Are You Copper Deficient?

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on


Not so long ago, the media blasted warnings about a possible link between copper and Alzheimer’s disease. Referencing a mere correlation study, these reports alluded that the population should monitor or reduce their copper intake. Some sources even suggested copper-fortified multi-vitamins should be thrown out! What the media failed to mention, however, was a report by the US Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences which stated only 25% of the US population gets enough copper daily. With this conflicting information, how can we know what to do?

Copper Facts

As it turns out, it looks like we’re all copper deficient to some degree. Why is it that, considering our low copper levels, doctors and nutritionists don’t know more about this vital micronutrient? Since that answer seems shrouded in silence, here are a few things you need to know to inform you and your family:

Copper is Essential for Cellular Energy

Contrary to media reports, copper isn’t dangerous in small amounts–it’s essential. It plays an integral role in the creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), cellular energy necessary for every biological function. If that’s all it did, that would be enough; but, it does so much more.

Antioxidant Power

Copper’s role as an electron donor elevates its status as a potent antioxidant mimicker, helping the body neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. Antioxidants are key compounds that fight the aging process and protect DNA from damage.

Supports Physical and Mental Health

Copper is also involved in the formation of collagen, an important building block of connective tissue and bones. This electron transfer activity makes it an important part of a dozen known enzyme reactions, including melatonin and serotonin synthesis. [1] Without copper, the human body cannot absorb iron which is essential for red blood cell formation.

The Iron-Copper Connection

Copper aids iron absorption and the transport of iron to bone marrow for red blood cell formation. Without enough copper, iron accumulates in the liver, heart, endocrine, and reproductive glands. Continued accumulation in these organs can lead to liver failure, heart muscle deterioration, arthritis, and hormonal imbalances.

Iron accumulates like this because the human body has no natural means for removal. The only way the body loses iron is through blood loss. This means when humans ingest iron, it remains in the human body. Iron loss occurs with every menstrual cycle, which is one of the many reasons why women are at a higher risk for anemia. Copper balance, on the other hand, is regulated by the body and can be excreted as needed through normal bowel and urinary movement.

The Dangers of Too Much Iron

While iron will accumulate in the liver, heart, and endocrine system, excess iron–or iron overload–can lead to additional health problems. Excess, unused iron oxidizes in the human body and creates free radicals. It’s as if the iron rusts the cells and organs and makes them more susceptible to common diseases. On top of that, iron increases susceptibility to viruses. [2]

Anemia, a Sign of Copper Deficiency

The general medical response to anemia is to increase iron consumption. Iron supplements may be recommended, but may not be the best answer for some people. The body may not need iron, but rather more copper. Increasing copper intake releases iron stored in the body, making it available for red blood cell formation. Adding iron may trigger greater free radical damage.

Other Possible Signs of Copper Deficiency

Cells unable to make ATP reduce overall physical energy, creating a sense of fatigue. Hormonal imbalances may result as iron builds up in the endocrine system. This can lead to low body temperature, osteoporosis and bone fractures, an irregular heartbeat, a higher risk of coronary artery disease, low white blood cell counts, and a loss of skin pigmentation. Researchers have also reported copper deficiency causes neural and nervous system dysfunction. Copper-replacement therapy has been found to alleviate these symptoms which appear as a B12 deficiency. [3]

4 Non-Genetic Causes of Low Copper

Here are some of the non-genetic causes, or controllable causes, of low copper levels:

1. Inadequate RDAs

The US recommended daily value remains around 1 mg per day, the National Research Council recommends 2 mg/ per day, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 1.3 mg per day. The fact is the upper tolerable limit of daily copper intake is 10 mg for women and 12 for men. It may be many of the ‘causes’ of anemia and other chronic diseases (such as seemingly low iron or B12 levels) may actually be a sign of low copper levels.

2. Dietary Malabsorption

Zinc and vitamin C have been shown to inhibit copper absorption. Irritable bowel disease (IBD) and reduced digestive function associated with aging may also deter copper absorption.

