The human body contains only 70 to 80 mg of copper in total, but it's an essential part of many important enzymes. Copper's possible role in treating disease is based on the fact that these enzymes can't do their jobs without it. However, there is little direct evidence that taking extra copper can treat any disease.
The official U.S. recommendations for daily intake of copper are as follows:
High zinc intake reduces copper stores in the body;1,2 for this reason, if you are taking zinc in doses above nutritional levels (as, for example, in the treatment of macular degeneration), you will need extra copper.
In addition, if you are taking iron or large doses of vitamin C, you may need extra copper.3–7 Ideally, you should take copper at least 2 hours apart from these two nutrients, so that they don't interfere with each other's absorption.
Oysters, nuts, legumes, whole grains, sweet potatoes, and dark greens are good sources of copper. Drinking water that passes through copper plumbing is a good source of this mineral, and sometimes it may even provide too much.
For the various therapeutic uses described in the next section, copper is often recommended at a high (but still safe) dose of 1 to 3 mg (1,000 to 3,000 mcg) daily.
Copper has been proposed as a treatment for osteoporosis, based primarily on studies that found benefit using combinations of various trace minerals including copper.8,9 However, one study found that copper supplements taken alone may not be helpful.11
One researcher, L. M. Klevay, has claimed in more than a dozen papers that copper deficiencies increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease, but he has failed to supply any real evidence that this idea is true. A small double-blind, placebo-controlled study of copper supplements for reducing heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol profile found no benefit.10
The following daily doses of copper should not be exceeded:
Maximum safe dosages of copper for individuals with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined.
Bremner I, Beattie JH. Copper and zinc metabolism in health and disease: speciation and interactions. Proc Nutr Soc. 1995;54:489–499.
Fosmire GJ. Zinc toxicity. Am J Clin Nutr. 1990;51:225–227.
Haschke F, Ziegler EE, Edwards BB, et al. Effect of iron fortification of infant formula on trace mineral absorption. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 1986;5:768–773.
Milne DB, Klevay LM, Hunt JR. Effects of ascorbic acid supplements and a diet marginal in copper on indices of copper nutriture in women. Nutr Res. 1988;8:865–873.
Finley EB, Cerklewski FL. Influence of ascorbic acid supplementation on copper status in young adult men. Am J Clin Nutr. 1983;37:553–556.
Jacob RA, Skala JH, Omaye ST, et al. Effect of varying ascorbic acid intakes on copper absorption and ceruloplasmin levels of young men. J Nutr. 1987;117:2109–2115.
Harris ED, Percival SS. A role for ascorbic acid in copper transport. Am J Clin Nutr. 1991;54(suppl):1193S–1197S.
Saltman PD, Strause LG. The role of trace minerals in osteoporosis. J Am Coll Nutr. 1993;12:384–389.
Strause L, Saltman P, Smith KT, et al. Spinal bone loss in postmenopausal women supplemented with calcium and trace minerals. J Nutr. 1994;124:1060–1064.
Jones AA, DiSilvestro RA, Coleman M, et al. Copper supplementation of adult men: Effects on blood copper enzyme activities and indicators of cardiovascular disease risk. Metabolism. 1997;46:1380–1383.
Cashman KD, Baker A, Ginty F, et al. No effect of copper supplementation on biochemical markers of bone metabolism in healthy young adult females despite apparently improved copper status. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001;55:525–531.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.