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.
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 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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.