What are the health benefits of copper?

Copper plays an important role in many of the body's functions. Getting adequate amounts of this mineral can help manage conditions like psoriatic arthritis by supporting immune function and reducing inflammation. 

Public health organisations and drug administrations recommend adequate copper intake to support nervous system health as well. The copper you need each day depends on how much it helps your bones, heart, immune system, and more be healthy. 

It's best to get copper from foods you eat. But for some people, health professionals may advise taking copper supplementation. This could happen if their diet is not balanced. Or if their body has trouble getting enough copper from foods.

This article explains health information about copper and the health benefits you get from it. It also includes a list of healthy copper-rich foods you can eat to get this important mineral.


Copper's role in human health

The copper in the body helps with energy production, iron absorption, nerve cell function, collagen formation, and protecting cells from damage through its antioxidant effects.

Importance of copper in enzyme function

Copper helps enzymes in some really key ways. It lets some of them move electrons around. This allows important reactions in our cells that promote cardiovascular health. 

Copper also lets some enzymes bind and carry oxygen. That oxygen gets used to make energy, which keeps our heart beating properly. Not getting enough copper has been linked to heart disease.

Another job of copper is to help stop free radicals that damage cells. The copper enzyme called superoxide dismutase does this work. It stops radicals called “superoxides” in their tracks before they can contribute to things like Alzheimer's disease.

Copper also allows other enzymes to hook molecules together. An example is lysyl oxidase - it uses copper to link up collagen fibres and give tissue strength. This connective tissue support helps prevent rheumatoid arthritis. Lastly, the brain uses copper to make an essential chemical signal called norepinephrine. 


Copper's contribution to connective tissues

Connective tissues are the framework that holds the body together - they provide lots of support and flexibility. Copper is super important to maintain the health and integrity of these tissues. It plays a key role in keeping them working properly.

Copper reinforces structural connective tissues. It activates lysyl oxidase, an essential enzyme that crosslinks tropocollagen molecules to form strong collagen fibrils for resilient yet flexible bones, cartilage, skin and tendons. Without adequate copper, connective tissues become weak and injury-prone.


Copper further assists in elastin fibre synthesis, imparting elasticity to tissues that need to withstand repeated stretch without tearing, like blood vessels, lungs, and skin. Additionally, copper stimulates collagen and blood vessel formation during wound healing processes.


Source: Lumen


By strengthening collagen matrices and elastin, copper confers the tensile strength and elasticity crucially needed for connective tissues to function properly without rupturing. 


For example, copper enables collagen-rich ligaments and tendons to transmit muscular force without tearing. The loss of copper-dependent enzyme activity contributes to connective tissue disorders and impaired injury repair.


Source: Shield HealthCare


Antimicrobial properties of copper

At first glance, copper looks purely decorative in the kitchen - but it hides impressive talents as a silent protector. Those antimicrobial powers quietly keep bacteria from spreading onto your food and counters. Copper's like a tiny hero, subtly shielding you from contamination and safely upholding hygiene while you cook.


Copper's innate antimicrobial properties derive from the reactivity of its metallic ions. Upon contact, copper ions inflict assaults on three crucial targets within bacteria: the protective cell membranes, the intracellular proteins/enzymes, and the DNA required for replication. 


First, the ions pierce the bacterial membrane walls, poking holes that cause destabilising molecular leaks. Concurrently, the copper ions within the cells trigger the production of volatile "free radical" compounds that degrade proteins and other vital components through oxidative damage. 


The ions also interfere directly with the microbial DNA replication process, foiling cell division. Through this chemical-free three-pronged attack on cell integrity, metabolism, and reproduction, copper ions can induce bacterial demise on touch. 


The sustained release of ions from copper surfaces thus provides an efficacious means of contact killing without the need for soaps, silver nanoparticles or other antimicrobial agents. The innate properties of the copper ions alone initiate membrane, protein, and DNA demolition, continuously destroying microbes.

Due to its antibacterial qualities, copper is a useful tool for maintaining good kitchen hygiene:


  • Cutting boards: Copper ions penetrate knives' grooves to eliminate 99.9% of bacteria that can contaminate foods prepared on them. This enhances safety when handling meats, produce, and other foods.


  • High-touch surfaces: Frequently handled copper items like door knobs, sink taps, and light switches curb microbial buildup. This reduces transmission between contaminated hands and foods.


  • Storage containers: Copper retarding bacteria growth keeps refrigerated fruits/vegetables fresher for longer. The ions penetrate porous produce, slowing decay.


  • Copper bracelets: Copper bracelets worn on the wrist provide antimicrobial benefits by releasing copper ions that inhibit bacteria growth on the skin. 


  • Water jugs/bottles: Microbes introduced into the water can propagate rapidly, but copper jugs and bottles impede 99.9% of bacterial growth, which keeps drinking water clean.


Source: Copper Culture


Antioxidant properties of copper

Like a bustling city, your body constantly generates energy, but this metabolic activity releases damaging free radicals. These volatile molecules can wreak havoc on cell components, contributing to deterioration implicated in heart disease, neurodegeneration, cancers, and other adult health conditions. 


Copper acts as an antioxidant guardian that defends your cells against oxidative damage from youth through older age.


Protecting cells from oxidative stress

Free radicals are unstable atoms that need electrons and steal electrons from other molecules to become stable. This starts a chain reaction that attacks cells. It can damage cell membranes, proteins, and DNA - the important "infrastructure" in your tissues. 

Sustained damage drives inflammation and has been implicated in heart disease, neurodegeneration, cancers, and other conditions. Preventing oxidative reactions is, therefore, critical for health.



Combating free radicals and reducing inflammation

Copper serves as a key empowering component of endogenous antioxidant defence systems:


  • Superoxide Dismutase (SOD): This enzyme, armed with copper (and zinc), catalyses the neutralisation of dangerous superoxide radicals generated as cellular byproducts.


  • Ceruloplasmin: This copper-carrying protein catches free radicals circulating in the blood, preventing them from inflicting widespread harm.


  • Glutathione Peroxidase: Relying on copper, this enzyme detoxifies lipid peroxides and other menacing oxidant molecules, curtailing inflammation.


The role of copper in iron metabolism

Iron transports life-giving oxygen via red blood cells throughout adulthood and older age. Yet iron absorption and use rely on copper working behind the scenes. Research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others underlines copper’s importance for iron equilibrium from youth through senior years.

Unlocking iron absorption

Copper assists in extracting iron from intestinal foods into the bloodstream. The copper-containing protein ceruloplasmin binds to iron, enabling its absorption by intestinal enterocytes. Adequate copper levels also sustain these lining cells responsible for iron uptake.

Balancing iron storage and supply

Copper additionally ensures iron gets stored but remains accessible when demanded. It aids ferritin production – the vital protein storing iron in the liver and bone marrow. When red blood cell generation ramps up, copper prompts release from these reserves.

Preventing deficiency

By fostering absorption and regulating iron reserves, copper safeguards against deficiency, preventing fatigue, pale skin and weakness accompanying depletion. Sufficient intake maintains bioavailable iron and healthy blood cell counts.

Supporting red blood production

As a hemoglobin component, iron is inextricably linked to red blood cells carrying vital oxygen to organs. Copper makes iron levels possible, thereby making healthy blood cell generation possible. It also activates certain enzymes involved in red blood cell synthesis.

Achieving equilibrium

Though required for iron metabolism, too little or too much copper causes imbalance and systemic issues. Getting adequate but not excessive copper levels promotes equilibrium, supporting cardiovascular health throughout life stages.


Immune system support

A functioning immune system relies on a squadron of cell types and processes working in harmony to ward off pathogens. Research indicates copper plays a subtle yet pivotal role within multiple facets of this defence network - from frontline fighter cells to wound healing cascades.

Enhancing white blood cell activity

White blood cells constitute the body’s patrolling guardians, constantly surveilling for invasive microbes. A clinical trial said that copper acts as an activating cofactor for key enzymes inside cell varieties, including:


  • Neutrophils: These rapid responders pursuing pathogens depend on copper enzymes to chase, engulf and destroy bacteria through phagocytosis.


  • Macrophages: Copper spurs digestion enzymes to help these specialist cells consume invasive microbes marked for elimination.


  • Natural killers: Copper impacts chemicals influencing the activity of these lymphocytes, targeting virally infected and cancerous cells.

Boosting the body's ability to fight infections

By influencing white blood cell potency, copper thereby bolsters the system’s overall capacity to fight infections - from enhancing the clearance of pathogens to modulating inflammation. Wound healing also relies on copper-dependent enzymes to repair damaged barriers, preventing microbe incursion.

Dietary sources of copper

There is an interesting connection between copper and health. Copper helps process cholesterol and supports your immune system. It also helps babies develop in the womb. And if your body doesn’t have enough, you need to get it from your food or supplements. 


The recommended copper intake is 900 mcg per day for adult men and women, while pregnant women need 1 mg per day. Breastfeeding women need 1.3 mg recommended daily. Consuming copper-rich foods can provide health benefits.


