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Can Copper and Zinc Help Protect My Vision?

My mother (age 80) is taking your recommended vitamins and minerals. She wonders why the formula doesn't contain copper and zinc supplements. Are these minerals still necessary for good senior nutrition?

Answer (Published 5/11/2004)

From your question I presume your mother is taking my separate antioxidant formula, which doesn't contain copper or zinc because neither is an antioxidant (but does contain selenium, which is). However, any good multivitamin/mineral supplement should contain both copper and zinc (the formula available on my Web site does). You need zinc for optimum immune function and, as you get older, to protect against age-related vision loss. Copper is a trace element that can be depleted if you're taking zinc supplements. For that reason, many nutritionists recommend taking supplemental copper when you take supplemental zinc in a ratio of 10 to 1 (zinc to copper).

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Zinc is particularly important to seniors with age-related macular degeneration, a common cause of blindness. Results of a study at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions published in the November 2003 Archives of Ophthalmology estimated that if all the eight million Americans over age 55 at high risk for macular degeneration took high-dose antioxidant vitamin supplements, more than 300,000 could avoid vision loss. The supplements tested included 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 mg of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta-carotene, 80 mg of zinc as zinc oxide and two mg of copper as cupric oxide.

Zinc and copper along with vitamins A, B-6, C and E plus iron and selenium raise production of the immune system's defensive T-cells and boost the activity of natural-killer cells. Although moderate doses of zinc can enhance immunity, high doses can depress it and should be avoided. In general, I recommend taking 15 mg of zinc daily - or up to 30 mg daily if you don't eat many foods of animal origin (vegetables and fruits provide little). The best plant sources of zinc are legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, soy products) and whole grains.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

For more articles on how copper interacts with zinc and other minerals and vitamins, visit Dr. Weil's Vitamin Library.

Dosage Update, October, 2004
In order to provide the most up-to-date health information, I review my recommendations on a regular basis. As the fields of nutrition and health advance, my recommendations will change to reflect the best science and new findings. My recommendations for daily vitamin E are to take 400-800 IU of natural mixed tocopherols, or at least 80 mg of natural mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols.

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