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Key Findings

  •     Essential trace minerals, zinc and copper collaborate synergistically to promote healthy digestive, immune and nervous systems.
  •     When in balance, they work well together – as well as on their own – to perform vital bodily functions.  When levels are outside the appropriate range, deficiencies can cause health challenges.
  •     Zinc can be found in high-quality animal sources, while copper is most frequently obtained through plant-based foods.


It may fall late in the alphabet

But zinc is still a nutritional leader when it comes to skillfully executing a myriad of vital bodily functions – even though, as a trace mineral, it only needs to be consumed in very small amounts to reap powerful benefits.

Along with stimulating the activity of at least 100 unique enzymes, zinc has a powerful impact on the immune system.  It helps activate T lymphocytes which can then attack infected cells, address recurrent ear infections, and support your efforts to prevent lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia.  It might also have a powerful impact on the common cold, as evinced by zinc lozenges which can support your fight to  reduce a cold’s duration up to 40 percent when taken within a day of the onset of symptoms.

Not only that, zinc can help accurately synthesize DNA, support your efforts to reduce the likelihood of inflammatory diseases, boost fertility by augmenting sperm quality, manage osteoporosis, mitigate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, foster healthy childhood development, and delay the onset of age-related macular degeneration.  Zinc has also been linked with learning and memory, as its regulatory role on how neurons communicate with each other can impact cognitive processes and memory formation.

From a skin perspective, zinc could support your efforts to promote chronic wound and ulcer healing by enhancing skin integrity, and can also support your fight with acne, eczema, psoriasis, and aging skin.   In fact, zinc is a common ingredient in skin creams used to manage skin irritations, including diaper rash.

Copper is also critical

Like zinc, copper helps create numerous essential enzymes.  In addition, this trace mineral plays a vital role in normal metabolic activities, red blood cell formation and neurotransmitter synthesis, along with helping build strong bones, promote brain development, and support your efforts to foster a healthy cardiovascular system.

Keeping the body in balance

The zinc-copper connection is a tricky proposition. Both essential nutrient metals, when consumed in appropriate amounts, work synergistically to support immune system response, healthy digestion, and nervous system function.   The ideal scenario is when they exist within the body in the range of an 8:1 to 12:1 zinc-copper ratio.  It is then, when in balance, that they can work well together without undermining each other’s efficacy or creating toxicity within the body.

When one or the other falls outside the recommended range, however, an antagonistic relationship can develop.  Both levels shift: as one nutrient level decreases, the other increases, creating both deficit and excess scenarios that can have negative implications.   Excess zinc, for instance, can suppress copper absorption, while a high copper/low zinc ratio can cause depression, fatigue, diarrhea, stunted growth, slow wound healing and hair loss.

Optimal sources of zinc and copper

If we consume a nutritionally balanced diet comprised of lean and organ meats, nuts, seeds, leafy vegetables and seafood, we’ll most likely get all the zinc and copper we need – and in the proper amounts so as to remain balanced.  

Here are some sources of zinc (in alphabetical order):

  •     Baked beans
  •     Beef
  •     Crab
  •     Egg yolk
  •     Lobster
  •     Organ meats
  •     Pork
  •     Raw oysters

And copper:

  •     Asparagus
  •     Beans, including soybeans
  •     Beef liver
  •     Leafy greens
  •     Nuts, like almonds and cashews
  •     Organ meats
  •     Oysters
  •     Sesame seeds

However, because poor eating habits, stress and other lifestyle factors can derail even the best intentions, getting the appropriate amounts of both trace minerals through diet alone may not be enough.  Supplementation as prescribed by a physician or holistic practitioner may be the solution to help shore up any nutritional gaps.

What’s the bottom line?

A well-balanced diet packed with high-quality animal and plant sources may provide your body with the zinc and copper it needs, in the appropriate levels, to maintain the delicate balance between the two.  This best-case scenario will enable both essential trace elements to work synergistically to support your efforts to maintain healthy digestive, immune and nervous systems, as well as perform their unique tasks within the body.  However, if you’re not able to get the minimum daily recommended amount of zinc you need – or it’s being compromised by excessive copper – supplementation as directed by a medical or holistic professional may be the answer.