Copper is a trace mineral found in all body tissues, with the total amount being 75 to 100 milligrams. It plays a role in respiration, since it is involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin, the portion of the blood that carries oxygen. It is involved in the production of collagen and is also one of the most important blood antioxidants which helps the cell membranes remain healthy.

Copper is present in many enzymes that break down or build up body tissue. It aids in the conversion of the amino acid tyrosine into a dark pigment that colors the hair and skin. It is also involved in protein metabolism and in healing processes. Copper is required for the synthesis of phospholipids, substance essential in the formation of the protective myelin sheaths surrounding nerve fibers.

Copper helps the body to oxidize vitamin C and works with this vitamin in the formation of elastic, a chief component of the elastic connective tissue throughout the body. It is necessary for proper bone formation and maintenance and is also necessary for the production of RNA.

Among the best food sources of copper are liver, whole-grain products, mushrooms, almonds, green leafy vegetables, and dried legumes. The amounts vary in plant sources, according to the mineral content in the soil in which they were grown. Most seafoods are also good sources of copper.


Approximately 30 percent of ingested copper is used by the body; absorption takes place in the stomach and upper intestine. The copper moves from the intestine into the bloodstream 15 minutes after ingestion. Most of the dietary copper is excreted in the feces and bile, with very little lost in the urine.

Copper is stored in the tissues; highest concentrations of copper are in the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain. Bones and muscles have lower concentrations of copper, but because of their mass they contain over 50 percent of the total copper in the body.

Dosage and Toxicity

The National Research Council recommends a daily dietary intake of 2 milligrams of copper for adults. Drinking water may be a major source of copper, which leaches from copper piping.

The possibility of copper toxicity occurs with Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder that results from abnormal copper metabolism, bringing about excess copper retention in the liver, brain, kidney, and corneas of the eye. Too much copper in the body can result in serious physical and mental illness. Serum copper levels increase with the use of birth control pills.

High levels are found in patients who have heart attacks, high blood pressure, and in those who smoke.

Copper may also be a factor in a paranoid and hallucinatory schizophrenia, hypertension, stuttering, autism, childhood hyperactivity, toxemia of pregnancy, premenstrual tension, depression, insomnia, senility, and functional hypoglycemia.

Studies of pregnant women indicate that high copper levels cause a decrease in body Iron and a deficiency or molybdenum. Certain anemia not helped by Iron may be an indication of elevated copper levels.

Serum coppers, elevated by estrogen’s, rise progressively during pregnancy. After delivery, it takes 2 to 3 months before the copper level lowers to an acceptable amount. This high level may cause the depression and psychosis that women often experience after giving birth.

Supplemental zinc and manganese in a ratio of 20 to 1 have proved to increase copper excretion via the urine.


Low blood levels of copper have been noted in children with iron-deficiency anemia, edema, and kwashiorkor. Symptoms of deficiency include general weakness, impaired respiration, and skin sores.

In a deficiency there is also faulty collagen formation, disintegration of neurotransmitter concentrations, and diminished skin pigmentation. Connective tissue is also easily damaged and bone demineralizes.


Copper works with Iron to form hemoglobin, thereby helping in the treatment of anemia. Copper is beneficial in the prevention and treatment of edemas and kwashiorkor in children.

Copper-zinc superoxide works as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It is beneficial to those with osteo and rheumatoid arthritis.

Copper protects against free radicals by preserving the structural strength of the membranes where the reactions take place. It does appear to affect the immune system in a positive way.