DIET
June 13, 2016

Help Your Cells Shed Fat

We only need minute amounts of this mineral, but it appears to play a huge role in our ability to burn fat.

Researchers appear to have uncovered a new weapon to fight fat. It's a mineral we only need in tiny amounts, but are often deficient in; and it seems to contribute to excess body fat.

Copper has several roles in the body. We need it to form red blood cells and to absorb iron. It supports the immune system and is important for the development of connective tissue.

The estimated average dietary requirement for copper is very small — only 700 micrograms per day for an adult. However, only about a fourth of the population consumes enough.

Now researchers with the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley have established for the first time that copper plays a role in breaking down fat cells for use as energy.

“[Copper] acts as a regulator. The more copper there is, the more the fat is broken down. We think it would be worthwhile to study whether a deficiency in this nutrient could be linked to obesity and obesity-related diseases,” researcher Chris Chang, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry, explained.

The discovery of copper’s role in fat metabolism was the result of studying mice with Wilson’s disease, a genetic disorder that occurs in humans as well, in which copper accumulates in the liver.

Researchers noticed that mice with Wilson’s disease had an abnormal buildup of copper in the liver, but the lipid levels in their livers were normal. As they looked more closely at cell cultures, they found that copper influences fat breakdown, thus establishing copper’s role in fat metabolism.

The estimated average dietary requirement for copper is very small — only 700 micrograms per day for an adult. However, only about a fourth of the population consumes enough. Green leafy vegetables are a good source, but the diet of most Americans doesn’t include a lot of leafy greens.

Oysters and other shellfish, seeds, nuts, beans and mushrooms are other good sources of copper.

Don't rush out to buy copper supplements to help you lose weight. Excess copper can lead to serious imbalances of other minerals in the body, especially zinc. In fact, Chang warns against the use of supplements and cautions that more research is needed before copper’s role in obesity or its prevention can be established.

The study is published in Nature Chemical Biology.

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