Copper in the Blood
Ceruloplasmin is a type of protein found in the blood, and its levels can be measured with a copper deficiency test. The protein is produced by the liver and is used to transport copper through the blood. Tissues in the brain, kidneys, liver, and bones need copper to function properly and remain healthy. The average adult has 50 to 80 milligrams of copper in his or her body. The body does not produce copper on its own. Copper is introduced to the body through the foods that one eats. Foods high in copper include, beans, whole grains, organ meats, and many types of seafood. Copper is filtered out of the body as waste.
Too Little Copper
A healthy individual eating a well-balanced diet is unlikely to have a copper deficiency. However, malnourished and premature children who do not receive dietary supplements do often experience a copper deficiency. A copper deficiency is especially dangerous for an infant because copper is used in the formation of bone tissue. Infants with a copper deficiency may have bone abnormalities. Copper may also be low in individuals with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa due to a lack of nourishment. Some unlucky individuals inherit a copper deficiency genetically. The disorder is called Menkes syndrome. It usually develops within the first few months of a child life, and will often become fatal within the first three years of life. Individuals with a copper deficiency often experience muscle weakness, bone fractures, decreased white blood cell count, anemia, and neurological problems. A copper deficiency test assesses the level of copper in the blood and also tests for Menkes syndrome.
Too Much Copper
Just as too little copper in the blood is dangerous, so is too much copper. An excessive level of copper in the blood is usually related to taking too many dietary supplements. However, the hereditary condition called Wilson’s disease can also cause copper levels to rise by inhibiting the liver’s ability to filter copper out of the body. The copper begins to build up in the blood and is then dangerously deposited in the cornea of the eyes, in the kidneys, and in the brain. The excess levels of copper start to kill off cells and eventually cause neurological damage. If left untreated, the disease can be fatal. The ceruloplasmin blood test measures the level of copper in the blood to test for Wilson’s disease.
How the Blood Test Works
The level of copper in an individual’s blood is based on how much copper is in his or her diet and on how well his or her liver is functioning. A ceruloplasmin blood test is used to determine what proportion of the body’s ceruloplasmin (the protein produced by the liver) is working to transport copper. If there is a lot of copper in the blood but only a small portion of ceruloplasmin proteins are transporting copper through the blood, then one can assume that the body is having trouble with copper elimination rather than with production.
A ceruloplasmin test may be ordered alone or along with blood and 24-hour urine copper tests when someone has signs and symptoms that a health practitioner suspects may be due to Wilson disease, such as:
- Nausea, abdominal pain
- Behavioral changes
- Difficulty walking and/or swallowing
Rarely, ceruloplasmin may also be ordered along with copper tests when a health practitioner suspects that someone has a copper deficiency. Ceruloplasmin may be ordered periodically to monitor those with excess or deficient copper and periodically to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment