Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Copper Consequences

Copper-deficient rats get fat - understanding the role of this element in diet could help treat obesity and metabolic disorders

03 November 2018

Copper Consequences

Copper is available in many foods including nuts, legumes, and even chocolate, so it’s unlikely a person would ever be copper-deficient. But it does happen sometimes, and it tends to be more common in certain groups of people such as pregnant women and obese individuals. Researchers investigating the effects of copper deficiency discovered that rats on copper-free diets developed insulin resistance and fat retention. Furthermore, fat cells (pictured), if deprived of copper, get even fatter. It turns out, these cells contain a copper-dependent enzyme that regulates fuel uptake and, when this enzyme stops working, the cells switch from sugar to fat consumption. Indeed, copper-deprived cells grew more than twice their normal size because of increased fat uptake. Simply eating copper wont make you thin, of course, but studying how this trace element affects fat metabolism may one day lead to strategies for tackling obesity and metabolic disorders.

Written by Ruth Williams

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