Symbol: Cu

Atomic number: 29

Food Sources:

Liver, seafood, oysters, nuts, seeds; some: whole grains, legumes

Non-Food Sources:

Copper water pipes (particularly in soft water areas); some medicines; pesticides; fungicides; blood copper levels raised by the contraceptive pill; brake linings; wiring; some contraceptive devices; dental amalgam; coins, algicides in hot tubs

Possible Deficiency Symptoms:

Rheumatoid arthritis; cardiovascular disease; impaired immune system; affects bone & blood formation in infants; possible role in cardiovascular disease.

Possible Toxicity:

Rheumatoid arthritis; cardiovascular disease; gastro-intestinal irritation (similar to deficiency signs). Zinc deficiency symptoms. 

Included in Common Elements (Metals and Minerals) Test Kit (product code 8126) and Elements Test Kit (product code 8134) available from Life-Work Potential Limited.

What is copper and what does it do?

Copper is a mineral that you need to stay healthy. Your body uses copper to carry out many important functions, including making energy, connective tissues, and blood vessels. Copper also helps maintain the nervous and immune systems, and activates genes. Your body also needs copper for brain development.

How much copper do I need?

The amount of copper you need each day depends on your age. Average daily recommended amounts are listed below in micrograms (mcg).

(see Image 2)

What foods provide copper?

Many foods contain copper. You can get recommended amounts of copper by eating a variety of foods, including the following:

  • Beef liver and shellfish such as oysters
  • Nuts (such as cashews), seeds (such as sesame and sunflower), and chocolate
  • Wheat-bran cereals and whole-grain products
  • Potatoes, mushrooms, avocados, chickpeas, and tofu

What kinds of copper dietary supplements are available?

Copper is available in many multivitamin/multimineral supplements, in supplements that contain only copper, and in other dietary supplements. Copper in dietary supplements is often in the forms of cupric oxide, cupric sulfate, copper amino acid chelates, and copper gluconate. It is not known whether one form of copper is better than another.

Am I getting enough copper?

Most people get enough copper from the foods they eat. However, certain groups of people are more likely than others to have trouble getting enough copper:

  • People with celiac disease
  • People with Menkes disease, a rare genetic disorder
  • People taking high doses of zinc supplements, which can interfere with the ability to absorb copper and could lead to copper deficiency

What happens if I don’t get enough copper?

Copper deficiency is rare in the United States. Copper deficiency can cause extreme tiredness, lightened patches of skin, high levels of cholesterol in the blood, and connective tissue disorders affecting the ligaments and skin. Other effects of copper deficiency are weak and brittle bones, loss of balance and coordination, and increased risk of infection.

What are some effects of copper on health?

Scientists are studying copper to understand how it affects health. Here are several examples of what this research has shown:

Cardiovascular disease

Studies looking at the effect of copper intake on heart disease have had mixed results. More research is needed to understand whether getting more copper from the diet or supplements might raise or lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Alzheimer’s disease

Some research shows that people with higher levels of copper in their blood have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Other research, however, shows that high amounts might increase Alzheimer’s disease risk. More research is needed to determine whether high or low levels of copper affect the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Research is also needed to find out whether dietary supplements that contain copper could affect the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or its symptoms.

Can copper be harmful?

Yes, copper can be harmful if you get too much. Getting too much copper on a regular basis can cause liver damage, abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Copper toxicity is rare in healthy individuals. But it can occur in people with Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder. It can also occur if copper-containing water pipes leach copper into drinking water in your home or workplace.

The daily upper limits for copper are listed below in micrograms (mcg).

(see Image 3)

Are there any interactions with copper that I should know about?

Copper is not known to interact with any medications.