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  • Heart Disease: A copper supplement may help prevent cardiovascular disease

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
    Tuesday, August 17, 2004 12:32 am Email this article
    A simple copper supplement may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease according to an excellent review paper by Leslie Klevay, M.D. from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

    Dr. Klevay has written a lot about copper for a couple of decades.

    First, here are some of Dr. Klevay’s accomplishments according to the USDA’s website, followed the highlights from his excellent paper.

    Dr. Klevay is the only licensed physician in the Agricultural Research Service and the USDA.

    Dr. Klevay supervises the Trace Elements and Cardiovascular Health Laboratory.

    Realizing that attempts to explain the epidemic of ischemic heart disease (the leading cause of death in the U.S.) in terms of too much of the wrong kind of dietary fat fall far short of reality, he began a search for trace elements that may affect heart disease risk because of the apparently protective effect of hard drinking water.

    This quest led to several important discoveries:

    1. the first publication showing that copper deficiency raises blood cholesterol, a finding confirmed in at least 22 independent laboratories world wide;

    2. the first harmful effects of copper deficiency on the electrocardiogram;

    3. a series of publications, in ever increasing detail, showing that the diet in the U.S. frequently is low in copper;

    4. the first increases in blood pressure from copper deficiency;

    5. the first experimental copper depletion of men and women showing that they resemble deficient animals in having increased cholesterol and blood pressure and decreased glucose tolerance and have abnormal electrocardiograms;

    6. the first production of excessive blood clots in copper deficiency and the realization that they are the result of impaired clot dissolution;

    7. the definitive paper on the usefulness of hair analysis in clinical and experimental medicine;

    8. the first publication showing that beer protects rats from copper deficiency, an observation that helps explain the lower heart disease risk found in people who are modest in the consumption of alcoholic beverages and which sometimes is called the French Paradox; and

    9. the first publication showing that the harmful effects of zinc supplements on blood cholesterol is due to inhibition of copper utilization.

    Because copper deficiency explains more aspects of ischemic heart disease than any other dietary insult, this work has inspired research of others both within the Center and in other laboratories in the U.S. and abroad.

    A diet high in copper has a beneficial effect on blood cholesterol when obese women lose weight.

    Further work will determine whether or not copper deficiency contributes to excessive weight gain.

    Patients with poor blood supply of the heart muscle are being studied to determine the degree to which this abnormality is related to copper nutrition.

    This work may be extended to people with a modest degree of high blood pressure or disturbance of heart rhythm.

    These studies are made possible by Dr. Klevay’s being on the staff of the Altru Hospital and being a member of the UND medical faculty.

    The search for heart disease characteristics benefited by copper will continue, and protective foods such as barley, breakfast cereals, chocolate, wheat, and sunflower seeds will be identified.

    Copper deficiency may be the common factor among many apparently dissimilar observations on heart disease; improved copper nutrition may save billions of dollars annually in the U.S.

    This work and the continued writing of Dr. Klevay contributed to Recommended Dietary Allowance for copper.


    Highlights from Dr. Klevay’s excellent paper on copper deficiency and heart disease

    Here are highlights from Dr. Klevay’s excellent paper on how copper deficiency increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.

    Copper deficiency can cause cardiovascular disease

    Copper deficiency can cause cardiovascular disease.

    Copper deficiency can cause ruptured blood vessels and heart attacks

    “Anatomical studies of several species of deficient animals revealed, interalia, aortic fissures and rupture, arterial foam cells and smooth muscle migration, cardiac enlargement and rupture, coronary artery thrombosis and myocardial infarction.”

    “Abnormal biochemistry in deficiency probably contributes to these lesions, e.g., decreased activities of lysyl oxidase and superoxide dismutase which result in failure of collagen and elastin crosslinking and impaired defense against free radicals.”

    Copper deficiency can raise cholesterol levels

    Copper deficiency increases cholesterol levels.

    Elevated cholesterol levels from copper deficiency in several species has been found in at least 22 independent laboratories world-wide.

    Extra copper can prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol

    Oxidation of LDL cholesterol plays a central role in cardiovascular disease. In another paper, Dr. Klevay notes that extra dietary copper inhibits LDL oxidation (Klevay, Am J Clin Nutr, 2002).

    Copper deficiency can cause abnormal ECG, glucose intolerance, and hypertension

    Copper deficiency can cause abnormal electrocardiograms, glucose intolerance and high blood pressure.

    Copper levels are low in people with cardiovascular disease

    “People with ischemic heart disease have decreased cardiac and leucocyte copper and decreased activities of some copper-dependent enzymes.”

