What Is Copper?

Copper is an essential mineral for bone strength, heart health, immune health, and much more. As an essential mineral, your body needs it to function properly and stay healthy. However, since the body can't make its own copper, you must get it through your diet. Copper is also available as a dietary supplement.

This article details why your body needs copper, what happens if you don't get enough, and how much you need each day. It also includes a list of healthy foods that are excellent sources of copper and why supplementing without a healthcare provider's approval is not advised.

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement that has been tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn't mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check-in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts


  • Active Ingredient: Copper
  • Alternate Name(s): Cupric oxide, cupric sulfate, copper amino acid chelates, copper gluconate
  • Recommended Dose: Refer to Recommended Daily Allowance; up to 10 milligrams generally safe in healthy people
  • Safety Considerations: Toxicity is possible with excessive amounts,and supplementation not recommended if you have Wilson's disease; discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider

Uses of Copper

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Copper plays several vital roles in keeping your body healthy and your brain sharp. It contributes to energy production and helps your body build and repair tissues. It even works with a pigment called melanin to color your hair, skin, and eyes.

Following a balanced diet will likely get you all the copper you need. This is a good thing, considering the many body functions it helps to serve.

Copper supplements are available, but they are rarely needed. They are usually only recommended for people with a copper deficiency.

Treating a Copper Deficiency

Copper supplementation to treat a deficiency will help restore low serum copper levels. Once you achieve the necessary amount of copper needed in your body, you will stop experiencing symptoms associated with deficiency.

You should discuss any treatment for a nutrient deficiency with a healthcare provider.

Cardiovascular Health 

The role of copper in heart disease is controversial, as the research has mixed results.

Copper deficiency is thought to be associated with heart-related health issues. This includes heart disease, which can develop when arteries in the heart become narrow.

A few studies have looked at the relationship between copper and heart disease risk factors, including the following:

  • In one study, people with higher intakes of copper had lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL)-cholesterol, also known as "bad" cholesterol.
  • National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2,678 people showed that higher serum copper concentrations were associated with increased serum concentrations of total cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and higher risks of high-HDL cholesterol dyslipidemia. However, larger studies must confirm an actual association between serum copper and lipids.
  • Another study examined whether serum copper and ceruloplasmin concentrations are linked to coronary artery disease and all-cause or heart-related mortality in 3,253 people. Ceruloplasmin is a protein that stores and transports copper throughout the body. Higher concentrations of copper and ceruloplasmin were associated with an increased risk of mortality from all causes and heart-related causes.
  • A more recent study published in 2021 found associations between high serum copper levels and an increased risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, but not venous thromboembolism.

Since preliminary research has been inconsistent, there is not enough evidence to suggest that copper supplementation in healthy people will affect risk factors for heart disease.

Recap

Copper deficiency is rare, but if you are deficient, it is appropriate to supplement with copper after discussing it with your healthcare provider. The role of copper supplementation in heart disease requires further research.

Copper Deficiency

Copper deficiency is rare. The average American gets 1,100 to 1,400 micrograms (mcg) of copper daily from their diet, amounts that are above the RDA.

Signs of a possible copper deficiency include:

  • Anemia
  • Neutropenia (low neutrophil count)
  • Loss of pigment from the skin
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Bone loss or broken bones
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Increased risk of infection
  • High cholesterol
  • Thyroid problems

It is also thought that copper deficiency may increase the risk of certain neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig's disease. However, further research is needed to determine the possible link between copper deficiency and these disorders. 

What Causes a Copper Deficiency?

Copper deficiency results from too little intake or poor absorption of copper. Most people consume adequate amounts of copper in their diet. It would be rare to see a copper deficiency from not consuming enough copper.

Excessive zinc supplementation can lead to a copper deficiency. That is because these two nutrients compete for absorption sites, and zinc preferentially binds for absorption. You should avoid supplementing zinc in amounts above the tolerable upper limit (TUL) of 40 milligrams (mg) per day.

People with Menkes disease are also prone to copper deficiency. Menkes disease is a rare genetic condition in which it is hard for your body to absorb copper.

Additionally, people with conditions affecting the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may develop a copper deficiency. Celiac disease or pancreatic diseases may lead to poor absorption of copper and result in a deficiency. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, people with celiac disease are at increased risk of copper deficiency, and blood levels can normalize with supplementation.

How Do I Know If I Have a Copper Deficiency?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you are at greater risk of deficiency and experience symptoms.

Copper or ceruloplasmin levels in the blood can be checked to confirm a deficiency, but inflammation can also falsely elevate levels. Ceruloplasmin is a protein that is made in the liver. It carries copper from the liver to other parts of the body.

What Are the Side Effects of Copper?

In normal amounts, copper is not linked to any risks or side effects. But as with many vitamins and minerals, having too much in your system can be harmful.

Copper toxicity is rare, though it can happen. Supplementing too much copper for an extended period could lead to toxicity. Copper toxicity can also occur in people with Wilson's disease, an inherited disorder that causes copper to build up in the liver, brain, and other organs.

Some mild symptoms associated with taking too much copper include:

  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Metallic taste in the mouth

More severe symptoms of copper toxicity may include: 

Anyone considering a copper supplement should check with their healthcare provider.

