What Are The Signs of Copper Deficiency?

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Copper may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to essential minerals, but this micronutrient plays a major role in your body's health and wellness.

As a micronutrient, copper is needed in small amounts in the body. However, the small requirement doesn't affect the substantial role it plays in brain development and the production of energy, connective tissues, and blood vessels. You'll find copper involved in maintaining immune function and the activation of genes. It also contributes to blood coagulation and blood pressure control.

To enjoy these benefits, the amount of copper in the body has to be just right. When you experience a copper deficiency, the body may not be able to perform all of these incredible functions, and you may experience some negative side effects.

We'll be examining the amount of copper you need to maintain good health, as well as the dangers of a copper deficit. To make sure you're covered, we'll also point you in the right direction of copper-rich foods to include in your diet.

What Are The Symptoms of A Copper Deficiency?

Because copper is needed in such limited amounts, developing a deficiency is uncommon. This is especially true because copper is readily available in foods you may consume every day.

However, a copper deficiency may spring up as a complication of celiac disease, an immune condition where the body reacts to consuming gluten. A deficit may also result from the rare genetic disorder, Menkes disease, as well as the frequent use of zinc supplements at high doses. High levels of zinc may disrupt your body's ability to absorb copper, leaving you deficient in this important nutrient. Perhaps the most common cause of copper deficiency is the inability to absorb the nutrient following bariatric surgery.

A copper deficiency may result in the following symptoms:

Increase in Blood Cholesterol

In the past, cholesterol got a bad name for its links to strokes and heart diseases. Though the existence of good cholesterol has gained publicity, the bad forms and excess amounts of this substance still pose dangers to the health.

Good cholesterol is seen in high-density lipoproteins (HDL), while bad cholesterol is found in low-density lipoproteins (LDL). Copper deficiency can lead to the oxidation of LDL, which may result in the dangerous deposit of fatty material in arteries. These deposits may ultimately lead to a blockage in the arteries.

Copper deficiency can also cause high levels of overall cholesterol in the blood in a condition known as hypercholesterolemia. This condition can increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks, as even good cholesterol in high amounts can be unsafe.

Pale or Patchy Skin

The color of your skin is greatly determined by a pigment called melanin. Copper plays a big role in the production of melanin. It is a necessary part of the production of enzymes like tyrosinase, which is necessary to manufacture melanin.

When copper is lacking, hypopigmentation may occur. This is when the skin or hair appears lighter than normal.

Brittle Bones

Iron and calcium may receive most of the credit for strong bones, but copper is also key when promoting bone health.

With copper directly impacting bone development, low levels of this nutrient correspond with reduced bone mineral density, a more accurate way of saying bone strength. 

This explains why a deficit in copper has been linked to osteoporosis, a condition marked by weak and brittle bones.

Frequent Infections

It isn't exactly clear how, but copper plays a key role in determining the body's immune response to dangerous outsiders. 

This makes it very clear when copper is lacking in the body. Important immune cells like interleukin 2—which is necessary for producing white blood cells—are reduced when the body runs low on copper.

This weakens the body's chances of fighting off infections and diseases, leaving it open to attacks.

Persistent Fatigue

If you've been experiencing unexplained tiredness over a period of time, this could be your body informing you of a potential copper deficiency, among other nutritional insufficiencies.

Copper is an important element in the metabolism, transport, and absorption of iron—a crucial element in the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells. 

A copper deficiency can result in a concurrent reduction in iron, otherwise known as iron deficiency anemia. Anemia is identifiable by persistent fatigue in the body, which can be traced to low copper levels.

Loss of Vision

It is very unlikely to develop from a dietary copper deficit; however, some vision loss due to copper deficiency has occurred after bariatric surgery due to malabsorption.

While it isn't clear how a reduction in copper levels may affect vision, most fingers point to optic nerve damage caused by this deficiency. It is thought that a copper deficiency damages the protective covering that surrounds the optic nerves, which can affect sight.

Recommended Daily Intake of Copper

Your age is a big determining factor for the amount of copper you need on a daily basis.

  • If you are between the ages of 14 and 18, you should have 890 micrograms (mcg) of copper daily.
  • Ages 19 and above require 900 mcg daily.
  • Select groups of people, like pregnant teens and women, need around 1000 mcg daily, while their breastfeeding counterparts need 1300 mcg.

Sources of Copper

To make sure you're getting the right amount of copper, the following food sources could support your recommended daily intake of the nutrient:

  • Shellfish
  • Seeds
  • Organ meats (offal)
  • Oysters
  • Potatoes
  • Turkey
  • Tofu
  • Chickpeas
  • Millet
  • Avocado
  • Fig
  • Greek yogurt
  • Sesame seeds
  • Salmon
  • Cashew nuts
  • Mushrooms
  • Dark chocolate

If you do not consume these foods regularly in your diet, dietary supplements can also serve as a rich source of copper.

A Word From Verywell

When consumed in the right amount, copper helps your body absorb iron, maintain strong bones, and promote proper blood clotting, among other key processes.

When a deficiency occurs, however, warning lights come on, and you may notice weakness, brittle bones, high cholesterol levels, and in certain extreme cases—the loss of sight.

The good news is, remedying a copper deficit in the body is as easy as biting into a bar of dark chocolate. In conjunction with other excellent sources of copper, such as mushrooms, salmon, and dietary supplements, copper levels can easily be restored to normal in the body.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.