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:
Assisting in energy productionProtecting cells from free radical damageHelping lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that strengthens connective tissueAssisting the conversion of the brain neurotransmitter dopamine to norepinephrineHelping your body make hemoglobin, which is needed to carry oxygen to red blood cellsKeeping the immune system, bones, blood vessels, and nerves healthyHelping in the formation of the pigment melanin
Recommended Dietary Allowance/Adequate Intake
|0-6 months||200||Not determinable|
|7-12 months||220||Not determinable|
|19 years and older||900||10,000|
18 years and younger
over 18 years
18 years and younger
over 18 years
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:
Abdominal painNausea and vomitingDiarrhea
Loss of consciousness
Signs of liver damage like yellow eyes or skin
Foods high in copper include: Beef liverShellfishCashewsSunflower seedsAlmondsHazelnutsLentilsChocolate
There are a number of health conditions and treatments that affect how your body absorbs, uses, or excretes copper. The most common examples include: Wilson’s disease—A genetic condition which include the inability of the body to excrete copper. This lead to a dangerous build-up of copper in the body. Menkes syndrome—A genetic condition that prevents proper copper absorption. It results in an accumulation of copper is some tissues, but not in others. This can lead to blood disorders or nerve problems.Medications or supplements—For example, high levels of zinc interfere with copper absorption, creating a deficiency.
If you are concerned about how much copper you are getting in your diet, talk to your doctor before supplementing.
Copper. Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/copper. Updated January 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.
Zinc. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional. Updated February 11, 2016. Accessed June 30, 2016.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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