Precautions

Copper supplementation is only really needed if a deficiency has been diagnosed. Taking copper supplements without talking to your healthcare provider is not recommended.

Copper supplementation, when done appropriately, is likely safe for pregnant or breastfeeding people and children. Appropriate supplementation would not exceed the TUL set for copper intake. These limits vary by age:

  • Children 1 to 3 years: 1,000 mcg
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 3,000 mcg
  • Adolescents 9 to 13 years: 5,000 mcg
  • Teens 14 to 18 years: 8,000 mcg
  • Adults: 10,000 mcg

People with Wilson's disease should not supplement copper. Wilson's disease is a condition that causes copper to build up in the body.

People with liver disease should be cautious with copper supplements. Copper is excreted through the liver. If the liver isn't working properly, it could lead to a build-up of copper.

Dosage: How Much Copper Should I Take?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for copper varies by age as follows:

  • Infants 0 to 12 months: 200 micrograms (mcg)
  • Children 1 to 3 years: 340 micrograms
  • Children 4 to 8 years: 440 micrograms
  • Adolescents 9 to 13 years: 700 micrograms
  • Teens 14 to 18 years: 890 micrograms
  • Adults 19 years and older: 900 micrograms
  • Pregnant and lactating people aged 14 to 18 years: 1,000 micrograms
  • Pregnant and lactating adults aged 19 and older: 1,300 micrograms

What Happens If I Take Too Much Copper?

Getting too much copper in your body is rare. Your body will slow absorption in response to a lot of copper intake. Most of the risk comes from drinking high levels of copper in contaminated drinking water, heavy metal toxicity due to chemical exposure, or taking too many copper supplements.

Doses of up to 10 milligrams of copper daily are likely safe, but 1 gram (1,000 milligrams) or more of copper could result in toxicity symptoms, even leading to organ failure and death.

If you take too much in the way of copper supplementation, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • A metallic taste in the mouth

Interactions

Copper is not known to have any significant interactions with medications. However, it would help if you let your healthcare provider know of any supplements you take. This will help them ensure you take an appropriate amount for your needs.

Antacid medications can reduce the absorption of copper. Additionally, penicillamine (a drug used to treat Wilson's disease) reduces copper levels, which is the intended use for Wilson's disease. People with Wilson's disease should also not take copper supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should I take a copper supplement?

    While supplements can be an option to put needed copper into the body, the best method is to try to get copper through food sources. This reduces the risk of imbalances and toxicity. 

    Healthcare providers aren't quick to prescribe copper supplements since copper deficiency is so rare. Most multivitamins contain 2 milligrams (mg) or less of copper, which is considered a safe dose. Speak with your healthcare provider before taking any copper supplements.

  • Could eating copper-rich foods cause side effects?

    There are no risks or side effects reported if you get the recommended daily amount of copper through your diet.

    Most of the risk comes from drinking high levels of copper in contaminated drinking water, heavy metal toxicity due to chemical exposure, or taking too many copper supplements.

How to Store Copper

For proper storage, follow directions on the supplement container.

Sources of Copper & What to Look For

Food Sources of Copper

Shellfish, nuts, seeds, meats (especially organ meats), and chocolate are all great sources of copper. The table below lists food sources and the amount of copper they provide.

Food Sources of Copper
 Food Item Amount Copper
Oysters 3 ounces 3,790 mcg
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 612 mcg
85% cacao dark chocolate 1 ounce 597 mcg
Whole wheat pasta 1 cup 405 mcg
Chickpeas 1/2 cup 320 mcg
Salmon 3 ounces 212 mcg
Avocado 1/2 cup 195 mcg
Potatoes 1 medium potato 161 mcg
Beef 3 ounces 78 mcg
Tomatoes 1/2 cup 49 mcg
Nonfat milk 1 cup 27 mcg
Spinach 1/2 cup 19.5 mcg
Apple slices 1/2 cup 17 mcg

Copper Supplements

Copper can be found in some multivitamin and mineral preparations. It can also be found as a single nutrient supplement.

Copper comes in several different forms including cupric oxide, cupric sulfate, copper gluconate, and copper amino acid chelates. There is little known about the bioavailability of these different forms of copper. Therefore, one can't be recommended over the other for better absorption.

Intravenous (administered into the vein) sources of copper are also available but would be provided under medical supervision.

Supplements may include anywhere from a few micrograms to 15 milligrams of copper.

Summary

Copper is an essential nutrient vital to keeping your bones, brain, skin, tissues, and immune system strong and healthy. Most people consume adequate amounts of copper in the food they eat, although it is possible to have low copper levels that lead to health problems. While supplements can be an option, they usually aren't needed for most healthy adults and copper deficiency is rare

You likely would not need to take copper supplements unless you have a deficiency, which is rare. In this case, supplementation may be advised under the guidance of a healthcare provider. While a deficiency may warrant using copper supplements, it is usually best to try to get copper through food sources. You typically get copper through your diet in foods such as shellfish, nuts, seeds, meats (especially organ meats), and chocolate.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jennifer Lefton, MS, RD/N, CNSC, FAND
Jennifer Lefton, MS, RD/N-AP, CNSC, FAND is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and writer with over 20 years of experience in clinical nutrition. Her experience ranges from counseling cardiac rehabilitation clients to managing the nutrition needs of complex surgical patients.

Originally written by
Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

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