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Zinc and Copper and the Importance of the Biological Balance in Health

October 4, 2020
Est. Reading: 3 minutes

The common saying, “too much of a good thing,” does have a place in nutrition. The body prefers a happy medium, and too little and too many essential vitamins and minerals can lead to antagonists deficiency and/or imbalances.

Zinc and Copper and the Importance of the Biological Balance in Health

Many nutrients work as antagonists with one another, which can mean that when one is too high, it causes the other to become too low, which could increase your susceptibility to certain acute or chronic conditions. No pair better exemplifies this than zinc and copper. When your copper to zinc ratio becomes out of balance, it can lead to many health problems.

Zinc 101 

Zinc plays numerous roles in the body, which might be why one prediction states that at least 10 percent of the human proteome, or the proteins an organism express are codes for zinc proteins! Zinc ions also work as signalers in the body. The body requires specific cellular concentrations of this mineral to ensure the zinc reactions can take place without disrupting the work of other essential ions. 

Copper 101 

Copper also plays a role as a cofactor in enzymes or other functions in several biochemical processes, including redox reactions, iron metabolism, antioxidant defense, immune function, and neuropeptide synthesis. Although rarer than for zinc, deficiency, and insufficiency of copper can happen. 

The Importance of the Zinc/Copper Ratio 

Copper and zinc are antagonists, which means they work against one another and compete for binding sites. Excess zinc can lead to a copper deficiency and vice versa. When you have an imbalance in the two, it can lead to health problems.Copper and zinc are antagonists, they work against one another for binding sites. Excess zinc can lead to a copper deficiency and vice versa. 

In fact, many of the studies demonstrate that the copper to zinc ratio was more important as a marker of insufficiency, deficiency, or imbalance than the serum levels of the individual minerals. 

What role does it play in other areas of health? 

Immune Health 

Zinc is well known for its immune-modulating effects, but copper plays a role, too, especially the copper to zinc ratio. A balanced copper to zinc ratio plays a role in maintaining the immune system, helping resist infectious diseases, and it has the potential to be used as an indicator of oxidative stress.  

Studies have found that during stages of chronic inflammation and poor health, there is a lower level of zinc and a higher level of copper, leading to an imbalance in the ratio. Both copper and zinc create the superoxide dismutase (SOD) enzyme that counteracts oxidative stress. 

Role of Zinc in Immune System and Anti-Cancer Defense Mechanisms - 2019

Turning Tumor-Promoting Copper into an Anti-Cancer Weapon via High-Throughput Chemistry - 2013

Other Health Effects 

There are many other ways in which this ratio affects health. Your copper to zinc ratio might also affect your sleep patterns. In another study on elderly patients, a higher copper to zinc ratio, and a lower zinc level and antioxidant capacity, correlated with a higher risk of physical disability

The ratio also plays a role in metabolic health. In patients with type-1 diabetes, which is known to contribute to oxidative stress, the level of serum zinc was significantly lower and the level of serum copper was significantly higher in patients with diabetes, especially those with poor glycemic control. 

The copper to zinc ratio also plays a role in brain health. There is an association with autism and poor copper to zinc ratios.

Zinc and copper are antagonists and work for hand in hand in many of their beneficial tasks, which is why it is important to not only concern yourself with just the amount of zinc or copper you consume. You also want to ensure you retain a good copper to zinc ratio to avoid the potential health risks discussed.

It seems self-evident that if your zinc/copper ratio is off-balance, supplementing with one will help. However, work with a healthcare practitioner so you will not end up altering the balance the other way. Often, using a supplement with both zinc and copper ensures you retain a good ratio. 

The copper and zinc relationship is just another example of the delicate balance that the essential minerals and micronutrients in general, play with one another for our maximal health. Recognizing the ways in which nutrients interact with others will help you formulate a better plan to maintain your optimal health through your diet and supplements.  

Copper and Zinc, Biological Role and Significance of Copper/Zinc Imbalance

Copper and zinc are antagonists, they work against one another for binding sites. Excess zinc can lead to a copper deficiency and vice versa.

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