Copper is an essential trace mineral found in all body tissues that is vital for maintaining the strength of the skin, blood vessels and connective tissue throughout the body (1).
It also helps with the absorption of iron and production of red blood cells.
Normally people get the right amount of copper through their daily diet and do not require supplementation. Copper can be found in organ meats (especially liver), seafood, beans, nuts and whole-grains. Various health problems, however, can sometimes cause a disruption in copper levels. There is a fine balance between having too little copper (deficiency) and too much copper (toxicity).
Extra copper can interfere with the body’s ability to properly absorb zinc and iron and when too much of it is stored in the liver, it can overflow and buildup in the brain, kidneys, heart and eyes. This extra copper can kill liver cells and cause nerve damage (2).
Low copper in the body can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and a low level of white blood cells. Children with copper deficiency may have vascular aneurysms, central nervous system problems, stunted growth, poor muscle tone and muscle weakness and hypothermia (3).
Copper deficiency may be inherited or caused by disorders that impair absorption of nutrients (such as celiac disease, Crohn disease or cystic fibrosis), bariatric surgery or consumption of too much zinc, which reduces the absorption of copper (4).
Copper plays a role in cardiovascular health. In the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers performed a study to investigate the effect of copper supplementation on cardiovascular disease risk factors in healthy young women.
Sixteen women with an average age of 24 participated in a randomized crossover study in which they received 0, 3 or 6 mg of copper daily as a supplement to their regular diet.
Daily supplementation with 3 mg of copper significantly increased serum copper concentration and the activity of erythrocyte superoxide dismutase — major circulating antioxidant enzymes that help break down potentially harmful oxygen molecules in cells, which might prevent damage to tissues (5).
In addition, the concentration of the fibrinolytic factor plasminogen activator inhibitor type 1 (PAI-1) was significantly reduced by about 30 percent after supplementation with 6 mg of copper per day. Reduction of PAI-1 is important because elevated plasma levels of this protein have been shown to have an effect on the development and progression of cardiovascular diseases (6).
In other studies, researchers have found copper levels in the heart tissue of people who have died of ischemic heart disease to be quite low. Moreover, copper-zinc superoxide dismutase — a copper-dependent enzyme — plays a role in the antioxidant capacity of tissues throughout the body and has also been suggested to play a role in a cardiovascular health.
While some studies have found a link between low levels of copper and cardiovascular issues, several observational studies have revealed the opposite —an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in those with high levels of serum copper (7).
This contradictory information points to the need for more studies to get a better understanding of the role of copper and cardiovascular health.
Copper may help treat heart disease in those with type 2 diabetes. A 2009 study found that administering a copper chelator, which would be expected to bind copper in the blood, improved left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement and thickening of the walls of the heart’s main pumping chamber) in type 2 diabetic patients (8).
These results, according to the researchers, warrant further exploration of copper-selective chelation as a potential pharmacotherapy for diabetic heart disease.
Copper may help treat hypertension. Copper deficiency has been shown to be associated with changes in blood pressure. A deficiency at a young age typically causes hypotension (low blood pressure), while a deficiency in adults causes hypertension (high blood pressure).
In a 2003 case-control study, researchers investigated the effect of administrating 5 mg of copper per day in 60 subjects with mild stable hypertension.
The results revealed a marginal deficiency of copper in 62 percent of the subjects and demonstrated that copper decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressures in the treated group (9).
Copper improves the well-being of skin. A 2014 manuscript, published in Current Chemical Biology, reviewed results of several clinical studies demonstrating copper’s many skin benefits. It has the ability to play a key role in the synthesis and stabilization of skin proteins, and it also has potent biocidal properties. It has shown to be effective in curing athlete’s foot infections, improving skin elasticity and enhancing wound healing (10).
Copper has antimicrobial properties. Clinical trials are underway in hospitals around the world to evaluate copper’s ability to kill bacteria from a range of surfaces that can cause infection. Studies are taking place in many hospital settings, ward types (geriatric, intensive care and general medical) and national healthcare environments.
In a study funded by the Department of Defense, researchers found that the use of antimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units reduced the number of healthcare-associated infections by 58 percent as compared to patients treated in ICUs with non-copper touch surfaces.
In addition, medical centers that replaced stainless steel, aluminum and plastic touch surfaces with antimicrobial copper, noted an 83 percent reduction in the average microbial load on frequently-touched objects — bed rails, tray tables, chairs, call buttons, data devices and IV poles (11).
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of too much copper or overdose include blood in urine, black or bloody vomit, diarrhea, dizziness or fainting, headache, heartburn, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and pain or burning when urinating (12).
Although copper is essential to health, most healthy diets meet the recommended intake, making supplementation unnecessary in most individuals.
Never add more copper to your diet without first checking with your health provider.
Those who have a copper deficiency should follow the dosage recommended by their treating physician.
Copper is an essential trace mineral found in all the tissues of the body that plays a vital role in maintaining the strength of the skin, blood vessels and connective tissue throughout the body. It also helps with the production of red blood cells and the absorption of iron.
Most people get enough copper by eating a healthy diet and do not require supplementation. In fact, too much copper can lead to copper toxicity which can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, heart and eyes.
Copper deficiency may be inherited or caused by certain disorders. A deficiency of this vital mineral can lead to anemia, osteoporosis and a low level of white blood cells.
Studies are ongoing to evaluate copper’s role in cardiovascular health, treating hypertension, accelerating wound healing and several other conditions.