When it comes to burning fat, you probably have the big three macronutrients—protein, fat, and carbohydrates—under control. But what about your micronutrients? Turns out, a deficiency of the mineral copper may be blocking your ability to burn fat, according to a new study in Nature Chemical Biology.
Previous research has debated whether copper helps increase or decrease fat metabolism, but this new research from University of California, Berkeley found the mineral’s role is much more intricate than that: Copper helps break down fat molecules into smaller pieces so they can be moved into the bloodstream.
The goal is lipolysis—the process of fat breaking down into smaller pieces so it can circulate in the blood and be burned throughout your body. But the UC Berkeley research team noticed that, for some reason, low copper levels in the fat cells of mice were preventing fat from breaking down and being burned.
It turns out, healthy levels of copper blocks the blocker, like a security guard holding back a mob of fans so an athlete can get through. In this case, the mob of fans trying to prevent the athlete from leaving the stadium that is a fat cell is an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 3, or PDE3.
The job of this enzyme is to turn cAMP—an active molecule that binds to other enzymes to coordinate fat breakdown—into AMP—an inactive molecule that doesn’t do anything here. “When PDE3 is turned on, you flip off the fat breakdown switch by converting active cAMP into inactive AMP,” explains lead researcher, Christopher J. Chang, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology. Copper helps keep the molecules as cAMP so that fat can become small enough to circulate into your bloodstream.
While copper is essential to proper fat burn, chances are you’re already racking up enough of the stuff. Just a quarter cup of cashews, cup of soybeans, or half a cup of shiitake mushrooms each delivers almost your entire daily copper needs.
Skip the supplements—too much copper can cause an imbalance in other essential minerals, including zinc. Score the small amount you need just by eating copper-rich foods, like oysters, sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, mushrooms, leafy greens, asparagus, and summer squash.