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cooking legumes

What is copper?
Copper is an essential trace mineral, present in all body tissues, which plays a role in the formation of connective tissue, and in the normal functioning of muscles and the immune and nervous systems.

Why is copper necessary?
The human body requires copper for normal growth and health. Copper, along with iron, is a critical component in the formation of red blood cells. Copper also influences the functioning of the heart and arteries, helps prevent bone defects such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, and promotes healthy connective tissues (hair, skin, nails, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels).

What are the signs of a deficiency?
Copper deficiency is rare, but can occur in people who are severely undernourished or who have chronic diarrhea. Disorders that impair nutrient absorption, such as Crohn's disease, can also lead to copper deficiency, as can high dietary intakes of iron or zinc. Signs of deficiency include bleeding under the skin, damaged blood vessels, hair loss, pale skin, and an enlarged heart. Symptoms include fatigue and, because copper plays a role in immunity, imbalances can make you more susceptible to infections.

How much, and what kind, does an adult need?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the daily recommended amounts:

  • for adults, 900 mcg
  • for pregnant women over age 18, 1,000 mcg
  • and for lactating women over age 18, 1,300 mcg.

How much does a child need?
According to the NIH, the daily recommended amounts:

  • for infants 0-6 months is 200 mcg
  • for infants 7-12 months, 220 mcg
  • for children 1-3 years, 340 mcg
  • for children 4-8 years, 440 mcg;
  • for children 9-13 years, 700 mcg
  • adolescents 14-18 years, 890 mcg.

How do you get enough copper from foods?
Good food sources include vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, mushrooms, shellfish (especially cooked oysters), avocado and whole grains.

Are there any risks associated with too much copper?
Copper is toxic in large amounts, and acute poisoning can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even kidney damage, anemia and death. Wilson's disease is a rare (affecting about one in 30,000 people) inherited disorder in which excessive amounts of copper accumulate in the liver or brain. If you have Wilson's disease, or a family history of it, do not take supplements containing copper and get regular testing to monitor your copper levels; for more information, see

Are there any other special considerations?
Boron, vitamin C, selenium, manganese and molybdenum can affect levels of copper in the body. Zinc can lower copper stores, so it is often recommended to take supplemental copper (at a ratio of 1 to 10) if you take supplemental zinc.


Updated by: Andrew Weil, M.D., and Brian Becker, M.D., on Oct. 1st, 2012


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