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STDWatch
Hannah Kingston

Jul 06, 20227 min read

What Is Copper Deficiency?

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Copper is an essential mineral that the human body requires to perform many processes. Copper deficiency, also known as hypocupremia, can lead to a variety of symptoms and it can hurt your health. Copper deficiency can affect your eyes, skin, hair, and many other parts of your body.

Keep reading to learn more about copper deficiency, its causes, symptoms, and how to get more copper in your diet.

How does copper affect the body?

Copper plays an important role in your health. According to Oregon State University, several enzymes known as “cuproenzymes” depend on copper to be able to function properly. These enzymes regulate different physiologic and metabolic pathways in your body, including:

  • Iron metabolism
  • Energy production
  • Neurotransmitter synthesis
  • Tissue maturation
  • Antioxidant action

We typically get copper from our diet. Most copper in the human body is stored in the liver, muscle, and bone. However, traces of copper can be found in other parts of the body. 

Copper deficiency causes

Copper deficiency or hypocupremia is very rare in healthy people, according to theMSD Manuals. When it happens, it can be hereditary or acquired later on in life. Copper deficiency is more common among babies and infants, especially those who:

  • Are premature
  • Have chronic diarrhea
  • Are recovering from malnutrition
  • Are fed exclusively cow’s milk

Copper deficiency is very rare in adults, but it can be the result of:

  • Taking too much zinc, since zinc reduces copper absorption
  • Weight loss surgery
  • Malabsorption disorders

Copper deficiency symptoms

Having signs of copper deficiency is rare, since most healthy adults get enough copper from their daily diet. The symptoms of copper deficiency can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Increased risk of infections
  • Osteoporosis
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty learning new things
  • Mobility issues
  • Pale skin
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Premature gray hair
  • Vision problems

If left untreated, copper deficiency can lead to long-term health complications such as:

  • Central nervous system demyelination (loss of the myelin sheath that covers your nerves)
  • Polyneuropathy (malfunction of numerous peripheral nerves in your body)
  • Myelopathy (injury to the spinal cord)
  • Inflammation of the optic nerve (damage to the nerve that carries information from your eyes to the brain)

Side effects of too much copper in the body

Just like you can have low copper levels, you can also suffer from copper toxicity.

According to StatPearls, copper toxicity is often the result of accidental intake, contaminated water sources, cooking acidic foods in uncoated copper pans, and using topical creams that contain copper.

The symptoms of copper toxicity can include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood-stained vomit
  • Diarrhea
  • Dark feces
  • Loss of consciousness

You should always seek medical advice if you think you have copper deficiency or toxicity.

How much copper can you take per day?

The recommended dietary allowance of copper for healthy adults is approximately 900 mcg per day. Pregnant or breastfeeding women have slightly higher requirements, and they should have around 1,300 mcg of copper each day.

The human body can only store small amounts of copper; however, a healthy and balanced diet typically provides enough copper to meet your requirements. Copper is absorbed in the intestine from the foods you eat, and excess copper is excreted through bile and urine.

How to get more copper in your diet

Since copper benefits the human body by allowing certain enzymes to work properly, it’s important to get enough copper from your diet. Fortunately, there are many foods that contain plenty of copper. According to the National Institutes of Health, sources of dietary copper include:

  • Shellfish
  • Organ meats
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Wheat-bran cereals
  • Whole grain products
  • Chocolate
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Leafy greens

You can learn more about other health topics at STDWatch.com now.

Sources

Copper - lpi.oregonstate.edu

Copper Deficiency - msdmanuals.com

Copper - ods.od.nih.gov

Copper Toxicity - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov


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