Researchers show copper is essential for burning fat
Is copper deficiency contributing to the obesity epidemic? Though small amounts of copper are essential to health – oysters, liver, beans and nuts are good sources – copper’s role in metabolism has been unclear: Some studies found that it boosted fat burning, others that it depressed it.
Researchers have now clarified the critical role that copper plays in nutrition: It helps move fat out of fat cells – called adipocytes – and into the bloodstream for use as energy.
“Without enough copper, fat builds up in fat cells without being utilized,” said Christopher Chang.
“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.
“If we could find a way to burn fat more efficiently, this could be a big contribution to dealing with obesity and diabetes.”
The findings point not only to a new role for copper in metabolism, but highlight the key role copper plays throughout the body. Previously, Chang showed that copper is a key signaling molecule in the brain, tamping down over-excitation of nerve cells.
“The work we have done with copper really shows that signaling is not restricted to just a few elements on the periodic table, like sodium, calcium and potassium,” he said.
“Copper is a brand new class; in a sense we have basically added a fourth letter to the alphabet, in terms of metal elements that contribute to the language of signaling.”
The similar roles copper plays in regulating nerve cells and fat burning highlight a growing perception that the neurological system, specifically the brain, plays a role in diseases of metabolism and the immune system, such as obesity and inflammation.
“Some of us are now thinking about obesity as a neurological disease rather than strictly a metabolic disease, because there are potentially connections between your fat tissue and the brain,” he said.
“The notion that obesity and obesity-related diseases like diabetes may be neurological in nature opens the door to new basic science and therapeutic approaches.”
Chang cautions against ingesting copper supplements as a result of these studies, however. Too much copper can lead to imbalances in other essential minerals, including zinc.
Krishnamoorthy, L., Cotruvo, J., Chan, J., Kaluarachchi, H., Muchenditsi, A., Pendyala, V., Jia, S., Aron, A., Ackerman, C., Wal, M., Guan, T., Smaga, L., Farhi, S., New, E., Lutsenko, S., & Chang, C. (2016). Copper regulates cyclic-AMP-dependent lipolysis Nature Chemical Biology DOI: 10.1038/nchembio.2098