Copper is an essential micro mineral that benefits bone, nerve, and skeletal health; therefore, although it is not that common, a copper deficiency can actually harm the body in multiple ways.
Copper is important for the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells, as well as for the proper utilization of iron and oxygen within the blood.
Copper plays an important role in maintaining a healthy metabolism, as well as contributing to bodily growth and repair. It is needed for the body to properly carry out many enzyme reactions and to maintain the health of connective tissue.
Copper is the third most prevalent mineral within the body, yet it cannot be made by the body itself and must be obtained through certain foods.
Because the body uses copper frequently and cannot store it in sufficient amounts, eating copper-rich foods like liver, oysters, nuts and seeds, wild seafood and fish, beans, certain whole grains, and certain vegetables is the best way to prevent a copper deficiency.
Because it is involved in the maintenance of cells related to almost every part of the body’s tissues, copper is important for preventing joint and muscle pain, which is why it is sometimes used as a natural remedy for arthritis.
Copper is important for sustaining energy levels, preventing premature aging, balancing hormones, and much more too.
Copper Deficiency Symptoms
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of copper for adult men and women is 900 µg/day, or .9 mg/day. (1)
It’s believed that most adults living in developed nations obtain proper amounts of copper through their diet, supplements, and drinking water from copper pipes. Copper deficiency is much more common in malnourished populations suffering from a general lack of calories and not getting enough copper-rich foods.
A copper deficiency can also be seen in people suffering from serious digestive disorders that impair nutrient absorption, such as Crohn’s disease. And lastly, the absorption of copper can be impaired from very high intakes of iron or zinc, usually from supplements.
These minerals work together to keep the body balanced, so often times having very high levels of one can negatively impact the other, although this is not commonly seen in otherwise healthy adults.
The USDA recommends the following amounts of copper be obtained daily depending on your age for best health:
- infants 0-6 months, 200 mcg/day
- children 6 months-age 14, between 220-890 mcg/day depending on exact age
- adolescents 14-18 years, 890 mcg/day
- for adults, 900 mcg/day
- for pregnant women, 1,000 mcg/day
- and women who are breast feeding, 1,300 mcg/day
Some of the most common symptoms and signs of a copper deficiency include (2):
- Low body temperature, or always feeling cold
- Brittle bones
- Frequently getting sick
- Muscle soreness
- Joint pain
- A stunt in growth
- Hair thinning or balding
- Unexplained weight loss
- Skin inflammation and sores
11 Health Benefits of Copper
1. Supports a Healthy Metabolism
Copper plays a vital part in up to 50 different metabolic enzyme reactions that take place within the body everyday. Enzymatic reactions are needed for our various organ systems to keep our metabolism running smoothly since they are what allows nerves to communicate with one another.
This is one reason why copper enzymes are particularly abundant in the tissues of the body with the greatest metabolic activity including the heart, brain, and liver.
Copper is important for the nervous system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, and almost every other part of the body too because of its impact on metabolic processes.
Copper is essential for the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate, also known as ATP, which is the body’s source of energy. Therefore a copper deficiency can result in a sluggish metabolism, low energy, and other signs of poor metabolic health.
2. Helps Provide the Body with Energy
ATP is the fuel that the body runs off of and its main source of energy. (3) ATP is created in the mitochondria of cells, and copper is needed for this production to properly take place. Copper acts as a catalyst in the reduction of molecular oxygen to water, which is the chemical reaction that takes place when ATP is synthesized.
Copper also makes protein more available to the body by freeing up iron in the blood, making it better utilized. Because it influences ATP and protein metabolism, it is important for general healing of the body’s muscles, joints, and tissue and for maintaining high energy levels.
3. Needed for Proper Brain Function
According to studies, copper impacts certain important brain pathways involving dopamine and galactose. These neurotransmitters are needed to keep our energy up, to maintain a happy mood and outlook, and to help with focus.