Source: Labpedia


  1. Nuts, seeds and whole grains all provide copper, an essential mineral that helps with iron absorption, nerve function, collagen production, and protecting cells from damage. 
  2. Almonds and cashews have copper content, meeting about a third of copper needs per ounce. 
  3. Sesame seeds are also a good choice, with just a tablespoon providing almost half the recommended daily intake. 
  4. Opting for whole-grain versions of foods like bread, pasta, and brown rice can also add to total copper intake.
  5. Organ meats like liver are especially high in copper, having more than 11 times the recommended amount per slice. Eating liver and other organ meats also boosts the intake of nutrients like Vitamin A, B vitamins, iron and zinc. 
  6. Seafood is another prime source of copper, with oysters and lobster being top choices. Just 3.5 ounces of oysters contain over 800% copper RDI. 

Shellfish does come with higher cholesterol, but dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood levels for most people. Those with high cholesterol should still eat seafood moderately.


Potential risks of copper imbalance

There are some rare genetic disorders that affect proteins involved in copper transport and regulation, leading to imbalances in levels of copper in the body. Two examples of such genetic copper metabolism disorders are Wilson's disease and Menkes disease.


In Wilson's disease, copper builds up to toxic levels, which can cause brand and liver damage, while in Menke's disease, the body cannot properly utilise copper. Both conditions can onset in infancy or childhood. 


Anemia, which is a low red blood cell count, can occur in Wilson's disease when high copper levels prevent cells from using iron properly.


Bone abnormalities like weakening, breakage, and arthritis are also possible when copper deposits damage bone tissue over time. High copper levels are also thought to reduce immune system function in Wilson's disease.


Menkes disease leads to copper deficiency, which can contribute to low red blood cell counts, skeletal abnormalities, and temperature regulation problems. Some research suggests Menkes disease could inhibit immune cell function as well.

Genes that are defective can impact proteins that regulate copper in the body. This can lead to too much or too little copper. Then, copper levels become abnormal. 

Abnormal copper levels can:

  • Hurt the formation of red blood cells


  • Damage the development and health of bones


  • Impact how well the immune system works


Copper deficiency symptoms

Some health studies say that up to 25% of folks in the US and Canada may not meet the recommended amount. When you don't get sufficient copper for a long time, you can become deficient, which can be dangerous. 


Celiac disease can also lead to deficiency since it harms copper absorption. Surgeries on the digestive system do as well. Too much zinc is another cause because zinc and copper compete to be absorbed.


Here are the symptoms of copper deficiency to watch for:


  1. Being tired and weak can happen with copper shortage. Copper helps the body absorb iron and make energy. Low copper leads to anemia and fatigue.
  2. You may get sick more with low copper. Copper is key for a strong immune system. And when you lack it, it makes fewer germ-fighting white blood cells. 
  3. Brittle, weak bones can come from inadequate copper. Copper is used to build cross-links for healthy, sturdy bones. 
  4. Copper supports good brain function. Deficiency is tied to poorer memory and learning. Alzheimer's disease patients have far less brain copper.
  5. Walking can get harder without sufficient copper. Less insulation causes coordination loss. Copper insulates the spinal cord for smooth signals to muscles. 
  6. Low copper may make you feel chilly. Dipping levels can reduce heat. Copper balance affects thyroid hormones that control body temperature. 
  7. Paler skin can be a sign of low copper. Melanin pigment needs copper to form properly. 
  8. Hair may grey too soon with the shortage. Like skin, hair colour relies on copper-containing melanin. 
  9. Vision loss can eventually happen. The nervous system needs copper to function. Prolonged severe deficiency can damage optic nerves.


Summing up

Copper plays a critical role in promoting human health, yet imbalances can also incur risk. Copper enables proper enzyme and connective tissue function through its incorporation into ceruloplasmin and collagen. 


Its antimicrobial properties help combat bacterial spread. In medical education, copper defends cells against free radical damage.


Copper also facilitates iron absorption and red blood cell formation while supporting the immune defence. Nuts, seeds, whole grains, organ meats and seafood provide dietary copper. However, genetic disorders inhibiting copper regulation can lead to excess or deficiency, resulting in symptoms like anemia, bone abnormalities, and immune dysfunction if untreated.


The optimal approach is balancing copper levels for whole-body wellness. Here at Copper Culture, we offer beautiful copper cookware and mugs designed to infuse foods and drinks safely with bioavailable copper throughout your everyday use. 


Our products allow you to get the health properties of copper while avoiding dangerous excesses. Browse our collection today or subscribe and save on deliveries of our premier copper wares to your door!