Copper pipes, copper wires, copper bones. Did you know that without a steady supply of copper your body would be at a loss in terms of the tools it uses to keep you healthy? Read on to see just how important copper is to your health, where to find it, and how much you need.

What Is It?

Copper is a type of metal, and needed by our body to function properly. One of the most common minerals in our bodies, copper must be obtained from outside sources as our bodies are incapable of producing this particular mineral.

What Is Its Biological Role?

The body requires copper [1] in order to properly absorb any iron we ingest, and to regulate the storage of iron within our bodies. Copper also plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin, and controlling the way our blood uses oxygen. ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, needs copper in order to form properly. ATP is what allows our cells to communicate with each other and work together to keep us healthy.

Without ATP and other important enzyme-fueled reaction that copper is a part of, our metabolism grinds to a halt leaving us feeling sluggish and bloated. In our brain, there exist something called neural pathways. Think of them like lanes on a highway, with some pathways for specific compounds, like a HOV lane on a highway.

The pathways in our brains that control the proper use of dopamine and galactose depend on copper to function at peak levels. These two compounds help us feel energetic, happy, focused, and able to maintain a generally positive outlook on life. Copper also helps with the health of our hair, skin, nails, teeth, bones, and with the development of embryos when we become pregnant.

How Does It Help Bodybuilders and People Who Work Out?

Sufficient level of copper in the body are important for everyone. Without it you will be unable to feel your best or perform at peak levels. However, there is no special benefit for athletes or anyone who spends a lot of time in the gym exclusively.

There are products typically marketed to athletes, such as compression sleeves and wraps, which say they will help reduce pain and swelling because they contain copper. In fact, topical applications of copper have no scientific backing and many of these sites are unable to provide any clinical proof that they are effective.

What Foods Contain It?

Listed in order, the top ten copper-containing foods are as follows. Liver, particularly beef. Shiitake mushrooms, cashews, chickpeas, kale, cocoa powder, sesame seeds, quinoa, almonds, and lentils.

 How Much Of It Do You Need?

For the first six months of an infant’s life, the recommended daily [2] intake is 200mcg per day. The recommended dose increases steadily as we age, and plateaus around 19. For adults aged 19 years and older, the recommended daily intake is 900mcg per day.

For pregnant women, this recommendation rises to 1,000mcg per day. If a new mother is breastfeeding, the recommended daily intake is 1,300mcg per day to help ensure both mother and baby get all they need.

 Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Much Of It?

While the body typically uses large amounts of copper with some regularity, consuming more than you should can overwhelm that system. Copper is toxic in large amounts, and so if you exceed the recommended daily intake significantly, you can experience acute (temporary) copper toxicity. This typically will result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even kidney damage as your body works overtime to get the excess copper out of your system.

Are There Risks Associated With Consuming Too Little Of It?

Regardless of location, certain populations like those with a digestive disease such as Crohn’s or colitis that prevent optimal absorption of nutrients in food are at a heightened risk for many nutrient deficiencies, including copper [3].

Outside of these types of risk factors, most people get all the copper they need from the foods they eat every day.  In fact, copper deficiency is typically only found in areas where malnourishment is prolific because of a general lack of calories.

Symptoms include fatigue, widespread pain, osteoporosis, sores on the skin, and anemia. Anemia comes with its own host of additional symptoms including constantly feeling cold, weak, losing hair or hair thickness, and uncontrolled weight loss.

In light of how prevalent in most diets copper is, it is certainly recommended to consult with a physician before supplementing your diet with copper. Some of the nutrients your body uses to keep you healthy are a bit like tightrope walkers.

A delicate balancing act is vital to effective usage of copper and other nutrients. Too little, and you get sick. Too much, you can also get quite ill. The best advice is to rely on a wholesome, varied diet to provide you with all the copper your body needs.


[1] Medline Plus. Copper in Diet., 2015.

[2] University of Maryland Medical Center. Copper. University of Maryland, 2015.

[3] Ipatenco, Sara. The Effects of Too Little Copper In The Body., 2016.