Without enough copper present in the body, signs of a copper deficiency can occur such as low metabolic activity, fatigue, trouble concentrating, a poor mood, and more. These are a sign that the network of reactions and metabolic pathways involving copper are suffering.
Copper is also involved in the utilization of several antioxidants including vitamin C and superoxide dismutase, ascorbate oxidase, and tyrosinase. (4) Vitamin C and other antioxidants are critical for stopping free radical damage in the brain and slowing the aging process that can cause signs of aging, cancer, and neuro-degenerative diseases.
4. May Be Helpful in Preventing Neuro-degenerative Diseases
Research about copper and brain function still needs to be further investigated, but preliminary research has shown that copper therapy may have positive results in helping with various neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.
However copper can become toxic when it is acquired in too high of levels, resulting in copper poising and potential brain function impairments. According to experts, copper requires tightly regulated homeostatic mechanisms to ensure adequate supplies maintain in the body without any toxic effects taking place. (11)
There is still ongoing debate in the medical community over whether or not high copper levels are too risky in order to use copper as a potential treatment for neuro-degenerative diseases. However research has confirmed that having a copper deficiency can increase the risk for impaired brain function and potentially age-related cognitive decline.
5. Reduces Symptoms of Arthritis
Copper has anti-inflammatory abilities that help to relieve pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. It also has the ability to help with muscular strength, to reduce joint pain, and to repair connective tissue.
Some people with arthritis even choose to wear copper bracelets or bands because it’s believed that the copper can be absorbed through the skin and can help decrease painful symptoms.
6. Maintains a Healthy Nervous System
Another benefit of copper is that it helps to protect the myelin sheath which is the outside layer surrounding the nerves. Additionally, copper-rich foods sometimes get the nickname of being “brain foods” because copper is known to stimulate thought processes and help with cognitive function.
Copper acts as a brain stimulant because it is involved in the processes of certain transporter proteins which fire neurons in the brain. (5)
It’s believed that copper enables neural pathways to fully develop, increasing creativity, decision making, memory, communication, and other important cognitive functions that rely on a healthy nervous system and neurotransmitter signaling.
7. Helps Build and Maintain a Healthy Skeletal Structure
Copper plays an important role in growing bones, in addition to connective tissue and muscles too. A copper deficiency can show up in brittle bones that are prone to breaking and not fully developing, osteoporosis, low strength and muscle weakness, weak joints, and more. (6) (7) Studies have shown that taking copper in combination with zinc, manganese, and calcium might slow bone loss in older women.
8. Needed For Proper Growth and Development
Copper deficiencies are not as common in developed, western nations but are found more in third world countries where undernourishment is a serious problem; in these populations, the negative effects of lacking copper can be seen in the stunted growth and poor development in children.
A copper deficiency also impacts growth negatively by resulting in fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and poor brain function.
Copper is needed for proper oxygenation from red blood cells, so abnormally low levels and copper deficiency can lead to cells, organs and tissues not receiving enough oxygen. (8) Studies have shown that copper deficiencies can delays growth, can result in a reduction in healthy weight and height, and slows metabolic activity in many ways for this reason.
9. Helps Balance Thyroid Activity
Copper is needed for proper thyroid function because it works with other trace minerals like zinc , potassium, and calcium that are needed to balance thyroid activity and to prevent either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
It’s believed that the relationships between these trace minerals are complex, because an elevation of one must be balanced by the others.
When any of these important minerals is either too present in the body or a deficiency takes place, the thyroid can suffer. This can result in fatigue, weight gain or loss, changes in body temperature and appetite, and other unwanted symptoms.
