The Health Benefits of Copper

There are many health benefits of copper. It is an essential element for bone strength, heart health, immune health and much more. Copper deficiency can lead to iron deficiency and problems with nervous and immune system functions. Too much or too little copper can affect how brain functions work and have been linked to neurological diseases and Wilson’s disease (a condition in which too much copper forms in the organs).

Health benefits of copper
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

Health Benefits 

Copper plays an important role in maintaining a healthy body and has a variety of health benefits.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties 

Studies on animals have suggested that maintaining copper levels in the body may delay or even prevent arthritis. This is why some people wear copper gloves, bracelets, and other accessories made of copper. However, studies conducted in volunteers with arthritis have shown no benefit from wearing copper jewelry.

Antioxidant Properties 

Research studies have found that copper has antioxidant properties. Since copper contains antioxidants, it may reduce the production of free radicals. Free radicals are known for damaging cells and causing diseases, especially cancer.

Improves Cardiovascular Health 

Copper deficiency has been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular health issues, including ischemic heart disease. Specific heart disease risk factors impacted by copper deficiency include high cholesterol, glucose intolerance, chronic inflammation and oxidative stress.

Boosts Immune Health 

Cooper deficiency and low copper intake have been shown to reduce the number of white blood cells in the body, causing a condition called neutropenia. Having a low white blood cell count can make a person more vulnerable to infection. Maintaining copper levels in the body may help with the production and support of white blood cells and in keeping the body healthy.

Protects Bone Density 

Severe copper deficiency has been linked to a greater risk of osteoporosis, osteopenia, and decreases in bone density. Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones and makes them susceptible to fractures. Osteopenia causes bone mineral density to be lower than it should be, and it is considered a precursor to osteoporosis.

More research needs to be done to determine whether low levels of copper alone may affect bone health and if copper supplements may actually prevent osteoporosis and manage its effects. 

Assists in Collagen Production 

Since copper has antioxidant properties, researchers think it may help prevent skin aging. Sufficient levels of copper help the body to replace damaged connective tissues and the collagen needed to hold bones together. (Collagen is the main structural competent in the space between the connective tissues and bones.) Insufficient collagen levels may lead to joint dysfunction and the breakdown of connective tissues. 

Promotes Brain Health 

Copper is involved in neurological processes and growth, and it is important for cognitive function. That being said, too much copper can have a negative impact on brain health, causing cognitive decline.

Possible Side Effects

Copper supplements may interact with certain medications and cause an imbalance of either reduced levels or increased levels. Some medications may interact adversely with copper. These include: 

  • Hormone therapies and birth control pills
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
  • Allopurinol, a gout medication
  • Penicillamine, a medication used to reduce copper levels in people with Wilson's disease
  • Zinc supplements
  • Medications for treating gastric ulcers and gastric reflux disease

Copper toxicity is rare but can be identified by several symptoms.

Symptoms of Copper Toxicity

  • Gastrointestinal effects (stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Metallic taste in the mouth

More serious symptoms of copper toxicity may include: 

  • Cirrhosis
  • Jaundice
  • Heart problems
  • Red blood cell abnormalities

Dosage and Preparation

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Dietary Guidelines recommend around 900 micrograms (mcg) of copper daily for most adults and children. Anything more can be toxic.

In the United States and most developed countries, copper deficiency and toxicity are both rare. 

What to Look for

Most people can get all the copper they need simply from their diets. Good dietary sources of copper come from foods such as:

  • Shellfish (clams, oyster, lobsters, crab, shrimp)
  • Whole grains
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Dried fruit
  • Organ meats, such as liver and kidneys
  • Nuts, including cashews and almonds

Other 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. Due to the rarity of copper deficiency, doctors rarely prescribe copper supplements. Most multivitamins contain less than 2 milligrams (mg) of copper, which is considered a safe dose. Speak with your doctor before taking any copper supplements.

Could there be side effects or risks of consuming dietary copper?

There are no risks or side effects reported with dietary consumption of copper. The only time a person would experience a problem would be due to excessive levels of copper in drinking water, exposure to high levels of copper through chemicals, or excessive use of supplements.

A Word From Verywell 

Copper deficiency in the United States and most developed countries is rare, especially when a person follows a balanced diet. In fact, most people can get all the copper they need through diet. If a person’s copper levels are low, a doctor can recommend a copper supplement and/or look for any underlying conditions. Anyone thinking about a copper supplement should first check with a doctor.

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Article Sources
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