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Shining a Light on Copper: The Benefits and Risks of This Essential Mineral
Published:
March 20, 2023
Updated:
March 20, 2023

Shining a Light on Copper: The Benefits and Risks of This Essential Mineral

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Copper is an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in several bodily functions, including the production of red blood cells, immune system function, and collagen synthesis. While copper deficiency is relatively rare, inadequate intake or absorption of this mineral can lead to serious health problems.

In this article, we will explore the importance of copper, its functions in the body, recommended daily intake, food sources, and potential health benefits and risks. We will also discuss how to incorporate copper into a balanced and healthy diet.

The Importance of Copper

Copper is an essential mineral that the body needs in small amounts to function properly. It is involved in many physiological processes, including energy production, neurotransmitter synthesis, and connective tissue formation.

Copper in Raw Mineral Form

One of the most important roles of copper is its involvement in the production of red blood cells. Copper is required for the production of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

Copper is also involved in the function of the immune system. It helps to activate certain enzymes that are involved in immune response, and also plays a role in the production of white blood cells.

Another important function of copper is its involvement in collagen synthesis. Collagen is a structural protein that is found in connective tissues such as skin, bone, and cartilage. Copper is required for the activity of lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that is necessary for the cross-linking of collagen fibers.

Recommended Daily Intake

The recommended daily intake of copper varies depending on age, gender, and other factors. According to the National Institutes of Health, the recommended daily intake of copper for adults is 900 micrograms per day.

Infants, children, and adolescents require less copper than adults. The recommended daily intake for children aged 1-3 years is 340 micrograms per day, and for children aged 4-8 years, it is 440 micrograms per day. For adolescents aged 14-18 years, the recommended daily intake is 890 micrograms per day.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women require slightly more copper than non-pregnant women. The recommended daily intake for pregnant women is 1,000 micrograms per day, and for breastfeeding women, it is 1,300 micrograms per day.

Food Sources of Copper

Copper is found in a variety of foods, including:

  • Organ meats such as liver and kidneys
  • Seafood such as oysters, clams, and crab
  • Nuts and seeds such as almonds and sunflower seeds
  • Whole grains such as wheat and oats
  • Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale
  • Chocolate

While most people can obtain adequate amounts of copper through a balanced and varied diet, those with certain conditions may be at risk for copper deficiency. These conditions include:

  • Malabsorption syndromes such as celiac disease and Crohn's disease
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Zinc toxicity
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Menkes disease, a rare genetic disorder that affects copper absorption and transport

Potential Health Benefits of Copper

Copper has been shown to have several potential health benefits. Here are some of the most promising areas of research:

  1. Bone health: Copper plays a role in the formation and maintenance of bones. A study published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology found that copper supplementation improved bone mineral density in postmenopausal women.
  2. Cardiovascular health: Copper is involved in the metabolism of cholesterol and may play a role in preventing cardiovascular disease. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that copper supplementation reduced total cholesterol levels in adults.
  3. Cognitive function: Copper is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which are important for cognitive function. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that copper supplementation improved cognitive function in adults with mild cognitive impairment.
  4. Immune function: Copper is involved in the function of the immune system. It helps to activate certain enzymes that are involved in immune response, and also plays a role in the production of white blood cells.
  5. Antioxidant properties: Copper has antioxidant properties and may help to protect against oxidative damage. A study published in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology found that copper supplementation improved antioxidant status in adults.

It is important to note that more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of copper supplementation.

Potential Health Risks of Copper

While copper is an essential mineral, consuming too much can be harmful. Here are some potential health risks of excessive copper intake:

  1. Gastrointestinal upset: High doses of copper can cause gastrointestinal upset, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
  2. Liver damage: Long-term exposure to high levels of copper can cause liver damage.
  3. Kidney damage: High doses of copper can also cause kidney damage.
  4. Wilson's disease: Wilson's disease is a rare genetic disorder that causes copper to accumulate in the liver, brain, and other organs. It can lead to serious health problems, including liver failure and neurological damage.

It is important to speak with a healthcare professional before taking copper supplements, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medication.

How to Incorporate Copper into Your Diet

Most people can obtain adequate amounts of copper through a balanced and varied diet. Here are some tips for incorporating copper-rich foods into your diet:

  1. Eat more organ meats: Organ meats such as liver and kidneys are some of the richest sources of copper. If you are not a fan of organ meats, try adding small amounts to dishes such as meatloaf or chili.
  2. Enjoy seafood: Seafood such as oysters, clams, and crab are also good sources of copper. Try adding seafood to your diet once or twice a week.
  3. Snack on nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds such as almonds and sunflower seeds are also good sources of copper. Enjoy them as a snack or sprinkle them on salads and oatmeal.
  4. Choose whole grains: Whole grains such as wheat and oats are good sources of copper. Try incorporating more whole grains into your diet by choosing whole grain breads and cereals.
  5. Add dark leafy greens to your meals: Dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale are also good sources of copper. Try adding them to salads, smoothies, and stir-fries.

Conclusion

Copper is an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in several bodily functions, including the production of red blood cells, immune system function, and collagen synthesis. While most people can obtain adequate amounts of copper through a balanced and varied diet, those with certain conditions may be at risk for copper deficiency. 

Copper supplementation may have potential health benefits, but more research is needed to fully understand its effects. It is important to speak with a healthcare professional before taking copper supplements, especially if you have a medical condition or are taking medication. If you have any immediate questions about this mineral, you can always ask the Healthify AI chat assistant HERE, available whenever needed 24/7!

Healthify has a complete list of all the important nutrients your body needs here: The Complete Guide to All Essential Vitamins and Minerals for a Healthy Life

Sources:

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