Copper and iron work together in the synthesis of hemoglobin and red blood cells. According to studies, copper plays a part in the absorption of iron from the intestinal tract and it helps iron to be released into the liver which is where it is primarily stored. (9)
Iron from food sources, and supplements too, is used to create red blood cells. When copper deficiency occurs, iron levels fall too short and anemia can develop, which is a disorder is caused by iron deficiency. Anemia causes symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches, digestive problems, and impaired brain function. (10)
Adequate levels of copper are needed for the body to create the natural pigment and texture of the skin, hair, and eyes. Copper plays a part in the development of melanin, which is responsible for giving our skin its brown color as well as our hair and eyes their unique pigment.
In order for melanin to be created in the body, copper must be present to help create the enzyme called tyrosinase which allows melanin to develop.
Studies have also shown that copper helps build collagen, which is the substance responsible for maintaining skin’s youthful appearance and elasticity. Additionally copper is involved in the production of elastin, a substance found in the connective tissue of skin that keeps skin’s flexibility intact.
Copper keeps you looking younger as you age by acting as an antioxidant that protects your skin, hair, and eyes from free radical damage. Copper is needed for the utilization of the powerful antioxidant called Superoxide dismutase, which protects the body from oxidative stress and aging.
It’s also important for keeping hair from turning gray and thinning. As you can see, in many ways copper maintains the integrity of cells and tissues that are needed to keep elasticity, texture, resilience, and coloration of your outer organs.
14 Best Copper Foods
Here are the 11 best food sources of copper to help you meet your daily needs, based on .7 mg/day (or 700 mcg/RDI per day):
1. Beef Liver
3 oz New Zealand beef: 4.49 mg (641%)
2. Shitake Mushrooms
1 cup cooked: 1.29 mg (184%)
1 oz: .62 mg (88%)
1 cup, cooked: .58 mg (82%)
(2 cups chopped, raw) .48 mg (68%)
6. Cocoa Powder
2 Tbl unsweetened: .41 mg (58%)
7. Sesame Seeds
1 Tbl: .36 mg (51%)
1 cup cooked: .36 mg (50%)
1 oz: .29 mg (41%)
1 cup cooked: .27 mg (39%)
11. Chia Seeds
1 oz dry: .26 mg (37%)
12. Goat Cheese
1 oz semi-soft: .16 mg (23%)
1/2 fruit: .12 mg (17%)
1 oz: .09 mg (13%)
Aside from eating copper-rich foods, copper can also be obtained through drinking water and cooking in cast iron pots and pans. This is because copper is used in many pipes that transport water into your home, so a certain amount of copper is able to leach into the water prior to you drinking it, which is actually beneficial.
The same happens when you cook with copper pots and pans, your food is able to absorb some of the natural copper that is present within the metal.
Copper is known to be toxic in large amounts, so it’s important to stick somewhat close to the recommended amount. Too high of levels can lead to acute and temporary copper poisoning which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even kidney damage or anemia.
It is known that an overload or deficiency of copper is associated with two genetic diseases called Wilson disease (WD) and Menkes disease (MD).
People with these diseases genetically show unregulated levels of copper, so researchers have been investigating the patients in order to see if they can gains useful insights into how copper is distributed and trafficked at molecular levels within the body in order to learn more about copper poisoning.
These diseases are rare, inherited disorder in which excessive amounts of copper accumulate in the liver or the brain of those effected.
Adding Copper to Your Diet Naturally
You can make sure to get proper levels of copper from your diet by including nutrient-dense foods including mushrooms, oysters, avocado, cocoa, and almonds into your recipes. Try some of these recipes below which all feature ingredients high in copper:
- For breakfast, try making this easy Almond Berry Cereal
- As a side dish, salad topper, or sandwich spread, try one of these 29 Hummus Recipes which uses tahini made from sesame seeds as one of the main ingredients
- For lunch or dinner, have some mushrooms by making this Mushroom Soup or Grilled Portobello Burger
- For dessert, have this guilt free Chocolate Avocado Mouse or make another one of these creative recipes using avocado
- Another any-time-of-day option is this decadent Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Recipe which can be used for breakfast, as a snack spread on some fruit, or even in dessert