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The 4 C’s of Metabolic Health: Calcium, Choline, Chromium & Copper

By Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN+

To the untrained eye, all diamonds may appear the same. But to a jeweler, the quality of a diamond is determined by how well it measures up against the 4 C’s: cut, clarity, color, and carat. Together, these four characteristics assess the quality and value of a diamond.


You can make the same analogy when it comes to metabolic health. Even if it’s not apparent from the outside, your metabolism may not function at its best without its own set of four C’s.


Many nutrients influence metabolic health, but calcium, choline, chromium, and copper are four nutrients that stand out when it comes to metabolism. They may not be precious gems, but they are essential elements that can help you achieve and maintain a healthy metabolism.


What is Metabolic Health?


Metabolism is the process where the body converts the food you eat into energy. Macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats—are converted into energy, which is used to power cells to help you move, think, and breathe.


Your metabolic health reflects your body’s ability to generate and optimally use or store this energy. When metabolic health is working well, your body can maintain an optimal balance between energy production and storage.1 A healthy metabolism supports healthy body weight, sleep quality, and other physiological processes.2


Metabolism is complex and involves many pathways, but some are particularly important for maintaining metabolic health.


Women stretching at the gym


How Do the 4 Cs Contribute to Metabolic Health?


Macronutrients get most of the credit for their role in metabolic health, but micronutrients are just as essential. Without micronutrients (vitamins and minerals needed in smaller amounts), the body can’t use protein, fat, and carbohydrates.2


These specific vitamins and minerals support a healthy metabolism by acting as cofactors or catalysts for essential reactions like energy production and hormone regulation that keep your metabolism running smoothly.3


  • Cofactors are considered helper molecules that are needed for biochemical processes. Without cofactors, these reactions can’t occur


  • Catalysts are substances that help speed up a reaction without being consumed. Think of them as the spark that ignites a reaction, allowing it to take place quickly and efficiently.


Metabolic health is impacted if one of these nutrients is missing or not in the proper ratios. Chromium, calcium, choline, and copper are essential nutrients for a healthy metabolism.


Macronutrient Metabolism


Chromium, a trace mineral found in foods like whole grains and broccoli, plays a role in the metabolism of all three macronutrients, possibly through its influence on insulin.4


Carbohydrates break down into glucose, the body’s primary energy source. Insulin helps transport glucose from the blood into cells to maintain healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range.5 Chromium supports healthy insulin function to facilitate carbohydrate metabolism and helps ensure that blood sugar levels remain within an optimal range.6


Insulin can also influence the normal production and breakdown of fats and proteins through their respective pathways, so chromium keeps these essential metabolic processes running smoothly.5


Energy Production


The primary function of metabolism is to create cellular energy from your food. Calcium, found in dairy and leafy greens, is usually noted for its influence on bone health, but it also contributes to energy metabolism through its role in creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP).


Your cells can’t directly use glucose for energy; instead, glucose goes through a series of steps to become ATP. ATP is the energy-carrying molecule used by cells to power your metabolism. An adequate amount of calcium is essential for this process via its influence on energy-creating enzymes.7


Calcium helps stabilize several enzymes needed for energy production, like glyceraldehyde phosphate dehydrogenase, pyruvate dehydrogenase, and ketoglutarate dehydrogenase. These enzymes are part of the cycle that turns glucose into energy. 8


Copper, a trace mineral found in shellfish and nuts, also contributes to normal energy production. Research suggests that every cell in your body needs copper for healthy metabolic function. It acts as a cofactor for enzymes inside the mitochondria—the energy-producing organelle inside your cells (where ATP is created).9


Cellular respiration is another word for energy production, and it requires oxygen to occur. Cytochrome C oxidase, the final enzyme that helps cells convert oxygen into energy, requires copper to properly function.10 11


The action from this enzyme is considered a rate-limiting step, which means energy production may be affected if it isn’t working correctly. In this way, copper helps to regulate ATP production and support cellular energy needs.


Couple running outside


Lipid Metabolism


Lipid metabolism is the process of breaking down fat into energy and other products. Choline is a nutrient known for its role in producing essential molecules like phosphatidylcholine.


The structural integrity of the cell and mitochondrial membrane relies on phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is one of the essential lipids that make up cell membranes. The cell may not form properly without adequate choline, which could affect normal fat metabolism and energy production.12


Choline also helps export and package lipidsin very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL). VLDL are lipid particles that transport lipidsto the liver for use or storage. The metabolism of these lipids relies on a proper level of choline in the body.12


Homocysteine Metabolism


Homocysteine is an amino acid produced in the body through protein metabolism. While high levels of homocysteine have been associated with health concerns, healthy levels of homocysteine have been associated with better cognitive function and overall positive health outcomes. Keeping homocysteine at normal levels also benefits healthy blood vessels and heart function.13


Several lifestyle and nutrition factors influence healthy homocysteine balance, including choline. Choline is a precursor for betaine, a compound that helps convert homocysteine into a form that can be metabolized and removed from the body.


Studies show people who eat more foods containing choline may have lower homocysteine levels.14 According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, supplementing with choline also has been shown to lower homocysteine levels in healthy men.15


Man swimming in lake


Takeaway: Consider the 4 C’s for Metabolic Health


Just as you’d consider the characteristics that make up a quality diamond, make sure you include enough of these four nutrients—calcium, chromium, choline, and copper—to support your metabolic health.


A healthy metabolism is critical for keeping your body running optimally. These four nutrients are essential to keep all the pathways involved in cellular energy production, storage, and use running smoothly.



Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and freelance health writer. She has a master's degree in nutrition and over ten years of experience as a registered dietitian.


+The views expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Pure Encapsulations®.


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