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Copper is a nutrient found in the body in very small quantities (trace element) and is vital to its proper functioning. In particular it is involved in manufacturing collagen fibers and maintaining cartilage, tendon, and bone health. It is also essential for fighting infection and maintaining proper heart function. 

Roles

What does copper do? 

  • Helps maintain cartilage, tendons, and bones;
  • Helps fight infections;
  • Helps heart function properly;
  • Helps bring vitamin C and iron from the external environment to the cells;
  • Is involved in hemoglobin production;
  • Limits histamine production and plays an important role in allergy prevention;
  • Is involved in skin pigmentation by converting tyrosine into pigment;
  • Helps prevent free radicals from forming (antioxidant).

Needs

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Copper: 

Age
µg/day
Children
1 to 3 years
340
4 to 8 years
440
Preteens
9 to 13 years
700
14 to 18 years
890
Adults
19 to 50 years
900
Eldest
Over 50
900
Pregnant women
 
1000
Nursing women
 
1300

Source: Health Canada; IOM 2006: Institute of Medicine, Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient RequirementsOtten JJ, Pitzi Hellwig J, Meyers LD, editors, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2006.

Sources

Copper is present in many foods. The copper content of the soil in which vegetables grow has no influence on their copper concentration. Chocolate, cocoa, mushrooms, tea, and brewers’ yeast are also a good source of copper. 

Food Sources for Copper: 

Food
Portion Size
Copper
Whole grain cereals
50g
1mg and +
Barley
50g
1mg and +
Liver (poultry and veal)
50g
1mg and +
Crustaceans (crab and lobster)
50g
1mg and +
Oysters
50g
1mg and +
Almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios
50g
1mg and +
Sesame seeds
50g
1mg and +

Source:Health Canada, Canadian Nutrient File, versions 2001b and 2005, and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Fichier canadien sur les éléments nutritifs, versions 2001b et 2005; Ministère de l'Agriculture des États-Unis(USDA), National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

Deficiency

Serious copper deficiency is rare in humans but has been observed in certain very specific conditions such as premature nursing infants who are fed commercial formulas with insufficient copper and in malnourished nursing infants and growing children. Copper deficiency may be associated with osteoporosis and, if left untreated, may lead to anemia caused by fewer red blood cells and lesions in the connective tissue or lungs. 

Signs of copper deficiency: 

  • Hair and skin discoloration (due to decreased melanin synthesis);
  • Anemia (due to decreased hemoglobin synthesis and iron absorption);
  • Connective tissue deterioration;
  • Nervous system disorders;
  • Lowered resistance to infection.

Indications

Beneficial properties attributable to copper: 

  • Anti-aging effect on the skin;
  • Treatment of osteoarthritis;
  • Treatment of cardiovascular disease (by reducing blood cholesterol);
  • Antioxidant.

Adverse effects

Copper poisoning is a relatively rare phenomenon. Poisoning can occur in certain individuals who present a genetic predisposition to adverse reactions caused by taking in too much copper. 

Signs of excess copper: 

  • Gastrointestinal upset (nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting);
  • Excessive salivation;
  • Insomnia;
  • Arthritis;
  • Metallic taste;
  • Headaches;
  • Vertigo;
  • Hypertension (severe copper excess);
  • Liver damage (severe copper excess);
  • Kidney failure (severe copper excess).

Cons-indications

  • Individuals suffering from Wilson’s disease (genetic disease that causes copper accumulation in liver, brain, and eye cells);
  • Individuals suffering from idiopathic copper toxicosis*;
  • Children with Indian childhood cirrhosis*.

*NOTE: Indian childhood cirrhosis, non-Indian childhood cirrhosis, and idiopathic copper toxicosis are diseases characterized by excess copper in the liver, producing cirrhosis. The ingestion of milk that has been canned or boiled in corroded brass or copper containers is thought to be the cause. Idiopathic copper toxicosis develops only in newborns with unrecognized genetic anomalies. 

Interactions

Natural health products and vitamin supplements: 

  • High zinc intake may decrease copper absorption;
  • High iron intake may interfere with copper absorption in nursing infants.

Medications that may lead to decreased copper absorption: 

  • Lithium;
  • Certain medications that treat thyroid gland hyperactivity;
  • Gluconate and zinc citrate.

Medications that may lead to increased copper absorption: 

  • Oral contraceptives.

Additional information

***Speak with your pharmacist if you plan to take copper supplements. Your pharmacist can help you choose the solution that’s best for you based on your health and any drugs you take.