3. Watch out for Denture Cream

Seniors regularly suffer from copper deficiency, according to statistics. Those who use denture creams with zinc may exacerbate the problem. One case study linked denture cream containing zinc to anemia, back pain, weakness and pain in the joints, and low white blood cell count. [4]

4. Bariatric Surgery

Vitamin and mineral deficiency often result from bariatric surgery. Digestion and absorption of copper is most commonly affected. [5]

Misunderstanding Copper and Disease

High serum levels of copper exist when the body suffers from disease. This elevation of copper is a natural response to the stress response. Could the vilification of copper by researchers have resulted from a misunderstanding?

When faced with physical stress (infection, inflammation, or mental/emotional stress), the human body chemically responds with a fight or flight mechanism. This triggers aldosterone, a hormone that increases sodium and copper levels to stimulate a physical response while simultaneously decreasing zinc and magnesium. Copper provides antioxidant support and agitates the nerves, brain, and muscles to ensure the body has the necessary response to a perceived danger. If the body is unable to relax, the system fails to return to normal, causing more stress and increased copper levels to deal with the stress.

In this situation, copper is not the problem but the symptom. While it is necessary to stabilize the body’s mineral balance, reducing or inhibiting copper intake will directly interfere with essential processes necessary to restore balance. The answer is to eliminate the cause of the stress, thus reducing (if not eliminating) the issue.

Of course, there is one type of copper to watch out for, and that’s free copper. The human body cannot make use of a free form of copper. Simply put, free copper is metallic copper in its unbound form, as opposed to dietary copper which is bound to ceruloplasmin. Free copper does cause free radical damage to cells, DNA, proteins, and lipids in the blood stream. Free copper results primarily from corroded water pipes and copper cookware. Water with a pH of 6.5 or lower increases corrosion. Running cold water to flush pipes can help reduce the amount of free copper in water, ensuring the body gets only the dietary copper it needs.

The Best Dietary Sources of Copper

Healthy, bioavailable copper can be easily obtained through the diet. Great sources include shellfish (oysters, lobster, crab, mussels), dark leafy greens, nuts (walnuts, cashews, macadamias), organ meats, cocoa, beans, potatoes, and dried fruits like prunes. But remember, if eating foods for copper, avoid taking vitamin C or supplements high in zinc–these could inhibit copper absorption.

So Why Does Copper Get Such a Bad Rap?

In terms of diet and health, copper has been either ignored or targeted as dangerous by the mainstream. What’s interesting is that while copper has been ignored, health agencies continue to push for an increase in iron consumption. Foods are fortified with iron, GMOs are designed to provide iron and increase iron levels, and no one knows how iron in the body responds to increased EMF fields created by WiFi, cell phones, and other wireless devices.

If over-consumption of iron is known to weaken the body, aid the spread of viruses, and speed aging, why encourage greater daily dietary intake? With many GMOs aimed for impoverished areas of the world, the question is, are they really helping?

Copper plays a much larger role in human health no matter how we look at it. In addition to its metabolic and antioxidant effects, it may neutralize iron’s damaging effects. Yet, despite these incredible healing properties, the silence remains.

References (5)
  1. Prohaska JR. Impact of copper deficiency in humans. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 May;1314:1-5. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12354.
  2. B.P. Goodmana, B.W. Chongb, A.C. Patelb, G.P. Fletcherb and B.E. Smitha. Copper Deficiency Myeloneuropathy Resembling B12 Deficiency: Partial Resolution of MR Imaging Findings with Copper Supplementation. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2006 Nov-Dec;27(10):2112-4.
  3. Spain RI1, Leist TP, De Sousa EA. When metals compete: a case of copper-deficiency myeloneuropathy and anemia. Nat Clin Pract Neurol. 2009 Feb;5(2):106-11. doi: 10.1038/ncpneuro1008.
  4. Berger JR1, Singhal D2. The neurologic complications of bariatric surgery. Handb Clin Neurol. 2014;120:587-94. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-7020-4087-0.00039-5.
  5. Hal Drakesmith & Andrew Prentice. Viral infection and iron metabolism. Nature Reviews Microbiology 6, 541-552 (July 2008) | doi:10.1038/nrmicro1930.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • Buzukia

    I wonder why copper vessels were used in earlier times to store water…after all metallic copper can not be used by the body.

