Toxicity

The toxicity level of copper has not been established. Toxicity is rare, since only 30 per cent of copper is ingested and the rest is excreted in the feces.

If toxicity should occur, though, through natural intake of copper from plant and animal food, Wilson's disease will occur. This rare and genetic disorder comes about because the copper metabolism is out of balance, and excessive amounts of the trace mineral will be retained in the liver, brain, kidneys and corneas of the eyes. There is no explanation for the tremendous increase of copper absorption accompanying the disease: there may be a genetic abnormality in the protein metabolism, leading to the formation of proteins with high avidity for copper. The disease, which usually strikes adolescents, results in symptoms such as muscle trembling and twitching. And the individual may become highly emotional.

Copper sulfate poisoning can also occur if from 50 to 500 milligrams of copper sulfate are ingested. There can be pain in the mouth, esophagus and stomach, as well as diarrhea with abdominal pain. A metallic taste in the mouth may occur with accompa nying convulsions, shock, paralysis, coma and eventually death. If a person survives, there will be widespread capillary, kidney and liver damage. For these reasons a person should consult a physician before taking any synthetic copper derivative.

Deficiency Symptoms

Although a deficiency of copper is rare, infants who are anemic will sometimes display low blood copper levels. Dysproteinemia, an ailment affecting babies, is characterized by edema, low protein, iron and copper levels plus anemia. It can be corrected through administration of iron and copper.

Low serum copper levels are also observed in kwashiorkor, sprue, celiac disease and hypopro-teinemia (decrease of protein in the blood).

With insufficient copper bodily weakness may be evident in general, skin sores may erupt, or breathing may become labored or impaired.

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