Amy Scholten, MPH
Copper is a trace mineral that is essential for human health. It works with enzymes, which are proteins that aid in the biochemical reactions of every cell. Copper assists these many of these enzymes in crucial reactions in the body.
Copper’s functions include:
Many studies show that Americans consume less than adequate amounts of dietary copper. However, copper deficiency in adults is rare. A deficiency may occur, though, due to certain genetic problems, long-term shortages of dietary copper, or excessive intakes of zinc and iron. In addition, premature
infants and infants suffering from malnutrition may have deficiencies of copper.
People who have had gastric surgery or have conditions that affect how their bodies absorb nutrients are also at risk for copper deficiency.
Symptoms of copper deficiency include
bone loss, a decrease in certain white blood cells, loss of hair color, neurologic problems, and pale skin.
If you are unable to meet your copper needs through dietary sources, copper supplements may be necessary. Copper supplements are usually taken by mouth, but in some cases are given by injection. Your doctor should determine if you need such supplementation.
Cases of toxicity from copper are rare.
Excess copper intake may lead to liver and kidney damage. Symptoms of copper toxicity may include:
Foods high in copper include:
If you have a condition that impairs your body’s ability to absorb, use, and excrete copper, your doctor may recommend changing your dietary intake of copper. For example,
is a genetic condition in which the body cannot excrete copper resulting in increased copper levels in the body.
Another genetic disease,
Menkes syndrome, prevents copper absorption in the intestine and produces symptoms of copper deficiency.
Taking certain medications or supplements may also affect your copper levels. Zinc supplements, for instance, can interfere with how your body absorbs copper. If you are concerned about how much copper you are getting in your diet, talk to your doctor.
Department of Agriculture
Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Dietitians of Canada
Copper. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/copper. Updated January 2014. Accessed June 30, 2016.
Copper deficiency. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 20, 2014. Accessed June 30, 2016.
Dietary reference intakes: elements. Institute of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/Global/News%20Announcements/~/media/48FAAA2FD9E74D95BBDA2236E7387B49.ashx. Accessed June 30, 2016.
Obikoya G. The benefits of zinc. The Vitamins & Nutrition Center website. Available at: http://www.vitamins-nutrition.org/vitamins/zinc.html. Accessed June 30, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
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