Copper, a normal constituent of blood, is another established essential micronutrient. Recent interest in copper has increased because of the potential risk of deficiency. Concentrations of copper are is highest in the liver, muscle, brain, heart, and kidney. Muscle contains almost 40% of all the copper in the body. Deficiency develops slowly as copper stores becomes depleted. Deficiencies have not been reported in otherwise healthy humans consuming a varied diet. Bone changes, including osteoporosis, metaphyseal spur information, and soft tissue calcification in infants receiving prolong TPN may resolve with copper supplementation. 

Copper works with iron to help the body form red blood cells. It also helps keep the blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones healthy.

Menkes syndrome, is a sex-linked recessive defect that results in copper malabsorption, increased urinary copper loss, and abnormal intracellular copper transport, all of which cause an abnormal distribution of copper among organs within cells. Affected infants have retarded growth, defective keratinization and pigmentation of the hair, hypothermia, degenerative changes in aortic elastin, abnormalities of the metaphyses of long bones, and progressive mental deterioration. These infants typically do not survive the first few months of life.

Like zinc, low copper intakes may also contribute to reduced immune responses in otherwise healthy individuals. 

Copper is distributed widely in foods, including animal products (except for milk). Foods high in copper are shellfish, organ meats, muscle meats, chocolate, nuts, dried fruits and legumes. Cow’s milk is a poor source of copper, whereas the copper in human milk is well absorbed. Infants fed cow’s milk may be at risk for copper deficiency. Peruvian infants who were poorly nourished, had diarrhea, and were fed diluted cow’s milk. Premature infants are born with low copper reserves and may require additional dietary copper during their first few months of life. Premature infants are likely to have copper deficiency unless given a copper supplement, because most of the copper is normally transferred across the placenta during the last few months of a full-term pregnancy.

A strict vegetarian diet may benefit patients with Wilson’s disease because of the low copper content of fruits and vegetables.

Dietary reference intake

Infants 200-220 mcg/day

Children 340-440 mcg/day

Adolescents 700-900 mcg/day

Adults 900 mcg/day

Pregnant 900-1000 mcg/day

Lactating 900-1200 mcg/day

Copper content of selected foods

Beef liver, fried, 3 oz (12.4 mg)

Oysters, 3 oz (3.6 mg)

Baking chocolate, 1 square (0.9 mg)

Mushrooms, cooked, 1 cup (0.8 mg)

Tropical trail mix, 1 cup (0.7 mg)

Sunflower seeds, ¼ cup (0.6 mg)

Beans, white, canned, 1 cup (0.6 mg)




Skeletal abnormalities – especially demineralization

Hair and skin depigmentation

Neutropenia and leukopenia are early indications of copper deficiency in children.


Liver cirrhosis

Wilson’s disease (deposits of copper in the liver, brain, and other organs)


  1. Anonymous4/22/2013

    How do I know is I need more copper supplements? Are there any indications?

    1. Copper deficiency does not occur in healthy individuals receiving an adequate balanced diet. For prophylaxis of copper deficiency, dietary improvement, rather than supplementation, is advisable. For treatment of copper deficiency, supplementation is preferred.
      Recommended intakes may be increased and/or supplementation may be necessary in the following persons or conditions (based on documented copper deficiency):burns, gastrectomy, infants-premature, celiac disease, diarrhea, cystic fibrosis, malnutrition of proteins, nephrotic syndrome, prolonged stress, for patients with total parenteral nutrition, for those undergoing rapid weight loss, patients with malnutrition.
      Diets, that drastically restrict food selection may not supply minimum daily requirements of copper.