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What does it do? Copper is needed to absorb and utilize iron. It is also part of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). Copper is needed to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy the body runs on. Synthesis of some hormones requires copper, as does collagen (the “glue” that holds muscle tissue together) and tyrosinase (the enzyme that puts pigment into the skin).

Where is it found? The best source of copper is oysters. Nuts, dried legumes, cereals, potatoes, vegetables, and meat also contain copper.

Who is likely to be deficient? Copper deficiency is uncommon. Children with Menke’s syndrome are unable to absorb copper normally and become severely deficient unless medically treated early in life. Deficiency can also occur in people who supplement with zinc without also increasing copper intake. Zinc interferes with copper absorption.1 Health consequences of zinc-induced copper deficiency can be quite serious.2 In the absence of copper supplementation, vitamin C supplementation has also been reported to mildly impair copper metabolism.3 Copper deficiency can cause anemia, a drop in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), and several other health problems.

How much is usually taken? Most people consume less than the recommended amount of this mineral. Nonetheless, supplementing with 1–3 mg per day is important only for people who take zinc supplements, including the zinc found in multiple-vitamin/mineral supplements.

Are there any side effects or interactions? The level at which copper causes problems is unclear. But in combination with zinc, up to 3 mg per day is considered safe. People drinking tap water from new copper pipes should consult their nutritionally oriented doctor before supplementing, since they might be getting enough (or even too much) copper from their water. People with Wilson’s disease should never take copper.

Zinc interferes with copper absorption. People taking zinc supplements for more than a few weeks should also take copper (unless they have Wilson’s disease). In the absence of copper supplementation, vitamin C may interfere with copper metabolism. Copper improves absorption and utilization of iron.

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