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Medicine LibreTexts

12.92: Copper Deficiency & Toxicity

Copper deficiency is rare in humans, but results in the following symptoms1,2:

Hypochromic anemia

Decreased white blood cell counts leading to decreased immune function

Bone abnormalities

Copper deficiency can result in a secondary iron deficiency, since Fe2+ cannot be oxidized to Fe3+ to bind to transferrin. This can cause the hypochromic anemia that occurs in iron deficiency.

Menke's disease is a genetic disorder that results in copper deficiency. It is believed that individuals with this disease have a mutation in ATP7A that prevents copper from leaving the enterocyte, thus preventing absorption1.

Copper toxicity is also rare in humans, but acute toxicity results in the following symptoms1,2:

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain


Chronic symptoms include1,2:

Brain, liver, and kidney damage

Neurological damage

Wilson's disease is a genetic disorder where a mutation in ATP7B prevents copper excretion, resulting in copper toxicity. One notable symptom is that individuals with this disease have golden to greenish-brown Kayser-Fleischer rings around the edges of the cornea, as shown in the link below1,2.

Web Link

Kayser-Fleischer ring

References & Links

1. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. (2008) Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

2. Byrd-Bredbenner C, Moe G, Beshgetoor D, Berning J. (2009) Wardlaw's perspectives in nutrition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.