Copper breaks down fat for energy

While not often thought of as a nutrient, copper is necessary in forming red blood cells, absorbing iron and helping the immune system function properly; and a new study has found that copper also plays an incredibly important role in fat metabolism.

Published in Nature Chemical Biology, the study examined the effect of copper on fat metabolism in mice with a genetic condition that caused them to misregulate copper levels in the body.

What they found was that mice with the genetic condition not only had more fat deposits than average, but the deposits were. Further tests found that copper actively induces lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat to release fatty acids. In the mice with the genetic condition, the copper wasn’t infiltrating the fatty tissue and was preventing proper fat metabolism.

This isn’t the first animal study to notice the relationship between copper and fat breakdown either. Researchers have previously found that cows fed a feed high in copper had less fat deposits on their muscles, which has influenced the type of feed given to specific cattle.

Humans can’t naturally produce copper — it must be ingested. The Australian Government Department of Health recommends men have 1.7mg of dietary copper per day, and women to have 1.2mg of dietary copper. Copper can be naturally found in oysters, mushrooms, leafy greens, avocados, nuts and seeds and fermented foods.

“We find that copper is essential for breaking down fat cells so that they can be used for energy,” said Chris Chang, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and the lead author of the study. “It acts as a regulator. The more copper there is, the more the fat is broken down.”

However, this doesn’t mean you should be reaching for the supplements. Chang warns that taking unnecessary copper supplements could lead to an imbalance in other necessary minerals, such as zinc and iron. If you want to harness the power of copper, your best bet is to go natural and increase your intake of the leafy greens.