Copper and Your Health

You may think of copper as something to do with wiring and electronics, but it's also an important mineral that you take into your body when you eat some types of seafood, nuts, veggies, fruit, and other foods. You need it for growth and your overall health.

Copper plays a part in many of your body's organs and systems. It helps you:

  • Make red blood cells
  • Keep nerve cells healthy
  • Support your immune system
  • Form collagen, a protein that helps make up your bones and tissues
  • Protect cells from damage
  • Absorb iron into your body
  • Turn sugar into energy

Because copper has a role in these important tasks, it can help keep certain conditions at bay, such as:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Osteoporosis (bone loss, most often found in women)

When You Don't Get Enough

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Your body doesn't need much copper, but when you're low, your health may take a hit. You need larger amounts as you age. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for copper are:

  • Birth to age 3: 200 micrograms (mcg) -- 340 mcg
  • Ages 4-8: 440 mcg
  • Ages 9-13: 700 mcg
  • Ages 14-18: 890 mcg
  • Ages 19 and older: 900 mcg

It's rare to have a serious lack of copper in your body, but some signs that you may need more of it are:

  • Anemia
  • Low body temperature
  • Broken bones and bone loss
  • Low white blood cell count
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pale skin
  • Thyroid problems

When You Get Too Much

Having too much copper in your system is rare, but it's possible. Some people take supplements even though they have enough copper already.

Some people get a little extra copper without knowing. It can seep into food from certain types of cookware. If you drink well water or water that goes through copper pipes, you might get more copper than most people. Pregnancy, birth control pills, infection, inflammation, and stress can all increase the copper levels in your blood.

Wilson's disease is a condition that causes a copper buildup in your brain, eyes, liver, and kidney. If you have this disease or genetic conditions like idiopathic copper toxicosis or childhood cirrhosis, you shouldn't take copper supplements.

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Too much copper in your body can give you symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, especially black or bloody
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Metallic taste in your mouth

Serious copper buildup in your body can cause copper toxicity. This is a rare but life-threatening condition that can cause:

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