    Copper deficiency can increase cholesterol, blood pressure and impair glucose tolerance

    “Copper depletion experiments with men and women have revealed abnormalities of lipid metabolism, blood pressure control, and electrocardiograms plus impaired glucose tolerance.”

    Copper deficiency can cause a heart attack

    Numerous cardiovascular lesions were found among 26 pigs made copper deficient with a diet based on evaporated milk. The most important cardiac lesions was myocardial infarction (heart attack).

    Copper deficiency can cause heart enlargment

    Copper deficiency can cause enlargement of the heart.

    “Vascular lesions included aortic fissures and rupture, medial thickening of the aorta and intramural hemorrhages in carotid, coronary and other thoracic arteries. They also found that copper deficiency produced greater cardiac enlargement than iron deficiency when animals were matched by hematocrit.”

    Copper is an antidote to heart disease caused by eating a high-fat diet

    “Changes in cardiovascular anatomy found in mice fed a diet high in lard… Atrial thrombosis was most obvious, but coronary necrosis, coronary thrombosis, myocardial necrosis and ventricular calcification also were found. Mortality was high. Two decades later, it was found that adequate dietary copper (Klevay 1985) could prevent the atrial lesions and eliminate premature mortality. Copper was an antidote to fat intoxication.”

    “Coulson and Carnes (1963) noted that 22 of 33 pigs deficient in copper died of cardiovascular causes, 11 with fatal coronary artery disease. Continuation of this work revealed smooth muscle proliferation (Carnes et al. 1965 ), a finding confirmed by Hunsaker et al. (1984) and Hill and Davidson (1986). “

    “Hunsaker et al. (1984)  also noted migration of smooth muscle cells in aortas of marginally copper-deficient rats. Arterial foam cells also were found in deficient swine (Waisman et al. 1969).”

    Copper deficiency can cause 35 anatomical changes

    Approximately 35 anatomical changes produced by copper deficiency have been tabulated from the work of numerous authors (Klevay 2000 ).

    Copper deficiency can cause blood vessels to lose elasticity and cause aneurysms

    “Important findings in addition to those above are arteries with elastic degeneration and fragmentation, arteries with smooth muscle degeneration, along with ventricular and coronary artery aneurysms [a bubble on a blood vessel].”

    Copper deficiency found in those who die of cardiovascular disease

    The hearts of people who have died from ischemic heart disease are low in copper.

    Higher copper levels correlated with more open blood vessels

    Kinsman et al (1990) found a significant correlation between copper in leukocytes (a blood cell that is an important part of the body’s defense system) and the degree of patency—that is the openness or lack of obstruction—of the coronary arteries of men.

    Lower levels of copper-containing enzyme in those with history of heart attack

    Among patients evaluated by coronary angiography, those with a history of a heart attack (myocardial infarction) had lower concentrations of extracellular superoxide dismutase—a protective enzyme that requires copper—than those without a history of a heart attack.

    Some copper-containing enzymes important for cardiovascular health

    Some copper-containing enzymes are important for cardiovascular health.

    Copper-containing enzymes are necessary for healthy blood vessels

    Copper-containing enzymes are necessary for healthy blood vessels.

    It has been suggested that copper is an antioxidant nutrient for cardiovascular health (Allen and Klevay 1994, Klevay 1990a).

    Copper deficiency can cause heart arrhythmias

    Men fed diets of conventional foods low in copper have had cardiac arrhythmias (Klevay et al 1984, Reiser et al 1985).

    Copper deficiency can cause “bad-looking hearts”

    “We had seen some pretty bad looking hearts in [copper] deficient rats (Allen and Klevay 1978, Kopp et al 1983, Viestenz and Klevay 1982).”

    In 1942, a researcher made an observation that copper deficiency might be involved in arteriosclerosis, however decades passed before the next suggestion that copper deficiency could be important in human heart disease (Anderson et al 1975, Klevay 1973 and 1990b).

    Mild copper deficiency can cause cardiovascular disease

    Much research suggests that people with ischemic heart disease may have low levels of copper.

    “It is interesting that abnormal electrocardiograms (Klevay et al 1985), abnormal cardiac histology (Klevay et al 1994) and abnormal arterial structure (Hunsaker et al 1984) have been found in animals mildly deficient in copper without obvious alteration in peripheral, copper chemistry.”

    75 changes in copper-deficient animlals similar to humans with cardiovascular disease

    “More than 75 anatomical, chemical and physiologic changes are common to both animals deficient in copper and people with ischemic heart disease.”

