Copper: It's Not Just for Pennies

Copper is an essential element found in food.
Copper: It's Not Just for Pennies - Articles


Copper-rich foods

Copper is an essential trace element that is necessary for human health. But most of us are not concerned about getting enough copper, unless you suffer from a specific copper deficiency disease. Copper is a naturally occurring element in the world around us. It is not available within the body, so it must be obtained from food and drink.

In the body, copper becomes a critical component of essential enzymes known as cuproenzymes. These cuproenzymes support numerous functions in the body including the generation and storage of cellular energy. Additionally, copper is important in the formation of our connective tissue to maintain the integrity of that tissue in the heart and blood vessels.

Copper toxicity is very rare in the general population, but has occurred when a water supply is contaminated. Toxicity symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Acute toxicity stimulates a Fenton-type reduction reaction which will result in damage to cells in the liver and kidneys. These failures can result in coma and death.

For adults, the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for copper is 900 µg/day. The table below is information from the Linus Pauling Institute providing the copper content of some foods.

FoodsServing SizeCopper
Liver (beef)1 ounce4,128µg
Oysters6 medium2,397µg
Crab meat3 oz.600-1,000µg
Cashews1 oz.622ug
Hazelnuts1 oz.496ug
Sunflower seeds kernels1oz.519µg
Lentils1 cup497µg
Mushrooms sliced1 cup223µg
Peanut butter, chunk style2 Tablespoons185µg
Shredded Wheat Cereal2 biscuits167µg
Chocolate (semisweet)1 ounce198µg

Copper deficiency is generally uncommon in the general population, unless another underlying condition is present. Conditions that result in higher risk of deficiency include: the metabolic disorder (Menkes disease), preterm infancy, malabsorption syndromes, cystic fibrosis, and gastric bypass.

While copper supplementation does exists, the recommendation suggests medical supervision with all attempts made to get copper through food first.

Deficiency of copper can lead to cardiovascular problems, immune system complications, bone abnormalities, nervous system complications, and anemia. In addition, a severe copper deficiency may cause intellectual disability, vomiting, diarrhea, hypo-pigmentation, bone changes, arterial rupture, and sparse, steely, or kinky hair, all very rare symptoms. So from now on, if you are thinking about essential nutrients, don't forget copper!