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4.12.3: Copper

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    • Contributed by Jennifer Draper, Marie Kainoa Fialkowski Revilla, & Alan Titchenal
    • Faculty (Food Science and Human Nutrition Program and Human Nutrition Program) at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

    Copper, like iron, assists in electron transfer in the electron-transport chain. It is also an enzyme cofactor essential for iron absorption and transport. The other important function of copper is as an antioxidant. It is naturally present in several foods and is generally accessible as a dietary supplement.[1] A typical adult body has a total copper content of 50-120 mg.[2] The body maintains copper level balance through absorption from the intestine and the release of copper by the liver into bile. [3] Current studies indicate that copper deficiency may be more frequent than what was previously discovered, while copper toxicity is rare due to conventional diets. [4] Symptoms of mild to moderate copper deficiency are uncommon. More severe copper deficiency can cause anemia from the lack of iron mobilization in the body for red blood cell synthesis. Other signs and symptoms include growth retardation in children and neurological problems because copper is a cofactor for an enzyme that synthesizes myelin, which surrounds many nerves.

    Dietary Reference Intakes for Copper

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Dietary Reference Intakes for Copper
      DRI values (μg/day)  
    Life stage group RDA UL
    Infants (0-12 months) ND1
    Children (1-3 years) 340 1,000
    Children (4-8 years) 440 3,000
    Children (9-13 years) 700 5,000
    Adolescents (14-18 years) 890 8,000
    Adults (>18 years) 900 10,000

    1 Not Determinable. Source: The National Academies Press (2006). Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine.

    Dietary Sources of Copper

    Copper is distributed in many foods and is abundant in organ meats, seafoods, nuts, and seeds. Wheat bran cereals, whole grains and cocoa products are also good sources of copper. The absorption of copper from foods may be reduced by excess intakes of zinc and the amino acid histidine in addition to high intakes of iron and fructose. Copper is also available as part of other ingredients in a multimineral supplement or by itself in a copper only supplement. Dietary supplements containing copper typically range from a few micrograms to 15 mg. [5]

    Query \(\PageIndex{1}\)


    1. Collins JF. Copper. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:206-16. ↵
    2. Prohaska JR. Copper. In: Erdman JW, Macdonald IA, Zeisel SH, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:540-53. ↵
    3. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2001. ↵
    4. de Romaña, D. L., Olivares, M., Uauy, R., & Araya, M. (2011). Risks and benefits of copper in light of new insights of copper homeostasis. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology: Organ of the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements (GMS), 25(1), 3–13.
    5. Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. (2001). Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 7, Copper. ↵
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