  • Shaun Dadman

    So nice that I am not the only person who came to this conclusion but it feels like no one else is. I have had severe asthma, and breathing issues. Finally after failing to get an answer from doctors, based on my own research, I learned that very high manganese (wine, tea) consumption, Vitamin E, zinc, my copper must be very low. Of course when I started to take copper supplements, I came back to life. Prior to that, had very scary and horrifying episodes where I was praying for my throat to open as coughing didn’t let me breath and I felt completely helpless.

  • B. Recht

    I bought a tall pure copper cup which I fill with purified water and let it stand for at least 16 hours and then drink everyday afresh.
    I read this info. regarding copper in Ayuverdic material. I can taste the difference in the water. My husband cant get enough of this.
    I always say, eat and live ‘intuitively”, listen to the body as it will tell you how it feels, so listen.

  • Jennifer

    I suffer from copper deficiency and have to supplement with copper pills. Symptoms I’ve experienced of deficiency include: poor coordination, nausea, dizziness, slow healing bruises, slow healing from infections, veins not cooperating for blood draw, low white blood cell count, low neutrophils, and water tasting metallic-like. It was the later symptom that I saw on an internet post that led to my diagnosis. Most doctors just don’t know how to diagnose copper deficiency, so I had to diagnose myself. I have to tweak my copper doses according to the temperatures outside. In the colder months I have to increase my copper supplementation. If I don’t keep up on the right dose, I quickly have troubles with coordination – so much so that my walk can resemble a drunk chameleon and I cannot shake a bottle to mix a liquid.

  • Lenny

    This article is somewhat misleading. The body is not always able to excrete copper as needed through normal bowel and urinary movement. Nor does excess copper always show up in serum. A lot of free unbound copper can become stored in the body’s tissues and organs, and rather this is the area into which the medical community at large has not looked at sufficiently and in which silence remains. In fact, it is this excess unbound stored copper that simultaneously creates a copper deficiency condition and symptoms. It’s not as simple as saying everyone should eat more copper-rich foods. For someone who is ‘copper deficient’ due to high levels of stored bio-unavailable copper in their tissues, the high copper-rich food diet can be quite damaging. Rather than emphasizing the copper rich diet, I’d suggest more importantly is the education on ensuring adequate levels of Cp production to make copper bioavailable. You’re right in saying that stress and copper are closely connected, but it is not a single directional pathway. Stress increases copper, but as copper increases in the body without elimination, so too does stress.

  • Pooye

    I have always been afraid to supplement copper. I have been taking 1,000 to 2,000 mg of vitamin c for some time now and feeling worse and worse by the day. I have even been having neurological problems. I recently had my blood tested and my copper levels are very low, I have been supplementing (slowly) with copper and it’s helping me!! Copper deficiency DOES happen!

  • PJ

    He actually “did” address the hazards of “free unbound copper” in the article. In fact, he dedicated an entire paragraph to it’s hazards. Try Reading (Or re-reading for comprehension) the section titled “Misunderstanding Copper and Disease”.
    I believe the good copper he says we are deficient in comes (At best from “Natural Food Sources” !

  • Josh Giraud

    How’s it helping exactly? Be super super careful with copper, deficiency can happen but it’s extremely rare. We’re almost all Zinc deficient now! Blood and hair tests are tricky by the way because they’ll only show what you’re excreting. Lots of people with the symptoms of copper deficiency and copper food cravings are actually dealing with high “biounavailable” copper, meaning the body has too much stored in the tissues/joints but can’t use it. That will show up the same on tests as deficiency but is a lot more common. I have high biounavailability and when I used to take supplements with copper or ones that affect copper I’d get a rush of creative energy, which made me think I was healing.
    Maybe you’re already on the right path and don’t need to worry but I hope this at least helped you stay aware 🙂

  • barry

    which brand of copper you took and how much per day?

