Copper may have role in burning fat

It probably won't become the latest fad diet, but copper is believed to be useful for burning fat and therefore avoiding weight gain.

That is according to recent research out of the University of California, Berkeley, which sought to clarify the role that copper plays in nutrition. Researchers at Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Howard Hughes Medical Institute found that copper "helps move fat out of cells – called adipocytes – and into the blood stream for use as energy." Trace amounts of copper are found in foods such as oysters, liver, beans and nuts.

The research team used mice to discover that copper is stored by the liver, effectively starving fat cells of copper.

Without enough copper, fat builds up in fat cells without being utilized, said Christopher Chang, the Class of 1942 Chair and a professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley.

“Unlike other studies that link copper levels both to increased or decreased fat metabolism, our study shows definitively how it works – it’s a signal that turns on fat cells,” said Chang, who also is a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “If we could find a way to burn fat more efficiently, this could be a big contribution to dealing with obesity and diabetes.”

The study however cautions against ingesting too much copper in the body, saying it could lead to imbalances in other essential minerals, including zinc.