Copper keeps your skin youthful

Our body requires small amounts of copper. Yet, a deficiency of this essential mineral will rapidly age your skin and body. Learn why that happens and how to keep optimal copper levels throughout your lifetime.


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Hi guys! Today we will go through the biochemistry of copper and its biological role in our skin. And why you should not forget to include copper-containing foods in your diet.

Copper does not penetrate the skin topically unless delivered as part of certain molecular complexes or specific ointments with high copper concentrations. Or while wearing copper bracelets, but that’s not the way to get healthy levels of copper into your skin. 

Adults require just about 1-1.5 mg of copper per day. We can easily incorporate that into our bodies with the intake of copper-containing foods (I will list the best of them later on).

But why a healthy amount of copper makes your skin (and body) age significantly slower and even increase longevity? The answer is clear-cut: key cutaneous (and non-cutaneous) enzymes need copper to work. For the skin, the most important are probably six of them. Let me show you how it goes!

The eight reasons to optimize your copper intake

1· Boost your energy

Copper is part of the cytochrome c oxidase, a ubiquitous enzymatic complex that allows the mitochondria in our cells to generate energy (ATP, Adenosine Tri-Phosphate). A copper deficiency thus results in a shortage of energy

The skin needs constant renewal and active defense mechanisms against external aggressors. And only that requires a pretty high amount of energy. Therefore the skin cannot maintain even primary functions nor defend itself without the right amount of copper. Let alone keep regenerating or healing itself optimally.

Cytochrome c oxidase is part of the mitochondrial respiratory chain, that allows cells to obtain energy (ATP).
The image shows a cytochrome c oxidase (COD) active site, that contains copper (source: link.springer.com).

2· Increase your cutaneous antioxidant defense

The Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a ubiquitous copper- and zinc-containing antioxidant enzyme. The Cu-Zn SOD is paramount for cutaneous antioxidant defense inside and outside skin cells. SOD converts superoxide (O2-) free radicals into molecular oxygen (O2) and hydrogen peroxide (which is eliminated by other antioxidant enzymes). 

Without this antioxidant activity, our skin could not counteract free radicals generated by cellular metabolic processes and sun exposure (or pollution). Not even while using sunscreen (since no sunscreen blocks all sun rays completely). Hence, a substantially higher amount of cutaneous oxidative damage would occur. That leads to accelerated skin aging and cutaneous disorders.

The soluble Cu-Zn SOD and the extracellular Cu-Zn SOD are essential to keep oxidative damage to a minimum.
A monomer of the soluble Cu-Zn SOD and a tetramer of the extracellular Cu-Zn SOD are shown (source of images: Wikipedia).

3· Lower inflammation

Ceruloplasmin is an enzyme that transports copper from the liver to other body sites. It is a copper-carrying enzyme with a copper-dependent antioxidant activity. 

Thanks to the copper atoms, ceruloplasmin scavenges oxygen radicals released by macrophages and neutrophils (aka, white blood cells) during the acute phase reaction of inflammation (the initial stage of inflammation). 

That protects surrounding cells against oxidative damage. Therefore, it avoids unnecessary harm that would prolong or trigger non-required inflammatory processes.

4· Attain oxygen and nutrient release to the skin

Ceruloplasmin also allows the release of iron from storage and its binding to transferrin (its main transport protein in blood plasma). In other words, it makes iron available in the body to become part of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the skin and all other tissues. 

Photo: oysters on ice, ready to eat.
Oysters are an excellent source of copper.

Thus, a copper deficiency hinders healthy cutaneous blood flow. And hence the arrival of nutrients into the skin (for instance, vitamins obtained through the diet) and adequate cutaneous waste disposal through the blood.

5· Avoid varicose veins and telangiectasias

The blood clotting factors V and VIII contain copper. They become activated through cleavage by the protein thrombin and help form a blood clot whenever needed. That’s how copper can prevent blood leakage and, for example, the appearance of varicose veins.

Photo: woman's leg with varicose veins, on the beach. Copper helps prevent blood leakage and varicose veins.
Copper helps prevent blood leakage and varicose veins.

6· Promote cutaneous thickness and evade skin laxity

Lysyl oxidase is an extracellular, copper-dependent enzyme critical to the formation and function of connective tissue. It has an essential role in the maturation of collagen and elastin, the major components of the dermal extracellular matrix.

Lysyl oxidase catalyzes the cross-linking of those freshly produced collagen and elastin fibers (through the oxidation of lysine amino acids on those proteins) so that they can give rise to a compact yet flexible and highly functional dermis. That translates into a resilient and bouncy connective tissue that optimally supports the overlying epidermis (or outermost skin layer).

“Maintain a healthy copper intake to keep skin laxity at bay”

People usually blame aging when they notice sagging skin. But the truth is that other factors, and not the pass of time per se, are more likely to be causing you that. Maintain (or restore) a healthy copper intake to keep skin laxity at bay!

Photo: a lentil soup dish, ready to eat. Lentils are a good source of copper.
Lentils are a good source of copper.

7· Preserve youthful blood vessels

Collagen and elastin are also intrinsic components of blood vessels. Thus, adequate maturation of collagen and elastin by lysyl oxidase is imperative to ensure blood vessel structural and functional integrity. Again, this will promote a healthy blood flow and avoid blood vessel fragility or varicose veins.

8· Maintain hair and skin color

The color of our hair and skin depends on the activity of a copper-dependent enzyme called tyrosinase. It catalyzes the conversion of the amino acid tyrosine into dopaquinone, a precursor of melanin. Melanin results from dopaquinone polymerization, and copper also binds those melanin polymers. 

That is why hair is the body structure with the highest copper content. So, do not miss out on copper if you want to delay hair greying as much as possible or if you have any regions of skin hypopigmentation (that look less pigmented than the surrounding areas).

Photo: woman with lustrous, uniform hair and skin color. Copper helps maintain the color of our hair and skin, and avoids skin laxity.
Copper helps maintain the color of our hair and skin, and avoids skin laxity.

Best foods with copper

The best sources of copper from (roughly) higher to lower content are: kidney; liver; shellfish (especially oysters); legumes (such as lentils); some seeds (like sesame seeds) and nuts (like walnuts and pecan walnuts); mushrooms (especially shiitake mushrooms); leafy greens; dark chocolate; and even eggs have some copper.

Is it possible to consume too much copper?

If we intake too much copper, our bodies can maintain copper homeostasis (adequate levels) by decreased absorption and enhanced secretion.

Photo: woman eating dark chocolate (which contains copper).
Copper intoxication is unusual.

Toxic amounts of copper accumulate in the body of healthy people only in rare circumstances (for instance, upon consistent cooking of food in brass containers) and are dangerous (even lethal). Antioxidants like vitamins and selenium can counteract the high amounts of oxygen radicals generated by extreme copper amounts and reduce the chances of body damage.

In other words, copper toxicity is very uncommon in (for the most part) healthy people. Just be mindful of what you put in your body!

I hope this was useful.

Let me know whether you would be interested in learning about other copper uses relevant to skin health and beauty (please comment below or message me on Instagram, @drmariamonterrubio).

See you soon, and please don’t forget to subscribe to the blog if you like my articles!

Love,

María

For your reference:

Copper biochemistry and molecular biology. Maria C Linder and Maryam Hazegh-Azam, Am J Clin Nutrition, 1996; 63(5): 797S-811S.

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