Copper is an essential mineral that plays an important role in iron absorption and transport. It is considered a trace mineral because it is needed in very small amounts. Only 70–80 milligrams (mg) of copper are found in the body of a normal healthy person. Even though the body needs very little, it is necessary to many vital body functions.


Copper is essential for normal development of the body. Copper:



Recommended dietary allowance (mcg/day)

Children 0-6 mos.

200 (AI)

Children 7-12 mos.

220 (Al)

Children 1-3 yrs.


Children 4-8 yrs.


Children 9-13 yrs.


Adolescents 14-18 yrs.


Adults 19≥ yrs.


Pregnant women


Breastfeeding women



Copper (mcg)

Beef liver, 3 oz.


Oysters, raw, 6 med.


Mushrooms, shiitake, cooked, 1 cup


Chocolate, semisweet, 1 cup


Soybeans, boiled, 1 cup


Cashews, dry roasted, 1 oz


Beans, white, canned, 1 cup


Sunflower seeds, V cup


Chickpeas, cooked, 1 cup


Baked beans, with pork, 1 cup


Lentils, cooked, 1 cup


V-8 juice, canned, 1 cup


Potato skin, baked, 1


Raisins, seedless, 1 cup


White rice, enriched, 1 cup


AI = Adequate intake

mcg = microgram

SOURCE: Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. “7, Copper” in Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington DC: US National Academies Press, 2001. (accessed April 3, 2018).

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library, Food and Nutrition Information Center and USDA Agricultural Research Service.


Certain diseases or conditions may reduce copper absorption or transport or increase its requirements, resulting in abnormally low copper blood levels. Increased copper intake through diet or supplementation may be necessary in the following conditions:

Symptoms of copper deficiency include:

Copper supplements may be beneficial in treating or preventing copper deficiency. Copper deficiency used to be relatively rare because the body requires so little of it, only about 2 mg per day. In addition, it is available naturally in a variety of foods such as whole grains, shellfish, nuts, beans, and leafy vegetables. Additional sources of copper are copper water pipes that run through homes or copper cookware. These sources leach copper into the water and food, and levels of copper in drinking water can sometimes become so high that it becomes a public concern. However, scientists have realized that copper deficiency, especially borderline cases, is more common than once thought due to a decrease of whole foods in the diet and high consumption of fatty and processed foods. Most of the naturally occurring copper is stripped from these foods during processing.

Disease prevention

Copper is a good antioxidant. It works together with an antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase (SOD), to protect cell membranes from being destroyed by free radicals. Free radicals are any molecules that are missing one electron. Because this is an unbalanced and unstable state, a radical is desperately looking for ways to complete its pair. It reacts to any nearby molecules to either steal an electron or give away the unpaired one. In the process, free radicals initiate chain reactions that destroy cell structures. Like other antioxidants, copper scavenges or cleans up these highly reactive radicals and changes them into inactive, less harmful compounds. Free radicals are implicated in the development of cancer.

Copper may also help prevent degenerative diseases or conditions such as premature aging, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, arthritis, cataracts, Alzheimer's disease, or diabetes.

OSTEOPOROSIS. Copper may play a role in preventing osteoporosis. Calcium and vitamin D have long been considered the mainstays of osteoporosis treatment and prevention. However, they may be even more effective in increasing bone density and preventing osteoporosis if they are used in combination with copper and two other trace minerals, zinc and manganese.

RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS. Copper has been a folklore remedy for rheumatoid arthritis since 1500 BCE in ancient Egypt. Some people believe that wearing jewelry made of copper may relieve arthritic symptoms. Researchers suggest that copper contained in the bracelets is dissolved in sweat and then absorbed through the skin. They suspect that this may be related to copper's role as an antioxidant and that it may also function as an anti-inflammatory agent.


Copper is contained in many multivitamin/mineral preparations. It is also available as a single ingredient in the form of tablets. These tablets should be swallowed whole with a cup of water, preferably with meals, to avoid stomach upset. A person may choose any of the following preparations: copper gluconate, copper sulfate, or copper citrate. However, copper gluconate may be the least irritating to the stomach.

Recommended intake

The U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National of Sciences has developed values called Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for many vitamins and minerals. The DRIs consist of three sets of numbers: recommended dietary allowance (RDA), which defines the average daily amount of the nutrient needed to meet the health needs of 97%–98% of the population; adequate intake (AI), an estimate set when there is not enough information to determine an RDA; and tolerable upper intake level (UL), the average maximum amount that can be taken daily without risking negative side effects. The DRIs are calculated for children, adult men, adult women, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women.

