What Is a Copper Supplement?

Copper is an essential mineral for bone strength, heart health, immune health, and much more. Your body needs a small amount of it to function properly. But because your body can't make copper on its own, you have to get it through your diet.

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 great sources of copper and why supplementing without a doctor's OK is not advised.

Health benefits of copper
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Uses

Copper plays several key 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.

When a person follows a balanced diet, they typically get all the copper they need. This is a good thing, considering the many body functions it helps to serve.

Copper supplements are available, but they are only recommended for those with a diagnosed copper deficiency. This is a condition that is rare in most developed countries.

The possible health benefits of copper are described here.

Temper Inflammation

You may have seen that some people wear copper gloves, bracelets, and other copper items. It's not just because they look nice. Since ancient times, copper has been used as a folk remedy for sterilizing wounds, fighting infection, and treating inflammation.

Advocates of copper jewelry use in the modern era believe copper has healing properties. It can be absorbed by the skin, perhaps to treat or even prevent arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. However, scientific research has yet to back up these claims. Studies done in volunteers who have arthritis have shown no benefit from wearing copper jewelry.

Yet copper does seem to have some anti-inflammatory properties. Medicines that are derived from copper even show potential to be as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Bayer (aspirin) or Advil (ibuprofen).

Fight Cell Damage 

Your body produces unstable molecules called free radicals in response to toxins in the environment. These toxins include air pollutants and cigarette smoke. As free radicals move through your body, they damage your cells and DNA, increasing your risk of cancer and other serious health conditions.

To protect your cells from free radicals, your body produces chemical compounds called antioxidants. These compounds also are found in many food sources, including blueberries and kale. Copper is known to have antioxidant activity as well.

In theory, this would mean that copper may protect against chronic inflammation, tissue damage, cardiovascular disease, and more. More research is needed to learn whether copper can actually help fight disease based on antioxidant effects.

Recap

Copper seems to have properties that fight inflammation. It also may have antioxidant effects that help to protect the body from cell damage and related disease. In both cases, more research is needed to confirm these health benefits and learn exactly how copper may deliver them.

Improve Cardiovascular Health 

Copper deficiency has been linked to heart-related health issues. They include ischemic heart disease, which causes the heart's arteries to narrow. This makes it hard for blood to get through.

People with chronically low copper levels may have a greater risk of developing high cholesterol and chronic inflammation. They also may have higher blood sugar levels linked to glucose intolerance, with symptoms similar to diabetes, as well as oxidative stress, damage to cells associated with several health issues. Each of these are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Boost Immune Health 

Low copper levels and intake have been shown to result in neutropenia. This means the body is making too few neutrophils, a type of white blood cell.

Neutrophils, like other white blood cells, are produced by stem cells in your bone marrow. But if your stem cells don't make enough, your immune system can become weak. This places you more at-risk for bacterial infection. 

Because copper promotes neutrophil production and has antibacterial properties, keeping up your body's copper levels is vital to keeping a strong immune system.

Protect Bone Density 

Severely low copper levels may be linked to a greater risk of decreased bone density. This can progress to osteopenia, which weakens bones. It may also lead to osteoporosis, which can cause bones to become weak enough to break. 

Recap

Low copper levels are linked with heart health issues and can lower the number of a certain kind of white blood cell, which can impact immunity. More research needs to be done to find out if low levels of copper alone may affect bone health and if supplements can help manage bone loss.

Assist in Collagen Production 

Collagen is one of your body's main structural components. It's found in your muscles, bones, blood vessels, skin, organs, and many other places in the body. Collagen acts as a kind of super glue that holds your body together.

If your body doesn't have enough collagen, you can develop problems with your joints. The connective tissues that support, protect, and transport nutrients through your body can start to break down.

Sufficient levels of copper help the body replace these damaged tissues. And, since copper has antioxidant properties, researchers think it may help prevent skin aging by limiting the damage from free radicals to help boost collagen growth.

On top of that, researchers have found evidence that copper helps keep your skin elastic and could potentially be used to reduce wrinkles and fine lines.

Promote Brain Health 

Copper plays a role in brain development and cognitive function. It helps keep hormones in your brain balanced and is needed to make chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

That said, too much copper can have a harmful impact on brain health and cause cognitive decline. Some research also suggests that Alzheimer's disease is associated with copper buildup in the brain.

Recap

Copper can help promote a healthy brain and help build and maintain healthy tissues throughout your body.

Possible Side Effects

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

Copper toxicity is rare, though it can happen if you eat too much copper day after day for a long period of time. 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 symptoms of copper toxicity include:

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

More serious symptoms of copper toxicity may include: 

Anyone thinking about a copper supplement should first check with a healthcare provider.

Recommended Daily Amount

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults ages 19 and over should consume up to 900 micrograms (mcg) of copper per day. Eating more than that on a regular basis can be toxic.

To give you an idea of how much this is, there are 622 mcg of copper in one ounce of cashews (about 16 to 18 nuts).

What to Look for

Good dietary sources of copper come from such foods as beef, oysters, potatoes, and others.

 Food Item Amount Copper
Beef 3 ounces 12,400 mcg
Oysters 3 ounces 4,850 mcg
Potatoes 1 medium potato 675 mcg
Mushrooms 1/2 cup 650 mcg
Sunflower seeds 1/4 cup 615 mcg
85% cacao dark chocolate 1 ounce 501 mcg
Chick peas 1/2 cup 289 mcg
Salmon 3 ounces 273 mcg
Whole wheat pasta 1 cup unpacked 263 mcg
Avocado 1/2 cup 219 mcg
Spinach 1/2 cup 157 mcg
Tomatoes 1/2 cup 53 mcg
Nonfat milk 1 cup 27 mcg
Apple slices 1/2 cup 17 mcg

Supplements should only be used on the advice of a healthcare provider. If you need one, be sure to buy from a reputable provider.

You'll also want to check the label to make sure the product meets the standards of an independent certifying body (U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International). This ensures that you're actually getting what's on the label.

Summary

Copper is an essential mineral that is vital to keeping your bones, brain, skin, tissues, and immune system strong and healthy. Most people get enough copper from their diet, although it's possible to have low copper levels that lead to health problems.

Copper toxicity is uncommon, but it can be serious. Take care to follow guidelines for how much copper you should eat per day and call your healthcare provider if you develop copper toxicity symptoms.

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 less than 2 milligrams (mg) 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.

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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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