  • Shaun Dadman

    I recommend not to take copper and instead stop other supps. This way your body balance itself more naturally. Excess copper can be very dangerous, specially that majority of ppl are very high in copper…

  • Heidi Brydson

    By the way, if you are copper deficient, that can lead to a zinc deficiency. Think of the synergy between zinc and copper. If one is high, the other is low, but if one is low, and the other is not high, then you are deficient in both. Hope that makes sense. My horse was exhibiting zinc deficiency symptoms, but raising the zinc made it worse. Raising the copper levels, along with zinc (using black oil sunflower seeds) did the trick. So much we are still learning, but I love it. When you say Biounavailable, could it be you don’t have the right synergy to aid the process? Like vitamin A helps Magnesium work better. Just some thoughts 🙂 It does all get crazy.

  • Heidi Brydson

    Have you tried whole foods instead, one that has high copper, but some zinc? Black oil sunflower seeds worked quick on my horse. The ratio is better in some foods, research them. Higher zinc, but close to the same amounts of copper….raising both together. If you are copper deficient you will be zinc deficient. Slow healing is really a zinc deficiency, but like you said if low in copper, you can’t get the zinc, and will have slow healing of wounds.

  • Thomas Bureau

    Just wondering how low you copper levels were (?). I have “lower than normal” copper and ceruloplasmin levels and suffer from many (but not all) the symptoms you’ve indicated. My zinc levels are normal.

  • barry

    what is black oil?

  • barry

    how can people be very high in copper when the soil is depleted of copper?

  • barry

    could you please post a link with the seeds you used with your horse?

  • Heidi Brydson

    I used the bird sunflower seeds, the pure black ones, not the striped. Just make sure the ingredient list just says Black Oil sunflower seeds, and nothing added. You can get them at Tractor farm supply, Walmart. Anywhere that has bird food.

  • Smoothman

    Nonsense! The majority of people are not “very high in copper”. It is the opposite. According to recent researches as many as 60-70% of the population just in the U.S have a severe or mild copper deficiency. Copper deficiency is a huge problem in the world today, since the soil lack the good copper. Too little copper in the body can often cause aneurysm (eating too much zinc without copper is a really bad idea). Copper deficiency symptoms: Fatigue, decreased function in the thyroid gland, headache, dizziness, migraine, cold hands and feet, tourettes syndrome, tics, nervousness, insomnia, unable to relax, tremors, shakiness and shaky feeling, spasm, cramp, depression, dry skin, gray hair (suddenly), cravings for chocolate and/or nuts, constipation, candidiasis, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, anxiety, panic attacks, bad memory, PMS, mono… You do not always have ALL these symptoms but 3-4 or more. People are still way too afraid of copper due to utter ignorance of many doctors out there. They are simply not up to date with the latest knowledge of copper.

  • zaza

    I have been supplementing with zinc picolinate alongside no carb diet, for over two years for my sibo. My gut is slowly getting better but since than I am experiencing : fatigue, sharp low back pain (left side), hormonal imbalance, dizziness, migraine, nervousness, insomnia, unable to relax, depression, dry skin, low blood pressure, low blood sugar, anxiety, bad memory, PMS. Most of these symptoms I had previous to zinc intake but they got worst making me feel exhausted and unable to work.
    No doctor could help me with this ( my blood tests were OK). Now I am getting a new hope with this article and I understand why my copper blood level were always ok. I stoped zinc intake and started to take copper manganese oligo-element in small amounts. I want to increase the amount but I am afraid to create another imbalance. I do not know which amount should I take and when to introduce zinc. Can anyone help me ?
    I am female and soon 38.

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