Copper (Cu) is an essential trace mineral or a mineral that the body requires in small amounts. More copper is not necessarily better.
What Are the Roles of Copper in the Body?
Your body needs copper for a long list of functions.
- Copper is crucial for the synthesis of red blood cells, alongside iron. We also need dietary copper to absorb iron and transport it.
- We require copper to make enzymes related to energy production in the mitochondria.
- Copper is needed for the synthesis and regeneration of collagen, making it essential for wound healing and scar prevention.
- One of the main enzymes that break down histamine in the body requires copper.
- Because we need copper for healthy connective tissue, it is crucial for the integrity of our veins, arteries, and blood vessels.
- Copper helps to regulate the functioning of the cardiovascular system and assist in the synthesis of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). Low levels have been linked to high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
- We need copper to synthesise neurotransmitters like dopamine.
- Copper is needed in the brain for healthy cognition and nerve signalling.
- Copper works alongside zinc and iron as an antioxidant to protect proteins, cell membranes, cells, and organs from oxidative damage.
- The immune system utilises copper to perform several functions and synthesise immune compounds.
- We need copper for our hair and skin colour.
- If you’ve lost your sense of taste, it’s essential to know that copper is one mineral that contributes to taste sensitivity.
- Finally, copper helps you metabolise fat.
However, copper is often not a nutrient that we need to actively seek out because we are regularly exposed to it in food and the environment. It can be easy to get too much copper from consuming too much liver, drinking water that flows through copper pipes, or using copper-containing birth controls. Because of its antagonistic relationship with zinc, too much copper can predispose someone to a zinc deficiency.
- What Are the Roles of Copper in the Body?
- Copper Rich Foods
- Copper Rich Recipes
- What Are the Signs of a Copper Deficiency?
- Factors Increasing Your Dietary Demand For Copper
- Synergistic Nutrients
- Copper Absorption
- Satiety Response to Dietary Copper
- Copper Toxicity
- Iron:Copper Ratio
- Zinc:Copper Ratio
- Optimal Copper Targets
- Nutrient Profile of Foods Rich in Copper
- How Can I Calculate My Copper Intake?
Copper Rich Foods
Foods high in copper are found plentifully from both plant and animal sources. Therefore, it’s not a nutrient of concern. Some popular foods that contain ample copper are listed below.
Animal Based Foods High in Copper
- liver (veal, beef, lamb, pig)
- heart (beef, lamb, pig, chicken)
- kidney (beef, lamb, pig)
As you can see, animal foods rich in copper are found readily in seafood. However, the most concentrated source of liver comes from veal (calf) liver. If this is a food that is eaten regularly, it can be easy to develop toxicity to copper.
Plant Foods High in Copper
- green peppers
- Brazil nuts
- dark chocolate
- sunflower seeds
- swiss chard
There is no shortage of copper in plant foods. It’s easy to get adequate copper from nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
Copper Rich Recipes
Some of our most copper-rich NutriBooster recipes include:
- tom yum liver & seafood
- oyster, salmon & anchovy dip
- sautéed spinach & mushrooms
- lean burgers, spinach & mushrooms
- garlicky mushroom brekkie bowl (pictured below)
Although copper deficiency is rare in the United States, approximately 25% of the world’s population is thought to be copper deficient. This affects various systems of the body because of copper’s vast role.
Copper deficiency symptoms include:
- extreme fatigue,
- low white blood cell count,
- low red blood cell count,
- muscle soreness,
- muscle weakness,
- histamine intolerance,
- poor immunity,
- slow wound healing,
- Intolerance to cold,
- pale skin,
- vision changes,
- loss of colour in the skin,
- greying of hair,
- elevated uric acid,
- high cholesterol,
- memory issues,
- inhibited cognition,
- difficulties walking,
- diabetes, and
- heart disease.
You may need more copper in your diet if you:
- are older,
- consume a lot of alcohol,
- are prone to histamine reactions,
- have chronic bacterial infections,
- experience celiac disease,
- suffer from malabsorption or other gastrointestinal diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
- consume large amounts of zinc supplements or zinc foods,
- have iron toxicity,
- have cystic fibrosis, or
- have a high intake of fructose, iron, vitamin C or zinc.
Copper works synergistically with vitamins B2, B6, B12, calcium, folate, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, and amino acids to do its job. For this reason, we recommend consuming copper from food where a complete nutrient profile is available to ensure it is supported in doing all of its jobs.
