, while copper is most frequently found in plant-based foods.


A delicate balance

As with many nutrient combinations, the zinc-copper connection is a tenuous one.  Both essential nutrient metals, when consumed in appropriate amounts, work synergistically to support immune system response, healthy digestion, nervous system function and other key life-maintaining processes.   But when one or the other is outside the recommended range, their relationship becomes antagonistic.  As one nutrient level decreases, the other increases – creating both deficit and excess scenarios that can have dire results.

Balance of these two vital trace elements is critical, and can be obtained through a nutritionally balanced diet comprised of both animal- and plant-based foods.  For those lacking in either or both areas, supplementation under the direction of a physician or holistic practitioner may help get the delicate zinc-copper teeter-totter in a neutral position.

The zen of zinc

As its designation as a trace mineral suggests, zinc only needs to be consumed in very small amounts (8 and 11 milligrams a day for women and men, respectively.)  But don’t let the quantity fool you, because zinc is necessary for a host of crucial bodily functions – among which is stimulating the activity of at least 100 unique enzymes.

From an immune system perspective, zinc support your efforts to activate T lymphocytes which can help synchronize immune responses and attack infected cells.  It can support your fight with recurrent ear infections and prevent lower respiratory infections.  And anyone suffering from a common cold (rhinovirus) can vouch for the efficacy of zinc lozenges which, when taken within a day of the onset of symptoms, can support your efforts to reduce a cold’s duration up to 40 percent.

Zinc may also give you support you need on the gastrointestinal front, by supporting your efforts to alleviating diarrhea and staving off further bouts of this annoying condition.  In addition, it can support you to facilitate chronic wound and ulcer healing by enhancing skin integrity and decreasing bacterial growth, support your efforts to reduce the likelihood of inflammatory diseases, enhance fertility, and prevent retinal cellular damage – which can delay the onset of age-related macular degeneration.

What’s cool about copper

Copper’s no slouch in helping the body function at its best either.  Like zinc, it’s vital for the creation of numerous essential enzymes.  Critical for red blood cell formation, normal metabolic activities and neurotransmitter synthesis, copper also support your efforts to helps build strong bones, promote brain development, and foster a healthy cardiovascular system.

Life in balance

As previously mentioned, homeostasis within the body is contingent upon the effective balancing of zinc and copper – ideally, in the range of an 8:1 to 12:1 zinc-copper ratio.  Animal proteins are an excellent source of both trace minerals, as both tend to occur naturally in balanced amounts. In that state, zinc and copper can team up synergistically to support your efforts to facilitate healthy digestive, nervous and immune systems.

However, when out of alignment, a deficient of one element can lead to an excess of the other – which can lead to a myriad of symptoms depending on which trace mineral is dominant.  A high copper/low zinc ratio, for example, can cause fatigue, diarrhea, depression, stunted growth, slow wound healing and hair loss.

What are the best sources of zinc and copper?

Just as these two essential trace nutrients sit on opposite side of the proverbial teeter-totter, where they can be found naturally is just as disparate.  The best source of zinc is animal-based products such as meats and seafood, while copper is most commonly obtained through foods of plant origin.

Here are some sources of zinc (in alphabetical order):

  •     Baked beans
  •     Beef
  •     Crab
  •     Egg yolk
  •     Lobster
  •     Organ meats
  •     Pork
  •     Raw oysters

And copper:

  •     Asparagus
  •     Beans, including soybeans
  •     Beef liver
  •     Leafy greens
  •     Nuts, like almonds and cashews
  •     Organ meats
  •     Oysters
  •     Sesame seeds

What’s the bottom line?

To maintain the delicate zinc-copper balance, you’ll want to consume a nutritionally balanced diet comprised of both animal and plant food sources.  This will allow both essential trace elements to work synergistically to support your efforts to maintain healthy digestive, immune and nervous systems, as well as execute their individual tasks within the body.  If unable to obtain the minimum daily recommended amount of zinc, supplementation under the guidance of a medical or holistic professional may be advised.