    Over the past 20 years, Dr. Klevay has developed a theory that copper deficiency is involved in cardiovascular disease

    “The copper deficiency theory on the etiology and pathophysiology of ischemic heart disease has been developed in a series of papers over two decades; the most important or recent include Klevay 1990a, 1990b, 1998 and 2000). The theory has evolved, has been modified and has attempted to incorporate newer concepts and findings such as aspirin, beer, homocysteine, iron overload and oxidative damage.”

    Copper deficiency is the simplest explanation for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death

    “[Copper deficiency] is offered as the simplest and most general explanation of ischemic heart disease, the leading cause of death in the industrialized world.”

    How to download a copy of this paper for free

    You can read a copy of this excellent paper on-line or download a PDF copy of this paper for free by clicking here.


    Comments from Larry Hobbs: Copper deficiency involved in John Ritter’s death?

    Comments from Larry Hobbs: I believe that a copper deficiency was involved in the death of actor John Ritter who died due to a dissection of the aorta.

    The aorta is the largest artery leaving the heart carrying oxygenated blood to the entire body. An aortic dissection is a tear in the wall or lining of the aorta.

    The wall of the aorta has three layers. When the inside layer is torn the pressure of the pumped blood can cause the tear to expand up and down the aorta this is called a dissection.

    As the blood accumulates in the wall it weakens the outer layers of the aorta. If this continues the outer wall of the aorta can burst. This definition is from an article from CBS News.

    Fructose increases copper excretion, worsens copper deficiency

    Fructose either alone or as part of sucrose—sucrose is one molecule of glucose combined with one molecule of fructose—increases the excretion of copper and increases death in animals fed high-sugar diets.

    The problem is that we continue to consume more and more fructose because virtually all processed food is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, the consumption of which has been increasing steadily for the past 20 years.

    Prediction that fructose-induced copper deficiency will increase hemorrhagic strokes

    I predict that some day in the near future scientist will find that hemorrhagic stroke is on the rise, but they may not know why.

    I believe the cause will be because of a fructose-induced copper deficiency due to our increase in the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup.

    2-3 mg per day of copper consider safe and adequate

    The U.S. government says that 2-3 mg of copper per day is a safe and adequate dose.

    Personal experience suggest that some people may need 6-8 mg of copper per day

    However, based on personal experience, I believe that some people, such as those taking high doses of zinc, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium oxide or aluminum oxide such as in antacids such as Maalox, bismuth such as is found in Pepto Bismol, fructose, a diet high in fiber or a fiber supplement, especially guar gum and perhaps other highly viscous fibers such as glucomannan, may require a higher dose than this—perhaps 6-8 mg per day.

    I say this because other copper researchers have said that we need to absorb 3 mg of copper per day, and that only about half (40-60 percent) of what we consume is absorbed.

    The list of items above either decrease copper absorption or increase copper excretion, thus increasing the need for copper.



    Here are other benefits of copper from other papers by Dr. Klevay.


    Copper supplement improves bone density, prevents osteoporosis

    A copper deficiency causes osteoporosis in animals. Women given a copper supplement have improved bone density according to Dr. Klevay (J Trace Elem Med Biol, 2002).


    Sirloin diet causes 23% weaker bones than sirloin plus beef liver

    Mice fed sirloin, which is copper deficient, elevates cholesterol levels and produces bones that are 23 percent weaker than mice that are fed sirloin plus beef liver which is high in copper (Klevay, J Trace Elem Med Biol, 2002).

    Note: This could explain the why some people believe that high-meat diets cause osteoporosis. Depending on the type of meat eaten, this could induce a relative copper deficiency, and copper is necessary for bone production.


    Copper deficiency reduces DHEA levels in half

    A copper deficiency reduces serum DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) levels in half in rats according to Klevay (2000). DHEA is the mother of all hormones. Levels of DHEA fall as we age. Some research suggests that supplementing with DHEA may help reduce some of the symptoms of aging. This suggests that supplementing with copper may help to maintain healthier DHEA levels.


    Klevay L. Cardiovascular disease from copper deficiency—a history. J Nutr. 2000 Feb, 130(2S Suppl):489S-92S.

    To download a copy of this paper for free click here.


    Leslie Klevay, M.D.
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center
    Grand Forks, ND 58202, USA
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


    Klevay L. Extra dietary copper inhibits LDL oxidation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Sep, 76(3):687-8; author reply 688.

    Klevay L, Wildman R. Meat diets and fragile bones: inferences about osteoporosis. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2002, 16(3):149-54.

    Klevay L, Christopherson D. Copper deficiency halves serum dehydroepiandrosterone in rats. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2000 Oct, 14(3):143-45.


    Leslie Klevay, M.D.
    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center
    Grand Forks, ND 58202, USA
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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