shellfishCopper is an essential trace element that can donate an electron in oxidative-reduction reactions, and is vital for a number of enzymes:
    – Cytochrome c oxidase allows mitochondria to create the energy molecule ATP, needed for synthesis of myelin sheaths.
    – Lysly oxidase for proper collagen and elastin in heart, blood vessels, bone, and connective tissue.
    – Ceruloplasmin (ferroxidase) enzymes involved in iron transport by transferrin to form red blood cells.
    – Dopamine-beta-mono-oxygenase converts dopamine to norepinephrine (neurotransmitters)
    – Monoamine oxidase (MAO) is important in the breakdown of serotonin and metabolism of neurotransmitters
    – Tyrosinase is important for the formation of melanin, which is what gives our skin pigment.
    – Superoxide dismutase (SOD) acts as an important anti-oxidant, converting super-oxide free radicals to hydrogen peroxide. SOD may also be involved in transcription of specific genes affecting the ability to make certain proteins.

Copper status seems to be linked with both iron and zinc status.  It seems that one needs adequate copper for normal iron transport to the bone marrow and red blood cell production. High iron in formula results in less copper absorption. High zinc supplementation increases intestinal metallothionein, which due to its high affinity for copper will result in less copper being absorbed. 



Classic copper deficiency has been found in those with anemia that did not respond to being given more iron and then would respond to taking a supplement of copper. Since cows milk has less copper than human milk, this would be more common in formula fed infants, premature infants, and those with intestinal issues that might reduce the absorption of nutrients. 

Other reported symptoms of copper deficiency include; neutropenia (low white blood cells) with increased risks of infections, loss of pigmentation, neurological symptoms, osteoporosis, and impaired growth. 



Liver, shellfish, nuts, and seeds are the best sources for copper.  Wheat bran and whole grains or fortified cereals also will have some copper.
                                            micrograms copper
Beef liver (1 oz)                          1265
Shellfish (3oz)                              585-670
Cashews (1oz)                            629
Hazelnuts (1oz)                           496
Sunflower seeds (1oz)                519
Lentils (1 cup cooked)                 497
Almonds (1oz)                             332
Peanut butter (2 TBS)                 165



Toxicity is rare unless you drink from contaminated water on an ongoing basis (safe maximum water copper levels set at 1.3 mg/L). Individuals with genetic disorders affecting copper metabolism are also at risk (Wilson’s disease, Indian childhood cirrhosis, idiopathic copper toxicity).  Acute toxicity can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and in serious cases, liver or kidney damage, or even coma and death.


Infants                                      not known
Children 1-3                             1000
Children 4-8                             3000
Children 9-13                           5000
Teens/adults                            8000-10,000

Copper deficiency is difficult to assess either clinically or from just a serum blood level.  Spectracell micronutrient testing ( can provide an assessment of your micronutrient status inside the white blood cells, a good indication of status over the past 3 – 6 months. 

Here are some links that you may be interested in:

The many “faces” of copper in medicine and treatment…

The Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information on Copper…

Neurologic dysfunction and pancytopenia secondary to acquired copper deficiency following duodenal switch…

Acute neurological presentation due to copper deficiency in a hemodialysis patient following gastric bypass surgery…

The Science and Practice of Micronutrient Supplementations in Nutritional Anemia: An Evidence-Based Review…


Dr. Paul





Reply To This Post