Copper: Overview

Some authorities believe that our average intake is higher than our actual needs, that low intakes are uncommon, and that toxicity is a potential problem.  Others believe that a low intake is more common because soil depletion has decreased the copper level in many foods and because many people avoid natural, copper-containing foods.

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Copper is an essential trace mineral needed for good human health.  It is also one of the most important blood antioxidants.  A copper deficiency causes higher serum cholesterol levels along with the lesions similar to those seen in coronary artery disease.  Its deficiency is associated with hypercholesterolemia (increased levels of fat in the blood) and myocardial (heart muscle) degeneration.


Copper is found in many natural foods in small amounts, oysters and nuts being the richest sources.  Foods with good supplies of copper are the whole grains, particularly buckwheat and whole wheat; shellfish, such as shrimp and other sea food; liver and other organ meats; most dried peas and beans; and nuts, such as Brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans.  Oysters have high amounts, about five times as much as other foods.  Soybeans supply copper, as do dark leafy greens and some dried fruits such as prunes; cocoa, black pepper and yeast are also sources.  In addition to food sources, copper can come from water pipes and cookware.

Copper Gluconate is a common supplemental form.  Various forms of copper (salts, amino acid chelates) are now available.

Function; Why it is Recommended

Copper is an essential element (mineral) in the human body.  Needed by all the tissues of the body, as it is used in various enzymatic reactions, it is most used by the liver.

Inadequate intake of Copper can result in such diverse symptoms as anemia, hypercholesterolemia, impaired glucose tolerance, pancreatic atrophy, cardiomyopathy, and increased mortality.  Copper insufficiencies can result from increased fructose intake, poor diet, increased age, alcohol or drug abuse, bowel disease or partial removal, and long-term intravenous nourishment.


The RDA for copper is 2mg per day for adults, 1-2mg for children and 0.5-1mg for infants.  The average adult intake had been estimated at 2.5-5mg per day, although there are reports suggesting lower levels.  Whenever copper is deficient, which it can be for many reasons, it should be supplemented.  If you take a copper supplement, you should consider also taking zinc, unless you are treating high zinc levels or a copper deficiency.  Usually, an 8:1 to 15:1 ratio of Zn:Cu intake is recommended.

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Copper can help with the following:


Not recommended for


Aneurysm / Rupture

If copper levels are low, supplemental copper should be taken for its connective tissue strengthening effect.

Poor/Slow Wound Healing

A German physician first observed the role of copper in healing, noting that broken bones seemed to heal faster when patients were given a copper salt during convalescence.  Since then, the role of copper in the biosynthesis of bone and connective tissue has been well established, although its mechanism of action is only partially known [Tenaud et al. 1999].

Copper supplementation enhances bone healing, working with vitamin C to create strong collagen, and creating cross-links in collagen and elastin that give strength to proteins.

Copper also plays a critical role in the synthesis of the natural antioxidant called copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (SOD).

NOTE: Long-term high-dose copper is not recommended as a dietary supplement because there is significant evidence that it generates too much free-radical activity throughout the body.  On the other hand, therapeutic, short-term supplementation of copper (8mg daily) to enhance wound healing at localized injury sites is appropriate.  Copper supplementation as early as possible after serious burns has been demonstrated to replenish the copper depletion that is so typical of burn victims.

Environment / Toxicity

Zinc Toxicity

Low doses of copper will help restore the imbalance between zinc and copper caused by long term excessive zinc intake.

Not recommended for


Histadelia (Histamine High)

Copper levels may be low to normal in patients with histadelia.  Copper is part of the enzyme histaminase, which is involved in the metabolism of histamine.

Not recommended for
Histapenia (Histamine Low)

Excess copper may be acquired from commercial vitamins and minerals or drinking water flowing through copper pipes.  Distilled water may occasionally be needed to reduce copper intake.

Wilson's Disease

People with Wilson's disease should eliminate copper as far as possible from their diet, environment and supplement sources.


Osteoporosis - Osteopenia

Trace minerals (zinc, copper, manganese, and boron) are required for strong bone formation.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Copper has a mild anti-inflammatory effect.  The use of copper bracelets in the treatment of arthritis has a long history, and wearers continue to claim positive results.  The copper in the bracelets reacts with the fatty acids in the skin to form copper salts that are absorbed into the body.  The copper salts may cause a blue-green stain on the skin, but this can be removed with soap and water.  Recent research suggests that copper salicylate used to treat arthritis reduces symptoms more effectively than either copper or aspirin alone.


The use of copper bracelets in the treatment of arthritis has a long history due to its mild anti-inflammatory effects.


Not recommended for
Zinc Requirement

Because of copper's antagonism to zinc, copper should be avoided while restoring zinc levels.

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often helps with
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Often counterindicated: is often not recommended for
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