Copper Deficiency

Copper Deficiency: Overview

Copper deficiency is uncommon, but is sometimes found in combination with iron deficiency, especially with iron deficiency anemia.

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Causes and Development

As zinc supplementation is becoming more popular, the effect of reduced copper absorption seen with increased zinc consumption will probably make deficiencies of copper become more common.

Signs and Symptoms

Fatigue, paleness, skin sores, edema, slowed growth, hair loss, anorexia, diarrhea and dermatitis can be symptoms of copper insufficiency.

The reduced red blood cell function and shortened red cell life span found with copper deficiency can influence energy levels and cause weakness and labored respiration from decreased oxygen delivery.  Low copper levels may also affect collagen formation and thus tissue health and healing.  Reduced thyroid function, cardiovascular disease, increased cholesterol, uric acid and blood pressure, impaired glucose tolerance, thrombosis, oxidative damage, skeletal defects related to bone demineralization and poor nerve conductivity (copper deficiency adversely affects electrocardiograms) – including irregular heart rhythms – can all result from copper depletion.

Copper deficiency results in several abnormalities of the immune system, such as a reduced cellular immune response, reduced activity of white blood cells and, possibly, reduced thymus hormone production, all of which may contribute to an increased infection rate.  Infants fed an all-dairy (cow's milk) diet without copper supplements may develop copper deficiency.

Conditions that suggest Copper Deficiency:


Aneurysm / Rupture

Copper deficiency can contribute to some cardiovascular risks.  Aortic aneurysms may be a genetic condition related to a defect in the ability to store or absorb copper.  Copper is a cofactor for lysyl oxidase, an enzyme that is responsible for the connective tissue integrity by crosslinking elastin.  Elastin is the main material of several important organs, which include blood vessels, spinal discs, lungs and skin.  In theory if you have a family or personal history of aneurysms, consider taking 2-4mg of copper per day, especially if significant amounts of zinc have been or are being consumed.

Men are more susceptible to aneurysms than are young women, probably because estrogen increases the efficiency of copper absorption.  However, women can be affected by this problem after pregnancy, probably because women must give the liver of their unborn babies large copper stores in order for them to survive the low milk copper.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Copper deficiency, due to its effects on ceruloplasmin, may cause an iron-deficiency anemia which can only be corrected with copper supplementation as it impairs iron absorption, reduces heme synthesis and increases iron accumulation in storage tissues. [J Orthomol Med 4( 2): pp.99-108, 1989]


A copper deficiency has been associated with weakening of connective tissue that can be a contributing factor for the development of cerebral aneurysms and hemorrhagic strokes.



A copper deficiency has been associated with weakening of connective tissue that can be a contributing factor for the development of hemorrhoids.



Although supportive data is limited, a report from a study group of hyperthyroid women suggests that copper status should at least be investigated in women with hyperthyroidism.

"Thyroid and immune system health are crucially dependent upon copper.  As far as I can see now, copper deficiency is the most important factor in the development of hyperthyroidism.  Virtually all hypers in the hyperthyroidism group have found that copper supplementation reduced their symptoms, usually within hours or a few days at most.  Most have reported that within three to six months of beginning copper supplementation, they have been able to significantly reduce their intake of antithyroid drugs.  While copper is the big story in hyperthyroidism, it is not the whole story.  If it were, it would have been discovered years ago.  Proper copper metabolism interrelates with and depends upon many other nutrients." [John Johnson,]

Neck / Spine

Low Back Pain

A copper deficiency has been associated with weakening of connective tissue, which in turn can contribute to the development of slipped or herniated discs.

Risk factors for Copper Deficiency:


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Copper Deficiency suggests the following may be present:


Copper Deficiency can lead to:



There are a limited number of studies that suggest low copper levels may reduce thyroid function.  In cases where hypothyroidism is not responding properly to medication, make sure that copper levels are normal.

Recommendations for Copper Deficiency:


Not recommended
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Weak or unproven link: may suggest; sometimes leads to
Weak or unproven link:
may suggest; sometimes leads to
Strong or generally accepted link: often suggests
Strong or generally accepted link:
often suggests
Definite or direct link: increases risk of
Definite or direct link:
increases risk of
Very useful: is highly recommended for
Very useful:
is highly recommended for
Should be avoided: is NOT recommended for
Should be avoided:
is NOT recommended for
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