Copper is an essential trace mineral present in all body tissues.
Copper works with iron to help the body form red blood cells. It also helps keep the blood vessels, nerves, immune system, and bones healthy. Copper also aids in iron absorption.
Oysters and other shellfish, whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, and organ meats (kidneys, liver) are good sources of copper. Dark leafy greens, dried fruits such as prunes, cocoa, black pepper, and yeast are also sources of copper in the diet.
Normally people have enough copper in the foods they eat. Menkes disease (kinky hair syndrome) is a very rare disorder of copper metabolism that is present before birth. It occurs in male infants.
Lack of copper may lead to anemia and osteoporosis.
In large amounts, copper is poisonous. A rare inherited disorder, Wilson disease, causes deposits of copper in the liver, brain, and other organs. The increased copper in these tissues leads to hepatitis, kidney problems, brain disorders, and other problems.
The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends the following dietary intake for copper:
- 0 to 6 months: 200 micrograms per day (mcg/day)*
- 7 to 12 months: 220 mcg/day*
*AI or Adequate Intake
- 1 to 3 years: 340 mcg/day
- 4 to 8 years: 440 mcg/day
- 9 to 13 years: 700 mcg/day
Adolescents and adults
- Males and females age 14 to 18 years: 890 mcg/day
- Males and females age 19 and older: 900 mcg/day
- Pregnant females: 1,000 mcg/day
- Lactating females: 1,300 mcg/day
The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from the food guide plate.
Specific recommendations depend on age, sex, and other factors (such as pregnancy). Women who are pregnant or producing breast milk (lactating) need higher amounts. Ask your health care provider which amount is best for you.
Diet - copper
Mason JB. Vitamins, trace minerals, and other micronutrients. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 218.
Smith B, Thompson J. Nutrition and growth. In: The Johns Hopkins Hospital; Hughes HK, Kahl LK, eds. The Harriet Lane Handbook. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 21.
Review Date 2/2/2019
Updated by: Emily Wax, RD, CNSC, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.