Copper may be Key in Burning Fat

A research team led by a scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and at the University of California has found that copper plays a key role in metabolizing fat. Copper has been gaining increasing attention over the past decade for its role in certain biological functions. This metal is used in cookware, electronics, jewelry and plumbing. Copper is essential to form red blood cells, absorb iron, develop connective tissue and support the immune system. Copper’s role in fat metabolism will be published for the first time in the July issue of Nature Chemical Biology.

Is Low Copper Levels Linked To Obesity?

Chris Chang, a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, a UC Berkeley professor of chemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator led the team of researchers. The findings were that copper is essential for breaking down the fat cells so that they can be used for energy as it acts as a regulator. More fat is broken down when more copper is there. A study might be worthwhile to determine if a deficiency in this nutrient could be linked to obesity and obesity-related diseases. Copper could potentially play a role in restoring a natural way to burn fat and found in foods such as oysters and other shellfish, leafy greens, mushrooms, seeds, nuts and beans. We have to get copper through our diet, as the body cannot make it. Asian diets have more food rich in copper. However, too much copper can lead to imbalances with other essential minerals, including zinc, so they caution against ingesting copper supplements as a result of these study results.

The copper-fat link was made using mice with a genetic mutation that causes the accumulation of copper in the liver. They have larger than average deposits of fat compared with normal mice.

Researchers have also found hints of a link in the field of animal husbandry. Cattle that have levels of copper in the feed would affect how fatty the meat was.

There are particularly high concentrations found in the human brain. Other studies have found that copper helps brain cells communicate with each other by acting as a brake when it is time for neural signals to stop. They also branched out to investigations of metals in fat metabolism and other biological pathways and was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The work builds upon prior research from Chang’s lab on the roles of copper and other metals in neuroscience. In support of the President’s BRAIN initiative, Berkeley Lab provided Chang seed funding in 2013 through the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

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