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What is copper? Why do we need it?

Copper is a mineral that is required in the body for various functions. It supports[i][ii]:

Red blood cell production

Nerve cell health

Immune system function

Collagen formation

Antioxidant activity

Iron absorption

Energy production

Where does dietary copper come from?

Copper is found in the highest amounts in protein foods like organ meats, shellfish and fish. Nuts and seeds like cashews, almonds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds are also good sources of copper. Also, grains like oats, as well as legumes such as lentils and chickpeas, contribute to dietary copper. In addition to this avocados, bananas, and prunes, and dark chocolate are also sources of copper, all be it in smaller amounts[iii].

It is also worth considering that the copper content in foods can vary depending on factors such as soil quality and food manufacturing/ processing methods, but through maintaining a well-balanced and diverse diet that includes these copper-rich foods can help ensure an adequate intake of copper[iv].

What does deficiency or excess copper look like?

While copper deficiency is said to be very rare in occurrence, it is possible via inadequate dietary intake – this can lead to symptoms like anaemia, low body temperature, higher risk of bone fractures, low white blood cell count, irregular heartbeat, skin depigmentation and thyroid issues[v].

Both too much and too little copper can affect how the brain works - impairments have been linked to Alzheimer’s. Some studies associate Alzheimer’s disease with copper deficiency and recommend increasing copper levels[vi].

What does copper do? What are the benefits of taking copper supplementally?


Copper plays a crucial role in the synthesis and maintenance of collagen and elastin, these are the key components of connective tissues. Connective tissue is a type of tissue in the body that provides support and structure, and insulation for other tissues and organs. Therefore, supplementing with copper could be said to support the health of skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels, promoting their strength and integrity. Studies have found that post-menopausal women with low bone density had very low levels of copper and other minerals in their blood. The study recommended copper supplements as a potential treatment to help improve bone density[vii].

Antioxidant activity

Copper acts as an antioxidant in the body, neutralising harmful free radicals that can damage cells and DNA. By reducing oxidative stress, copper supplementation may contribute to overall cellular health and support the body's defence against chronic diseases[viii].


Copper assists in the absorption and utilisation of iron in the body. It helps convert iron into a form that can be easily absorbed by the intestines[ix].


Copper is involved in important roles for immune response regulation. Therefore, for those who need copper, it may help immune function[x][xi].

Energy production

Copper is a cofactor for enzymes involved in energy metabolism via the body's primary energy source (ATP). Thus, copper supplementation may help combat fatigue in those who need to supplement it[xii].


Taking high levels of copper should be done under the supervision of a nutritional therapist or other specialist. Talk to us today to get some personalised advice regarding copper[xiii].


Taking too much copper can possibly lead to copper toxicity, which can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and liver damage[xiv].

Side effects

While copper supplementation is generally safe when taken as directed, some people might get nausea, and metallic taste in the mouth. If you experience any adverse or undesirable reactions, it's important to discontinue use immediately and consult with your prescriber or a specialist[xv].


Other supplements

Copper can interact with zinc and vitamin C. It's important to inform your healthcare provider/ prescriber of any other medications or supplements you are taking, to ensure there are no potential interactions or adverse effects[xvi].

Interactions with medications

Penicillamine is a medication used for various conditions, including Wilson's disease, a disorder that affects copper metabolism. As such, copper supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of penicillamine[xvii].

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Some studies suggest that long-term use of NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may increase the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, which can lead to copper deficiency[xviii].

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

During pregnancy and breastfeeding, it is important to consult with a GP or nutritional therapist before considering copper supplements. This way you can be sure this is the right choice for you, following an assessment of your individual nutritional needs and evaluation of copper status. They can also tailor advice based on your specific circumstances[xix][xx].

That said, it is generally safe to obtain necessary nutrients, including copper, through a well-balanced diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding[xxi].

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