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Copper is one of small group of metallic elements that are essential to human health - it is required for normal human growth and development, but cannot be manufactured by the body itself, and thus must be obtained through dietary sources for proper metabolic functioning. Once ingested, it is absorbed through the small intestine, enters the bloodstream, and combines with proteins that transport it to the liver. From there it is distributed throughout the body tissues.

Though the amount of copper we need to eat in a month would fit on the head of a pin, it is nevertheless vital to our health. Copper deficiency can lead to many health problems, including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It can also lower resistance to infections, impair brain function, and cause general fatigue.

Benefits of copper

Copper is found in trace amounts in all body tissues. It is a cofactor for at least 13 major enzymes that drive crucial metabolic processes. It is necessary across nearly all body systems, and is integral to normal growth and development of bones, heart, brain and connective tissue. Here are just some of copper's many benefits in the body:

  • Brain/nervous system: Copper is involved in production and maintenance of myelin, the tissue sheath that insulates nerve cells, thereby ensuring proper transmission of nerve impulses. It is also involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, the chemical messenger molecules that convey information between nerve cells.
  • Skin: Copper is needed to make collagen, which gives skin its elasticity. Collagen is the most common protein found in human skin. Copper is also a cofactor for the enzyme involved in the synthesis of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its coloration.
  • Bones: Collagen is also the primary molecule responsible for the mechanical strength, rigidity, and integrity of bone.
  • Immune system: Copper promotes healing stimulating the immune system to fight infections, and helping to maintain healthy white blood cell counts. Many white cells are phagocytes that engulf and destroy foreign matter and debris, including pathogenic microorganisms. Copper also helps to neutralize free radicals that would otherwise oxidize and destroy healthy cells.
  • Blood: Copper is necessary for the conversion of iron to its useable ferric (Fe III) form, and also aids in the transport of iron to and from the tissues.

Dietary sources

Foods rich in copper include liver, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, seafood, beans, and organ meats. It can also be obtained from drinking water. While the RDA for copper is just 0.9 mg per day, according to recent surveys, only one-fourth the US population consumes that amount, and the typical American diet provides just half this amount. Recent studies suggest a more optimal intake would be in the range of 1-3 mg per day.


Principal Author: DermaHarmony Editorial Staff
Date of Initial Publication: 08/29/2008
Article Last Updated: 03/10/2011