What is the Role of Copper (Cu) in Good Nutrition?


Key Functions of Copper (Cu)

Best sources of Cu

Who would benefit from Cu supplementation?

When to use Cu supplementation

How much Cu is usually taken?

What are the side effects of using Cu?

Cu is an essential trace element for humans. It has an important role in oxidation-reduction reactions in the body and in scavenging free radicals.

Cu is an essential component of several physiologically important enzymes, including:

  • cytochrome oxidase, which is necessary for energy metabolism, cellular respiration, and myelin formation,
  • dopamine-beta-hydroxylase, with which Cu serves as a cofactor in the synthesis of norepinephrine, an important neurotransmitter and adrenal hormone that affects fatigue, mood and depression.
  • histaminase, which breaks down histamine, to control allergies and inflammation,
  • lysil oxidase, which is necessary for the formation of the cross-links of collagen and elastin,
  • tyrosinase, which is associated with normal pigmentation and keratinization of hair,
  • superoxide dismutase (SOD), which helps slow down age-related deterioration of the body by protecting it from free-radical damage, protects from developing chemical sensitivities (along with polyphenol oxidase), and it is important for normal humoral immune response,

Cu is vital in forming connective tissue, which supports and separates organs and is found in tendons, cartilage and bone.

Cu is important for the growth of healthy bones and helps the body to absorb iron from food; a lack of Cu can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia because the mineral helps to make stored iron available for red blood cell production.

Cu is also involved in the formation of melanin, the pigment which colours skin and hair.

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Key Functions of Cu

Copper is needed to absorb and utilize iron. It is also part of the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD). Cu supplementation has been shown to increase SOD levels in humans.

Cu is needed to make the energy the body runs on.

Synthesis of some hormones requires Cu, as does the synthesis of collagen (the “glue” that holds connective tissue together).

In addition, the enzyme, tyrosinase, which plays a role in the production of skin pigment, requires Cu to function.

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Best sources of Copper (Cu)

The best source of Cu is oysters.

Nuts, dried legumes, cereals, potatoes, vegetables, and meat also contain Cu.

potatoesveggies redmeat

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Who would benefit from Copper (Cu) supplementation?

Outright Cu deficiency is relatively uncommon but many people consume slightly less than the safe and adequate range of Cu which is about 1.5–3.0 mg per day.

Symptoms of Cu deficiency include fatigue, bleeding under the skin, damage to blood vessels, and an enlarged heart. Anemia is common, and the number of white blood cells is decreased.

Cow's milk is relatively low in Cu, and cases of Cu deficiency have been reported in high-risk infants (premature infants and those with low-birth weight) and children fed only cow's milk formula.

Children with Menkes’ disease are unable to absorb Cu normally and become severely deficient unless medically treated early in life.

Deficiency can also occur in people who supplement with zinc without also increasing Cu intake because Zinc interferes with Cu absorption.

Health consequences of zinc-induced Cu deficiency can be quite serious. Vitamin C supplementation has also been reported to mildly impair Cu metabolism in the absence of Cu supplementation.

Cu deficiency can result in anemia, lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, or cardiac arrhythmias.

Recent research indicates that cystic fibrosis patients may also be at increased risk of Cu insufficiency.

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When to use Cu supplementation

Copper has been used in connection with the following conditions:

Anemia High cholesterol
Menkes’ disease (injectable Cu histidine) Osteoporosis
Wound healing Athletic performance
Benign prostatic hyperplasia Cardiac arrhythmia

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How much Copper is usually taken?

Most people consume less than the recommended amount of this mineral. Some doctors recommend supplementing the average diet with 1–3 mg of Cu per day.

While the necessity of supplementing a normal diet with copper has not been proven, most people who take zinc supplements, including the zinc found in multivitamin-mineral supplements, should probably take additional Cu.

The following forms of Cu:

Cu sulfate, cupric acetate, and alkaline Cu carbonate are best absorbed as a supplement, and are therefore preferable to cupric oxide.

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Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Copper (mcg/day)

The RDA for Cu is based on the prevention of deficiency


0-6 months - 200 (AI) for Male and 200 (AI) for Female7-12 months - 220 (AI) for Male and 220 (AI) for Female


  • 1-3 years - 340 (AI) for Male and 340 (AI) for Female
  • 4-8 years - 440 (AI) for Male and 440 (AI) for Female
  • 9-13 years - 700 (AI) for Male and 700 (AI) for Female


  • 14-18 years - 890 (AI) for Male and 890 (AI) for Female


  • 19 years and older - 900 (AI) for Male and 900 (AI) for Female

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • all ages - 1000 (AI) for Female

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What are the side effects of using Copper (Cu)?

The level at which Cu starting to cause problems is unclear. But in combination with zinc, up to 3 mg per day is considered safe by the experts.

Zinc interferes with Cu absorption. People taking zinc supplements for more than a few weeks should also take Cu (unless they have Wilson’s disease).

In the absence of Cu supplementation, vitamin C may interfere with Cu metabolism.

Cu improves absorption and utilization of iron.

People drinking tap water from new copper pipes should consult their doctor before supplementing, since they might be getting enough (or even too much) Cu from their water.

People with Wilson’s disease should never take Cu.

Preliminary evidence shows that the levels of Cu in the blood were higher among people who died from coronary heart disease than among those who did not.

Excess consumption of copper is rare. Any Cu not bound to a protein is toxic.

Consuming even relatively small amounts of unbound Cu may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Large amounts can damage the kidneys, inhibit urine production, and cause anemia due to the rupture of red blood cells (hemolysis) and even death.

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