Copper is an essential nutrient required for hemoglobin formation and many
other functions. Copper is involved in producing and releasing energy through
enzymes in the cytochrome system of cell respiration. It is essential for the
development and maintenance of skeletal structures; specifically, copper helps
to form collagen, especially in the bone and connective tissues. In the nervous
system, copper conducts electrical impulses and helps maintain the myelin sheath
around nerve fibers through the synthesis of phospholipids. In addition, copper
has been linked to anti-inflammatory effects through oxygen-free radical
metabolism and control of histamine levels. Copper is involved in iron
metabolism and may play a role in thermal regulation, glucose metabolism, and
blood clotting. Recent evidence suggests it also plays a role in proper
functioning of the immune system.
The average daily intake by individuals consuming a typical Western diet has
now been established as 1.0 to 1.5 mg of copper. This is lower than the 1.5 to
3.0 mg per day recommended to be safe and adequate. Pregnant women have higher
needs, and greater supplementation may be indicated.
Copper deficiency in human beings is considered rare. Anemia resulting from
copper deficiency has been found in individuals who have undergone intestinal
bypass surgery, in patients receiving parenteral nutrition, in malnourished
infants, and in persons ingesting excessive amounts of zinc. Copper deficiency
in human beings has been linked to anemia, red blood cell rupture, demyelination
and degeneration of the nervous system, pigmentation abnormalities in both skin
and hair, abnormalities of the immune system, poor collagen integrity, faulty
bone development, reduced activity of the antioxidant selenoglutathione
peroxidase, elevated LDL cholesterol and reduced HDL cholesterol, and leukopenia
(particularly granulocytopenia). Copper is important for converting T3 to T4, so
low copper levels may reduce thyroid function. Animal studies indicate that
copper deficiency results in central nervous system disturbances similar to
Parkinson's disease, including symptoms of ataxia, tremors, and uncontrolled
Wilson's disease, a genetic disorder, affects copper metabolism and leads to
low serum and hair copper levels with high liver and brain copper levels.
Serious problems, such as irreversible liver, kidney and brain damage, and even
death, may result. It is treated with chelating agents; penicillamine is most
often used as it binds copper in the gut and carries it out. Copper levels may
be reduced through a low-copper diet, combined with more zinc and manganese in
the diet and as supplements.
In Menkes disease, a rare problem of copper malabsorption in infants that can
often be fatal, decreased intestinal absorption causes copper to accumulate in
the intestinal lining.
Indian childhood cirrhosis, a hereditary disease with accumulating copper in
the liver, used to be fatal, but can now be treated with chelators. The
incidence of ICC in India has decreased in recent years, but similar diseases
have appeared elsewhere.
Copper is found in many varied food sources. The best sources
- Seafood (especially raw oysters; also squid, whelk, lobster, mussels,
- Organ meats (beef liver, kidneys, heart)
- Nuts (e.g., cashews, filberts, macadamia nuts, pecans, almonds,
- Legumes (especially lentils, navy beans, peanuts)
- Chocolate (unsweetened or semisweet baker's chocolate,
- Cereals (e.g., bran flakes, shredded wheat, raisin bran)
- Fruits and vegetables (e.g., dried fruits, mushrooms, tomatoes,
potatoes, bananas, grapes, avocado)
- Blackstrap molasses
- Black pepper
An additional source is water that flows through copper piping.
Copper is the third most abundant essential trace mineral. (Iron and zinc are
first and second.) In biologic systems, copper is primarily found as
Cu2+ although it can appear as Cu+ or even
Copper is available combined with sulfate, picolinate, gluconate, and amino
acids. Data is not available to evaluate one form against another.
Superoxide dismutase (SOD), with copper, has been used to treat arthritis.
Stability in the stomach and small intestine is an issue, however, and oral use
may be contraindicated. Enteric-coated tablets of active SOD may improve
suitability for oral treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. In
a Danish study, arthritis patients who were treated with injections of SOD
obtained relief from many of their symptoms, such as joint swelling, pain, and
Therapeutic uses for copper include:
- Arthritis: Copper bracelets have been shown to reduce pain and
inflammation associated with arthritis, although the exact mechanism is unknown.
Recent research suggests that copper salicylate used to treat arthritis reduces
symptoms more effectively than either copper or aspirin alone. SOD injections
have reportedly provided relief in several European studies.
- Leukopenia and anemia
- Chemical hypersensitivity
- Cardiovascular disease: to prevent aortic aneurysms, treat high
- Where copper levels are low, used to treat vitiligo, fatigue,
allergies, and stomach ulcers
|Dosage Ranges and Duration of
- Daily dietary copper intake recommended by the National Research
Council of the United States: 1.5 to 3.0 mg per day for adults. For children 2
to 11 years, 1.5 to 2.5 mg. Not recommended for children under 2.
- A zinc-to-copper ratio in the range of 8:1 to 15:1 is consistently
- For leukopenia and anemia, daily doses up to 0.1 mg/kg of cupric
sulfate orally, or 1 to 2 mg per day added to nutrient solution of nutrients for
Copper toxicity is rare. Circumstances in which acute copper poisoning has
occurred include accidental consumption by children, ingestion of several grams
in suicide attempts, application of copper salts to burned skin, drinking water
from contaminated water supplies, and consumption of acidic food or beverages
stored in copper containers.
Toxicity results in nausea, vomiting, epigastric pain, headache, dizziness,
weakness, diarrhea, and a characteristic metallic taste. In severe (but rare)
cases, tachycardia, hypertension, jaundice, uremia, coma, or death can result.
Chronic copper toxicosis has been observed in dialysis patients following
months of hemodialysis when copper tubing was used and in vineyard workers using
copper compounds as pesticides.
Copper is an emetic. As little as 10 mg usually produces nausea, and 60 mg
usually produces vomiting. The lethal dose for copper may be as little as 3.5 g.
Copper supplements should be kept away from children.
Allopurinol forms complexes with copper in vitro (Malkiel et al. 1993). The
ability of the drug to chelate copper may impart the protective effects against
cardiac damage in bypass patients.
In young rats, intermediate to high doses of cimetidine (875 to 1750
mg/kg/day) administered intragastrically four times weekly for 5 weeks elevated
hepatic and plasma copper concentrations, and caused mineral redistribution as
well as pathological changes in some tissues (Naveh et al. 1987).
Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
Administration of copper aspirinate to arthritic rats for 20 days increased
hepatic copper concentrations (Kishore 1990). However, copper complexes of
NSAIDs exhibit more potent anti-inflammatory activity than NSAIDs alone (Miche
et al. 1997). It is not known whether copper supplements enhance the
anti-inflammatory activity of NSAIDs.
Oral contraceptives have been shown to increase the levels of copper in women
(Dorea et al. 1982; Horwitt et al. 1975; Tyrer
D-penicillamine chelates copper and inhibits accumulation of copper in cells
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