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J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 1999;37(2):217-30.


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Copper is an essential trace element, which is an important catalyst for heme synthesis and iron absorption. Following zinc and iron, copper is the third most abundant trace element in the body. Copper is a noble metal, like silver and gold. Useful industrial properties include high thermal and electrical conductivity, low corrosion, alloying ability, and malleability. Most of the metallic copper appears in electrical applications. Copper is a constituent of intrauterine contraceptive devices and the release of copper is necessary for their contraceptive effects. The average daily intake of copper in the US is about 1 mg Cu with the primary source being the diet. The bioavailability of copper from the diet is about 65-70% depending on a variety of factors including chemical form, interaction with other metals, and dietary components. The biological half-life of copper from the diet is 13-33 days with bilary excretion being the major route of elimination. Copper sulfate is a gastric irritant that produces erosion of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Chronic copper toxicity is rare and primarily affects the liver. Wilson's disease and Indian childhood cirrhosis are examples of severe chronic liver disease that results from the genetic predisposition to the hepatic accumulation of copper. The serum copper concentration ranges up to approximately 1.5 mg/L in healthy persons. Gastrointestinal symptoms occur at whole blood concentrations near 3 mg Cu/L. Chelating agents (CaNa2EDTA, BAL) are recommended in severe poisoning, but there are little pharmacokinetic data to evaluate the effectiveness of these agents.

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