On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Taking Copper and Zinc Together

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am hoping you have some information about taking copper and zinc at the same time, as I have read there is an issue with this combination. They are both in the dietary supplement I take, but I will switch to another one if this combination is not a good idea. -- I.R., Berkeley, California

DEAR I.R.: We have good methods to determine the amount of a nutrient needed to prevent a deficiency; this comes mainly from knowing what that nutrient does, and being able to assess when normal functioning is not taking place. Science, however, continues to learn about how nutrients interact during absorption, and how the ratios between nutrients can affect our metabolisms.

Copper and zinc are both essential minerals, but they have a relationship in which their relative amounts are also important. Zinc plays a role in many enzymes, including those involved in detoxification, sex-hormone production and wound healing, and it is also involved in taste and smell. Copper helps in the formation of red blood cells, is essential for normal hair and skin, and is needed for normal respiration and the production of certain antioxidant enzymes.

Excess zinc can actually deplete the level of copper in the body; conversely, if there is too much copper, the level of zinc can suffer. This antagonism only comes into play with imbalance, and that is rarely an issue when foods are the source of these minerals. The take-home message relates to supplements, and that you shouldn’t overdo it unless there is a medical reason to do so.

There is no problem with taking the recommended amounts of zinc and copper at the same time. For adults aged 19 and older, the Daily Value for zinc is 15 milligrams per day; the tolerable upper limit is 40 milligrams. For copper, the daily value is 2 milligrams per day; the tolerable upper limit is 10 milligrams. For those not familiar with the “tolerable upper limit” term, it represents the highest level of intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse health effects in almost all healthy individuals.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am 75 years of age, and my total cholesterol tends to run about 250 milligrams with the HDL portion at 80 milligrams. If I eat nutritious, healthy foods, will I be able to do normal exercise, such as low-impact aerobics, without ill effects? -- A.B., San Diego

DEAR A.B.: The fact that you are 75 and aware of the importance of healthful eating and exercising means that you’ve been doing several things right. Your cholesterol figure, by itself, might not place you in what’s considered a high-risk category for heart disease, especially given the HDL portion.

But there is much more to be considered in the big picture of your health and fitness, including any past health issues and current medications. The most appropriate reply to your query is best left to the health professional entrusted with your overall care.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.