The RDAs for copper are as follows:

Antioxidants are nutrients that deactivate reactive molecules (free radicals) and prevent harmful chain reactions.
Free radicals—
Unstable, highly reactive molecules that occur naturally as a result of cellular metabolism but that can be increased by environmental toxins, ultraviolet rays, and nuclear radiation. Free radicals damage cellular DNA and are thought to play a role in aging, cancer, and other diseases. Free radicals can be neutralized by antioxidants.
Inorganic chemical elements that are found in plants and animals and are essential for life. There are two types of minerals: major minerals, which the body requires in large amounts, and trace elements, which the body needs only in minute amounts.
Thinning of the bones with reduction in bone mass due to depletion of calcium and bone protein. Osteoporosis predisposes a person to fractures, which are often slow to heal and heal poorly. It is more common in older adults.
Rheumatoid arthritis—
A chronic disease that causes joint swelling, stiffness, and weakness; it can lead to damage and eventually destruction of the joints. It is less common than osteoarthritis but potentially more serious.


People should talk to their doctors before adding copper supplements to their diets. Copper toxicity due to excessive doses of copper supplements has been reported. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not take copper or any other supplements or drugs without first consulting with their doctors.

Because individual antioxidants often work together as a team to defend the body against free radicals, the balance between copper, zinc, and iron must be maintained. Excessive intake of one nutrient might result in a deficiency of other minerals and decreased resistance to infections and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and other diseases. For example, zinc and copper compete with each other for absorption in the gastrointestinal tract. Excessive copper intake may cause zinc deficiency and vice versa. A person taking zinc and copper supplements together should take them in ratios of 10:1 or 15:1.

Exceeding the daily requirement for copper can result in copper toxicity, a very serious medical problem. Acute toxicity due to ingestion of too much supplement, for example, may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, and a metallic taste in the mouth. Chronic toxicity is often caused by genetic defects of copper metabolism, such as Wilson disease. In this disease, copper is not eliminated properly and is allowed to accumulate to toxic levels. Copper is therefore present at a high concentration in a place it should not be, such as in the liver, lens of the eye, kidneys, or brain. Other diseases may cause copper deficiency. Premature infants or children with genetic copper defects are at high risk of infections.

Disorders and conditions known to increase copper levels include:

People with these conditions should not take copper supplements as they may cause copper toxicity.

In certain areas, drinking water may contain high levels of copper. Periodic checks of copper levels in drinking water may be necessary.


A person should stop taking copper supplements and seek medical help immediately if having the following signs or symptoms:


See also Antioxidants ; Iron ; Minerals .



Lieberman, Shari, and Nancy Bruning. The Real Vitamin and Mineral Book: The Definitive Guide to Designing Your Personal Supplement Program. 4th ed. New York: Avery, 2007.


de Romaña, D. L., et al. “Risks and Benefits of Copper in Light of New Insights of Copper Homeostasis.” Journal of Trace Elements in Copper and Biology 25, no. 1 (January 2011): 3–13.

Gonzόlez, M. J., et al. “Inhibition of Human Breast Carcinoma Cell Proliferation by Ascorbate and Copper.” Puerto Rico Health Sciences Journal 21, no. 1 (March 2002): 21–3.

Hunt, Janet R., and Richard A. Vanderpool. “Apparent Copper Absorption from a Vegetarian Diet.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 74, no. 6 (December 2001): 803–7.

Reginster, Jean-Yves, Anne Noel Taquet, and Christiane Gosset. “Therapy for Osteoporosis: Miscellaneous and Experimental Agents.” Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics 27, no. 2 (June 1998): 453–63.

Uauy, Ricardo, Manuel Olivarez, and Mauricio Gonzales. “Essentiality of Copper in Humans.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67, no. S5 (May 1998): S952–59.


MedlinePlus. “Copper in Diet.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (accessed March 21, 2018).

MedlinePlus. “Wilson Disease.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (accessed March 21, 2018).

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Library. “DRI Tables and Application Reports.” Food and Nutrition Information Center. (accessed March 21, 2018).


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 120 South Riverside Plz., Ste. 2000, Chicago, IL, 60606-6995, (312) 899-0040, (800) 877-1600,, .

Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 500 Fifth St. NW, Washington, DC, 20001, (202) 334-2352,, .

U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC, 20250, (202) 720-2791, .

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 10903 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, MD, 20993-0002, (888) INFO-FDA (463-6332), .

Mai Tran
Revised by Teresa Odle

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.