Consuming adequate calcium and potassium will improve the absorption and retention of copper in your body. Furthermore, consuming protein and soluble carbohydrates like nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can boost absorption.
On the contrary, consuming foods rich in selenium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, and zinc can inhibit the absorption of copper in the GI tract. In addition, foods high in simple sugars can also limit absorption.
Studies have not shown whether or not copper is better absorbed from plant or animal foods.
Women with higher estrogen levels from taking birth control or during pregnancy will absorb more copper from their diet. This is because estrogen and copper have somewhat of a synergistic relationship, and estrogen has been shown to increase circulating levels of copper. In this way, birth control can increase copper levels and lower zinc levels.
Our satiety analysis shows a moderate response when people eat more copper foods, but only to a point. People who consume 3 mg/2000 calories of copper tended to consume 8% fewer calories than those who got less copper. However, more is not necessarily better, as highlighted in the satiety response chart below.
Foods that contain more than 3 mg/2000 calories of copper tend to provide a lower satiety response. While organ meats can provide many of the harder to find micronutrients, one downside of a very high consumption of organ meats is excess copper intake.
The average intake of Optimisers is 1.6 mg/2000 calories, which is similar to the ‘Adequate Intake’ of 1.7 mg/day.
Copper toxicity is rare, as excess copper is normally excreted in the bile and feces. However, this condition can arise if someone has a condition where their liver is functioning inadequately, if they’re zinc or iron deficient, or if they’re regularly exposed to high amounts of environmental copper. Genetic defects also are at play.
Environmental copper can come from:
- consuming or bathing in water flowing through copper pipes,
- the use of copper IUDs,
- taking synthetic estrogen as in birth control,
- consuming produce that was sprayed with the pesticide copper sulphate and not washed properly,
- using copper cookware,
- copper particles in air pollution near agriculture, water treatment, or mining industries,
- taking large amounts of copper supplements,
- eating large quantities of copper foods, and (or)
- eating inadequate amounts of zinc foods.
The Upper Limit of copper from supplements is 10 mg/day. This is well above the amount achievable from food unless someone eats large amounts of liver daily.
It seems that excess copper isn’t a problem in itself unless other factors are at play. Because excess copper can affect zinc absorption, it’s critical to watch out for too much copper (e.g., from lots of liver), especially if you are not getting a lot of zinc.
Symptoms of copper toxicity look like:
- kidney issues,
- stomach pain,
- blue or green-coloured stools,
- dark stools with blood,
- fever and chills,
- muscle aches,
- extreme thirst,
- a fast heart rate,
- changes in taste,
- sudden mood changes,
Zinc supplements can decrease the absorption of copper and increase its demand. High levels of copper from leaching copper pipes and pans, birth control, and high intakes of copper-rich foods such as liver, can inherently impact zinc and iron absorption.
The commonly accepted iron:copper ratio is between 1-:1 and 15:1. For reference, the average iron:copper ratio of our Optimiers is 12.6.
Our satiety analysis shows that a higher iron:copper ratio aligns with a lower calorie intake by about 19%.
The ideal dietary zinc:copper ratio is thought to be between 8:1 and 12:1. The average zinc:copper ratio of our Optimiers is 11.8 which is on the upper end of the commonly accepted range. Optimisers who consumed more zinc than copper tend to consume approximately 5% fewer calories.
These ratios are difficult to manage in practice. To help you, Nutrient Optimiser ensures that copper or zinc is not over-emphasised to exacerbate these nutrient ratios further if they are already outside the optimal range.
If you’re aiming for optimal, women may benefit from 2.4 mg copper/day, and men might benefit from 3.0 mg copper/day. This stretch target considers the potential for excess copper to interfere with zinc absorption. As a result, you shouldn’t target higher copper levels unless you get plenty of zinc. This will help you to avoid copper excess.
The nutrient fingerprint below shows the availability of nutrients in foods that contain more copper. Copper is easy to obtain in adequate amounts from nutrient-dense foods with higher energy density (i.e., more fat and carbs).
How Can I Calculate My Copper Intake?
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Nutrient Density Index
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Thiamine (B1)
- Riboflavin (B2)
- Niacin (B3)
- Pantothenic acid (B5)
- Vitamin B6
- Folate (B9)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K1