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Copper: foods, benefits & RDA

Siski Green / 16 March 2021

Copper is an essential trace mineral which we can get from whole grains, seafood, liver, pulses, nuts and potatoes

Wholegrains, wheat sheaf and laoves of bread
Whole grains are one of the sources of copper

What is copper used for?

Copper is used by your immune system to help fight infections, as well as working with iron for haemoglobin production. It also plays a role in nerve health. A lack of copper can lead to anaemia and osteoporosis.

Your body deals with the copper by absorbing what it needs and excreting what it doesn’t. But to absorb it well, your body also needs other minerals and vitamins – specifically iron, cobalt, manganese, molybdenum and vitamin C. These help keep the balance between these nutrients at optimum levels for your health. There are also minerals that compete with copper and can negatively impact levels in your body – zinc, for example.

What’s the best way to take copper?

Getting enough copper via diet is the ideal way to ensure you’re not overdoing it. That said, some people may not eat enough of the foods containing copper (see below) and so a supplement may be necessary. There is no recommended daily intake but the World Health Organisations says our bodies need around 1-3mg per day to avoid being deficient. Look for a balanced multi-vitamin that can gives you around 900mcg (micrograms) per day.

You may also be interested in getting a copper bracelet. This is worn on the wrist and the idea is that tiny amounts of copper are absorbed by the skin. There is little evidence to support this, however.

Where can I get copper?

Whole grains, seafood (shellfish), liver, pulses, nuts and potatoes, as well as prunes, cocoa, black pepper and yeast all contain copper. Be aware, however, that refined grains contain far less than whole – refined flour, for example, has had 70% of the copper removed via the process. Copper water pipes can also be a source of the mineral, if you drink the water unfiltered.

Supplements are available in healthfood shops, supermarkets and online.

What are the side effects of taking copper?

If you take too much, you might experience nausea, heartburn, vomiting or abdominal pain. Over a long time, ingesting excessive copper can damage your liver.

Are there any contraindications when taking copper?

There are some medications that do increase copper levels in your body, so if you then take copper supplements you could be at risk of copper toxicity. Stomach acid meds, for example, and oestrogen replacement medications too. See your GP if you’re in any doubt.

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.