Copper, like iron, assists in electron transfer in the electron-transport chain. It is also an cofactor essential for iron absorption and transport. The other important function of copper is as an . It is naturally present in several foods and is generally accessible as a dietary supplement.[1] A typical adult body has a total copper content of 50-120 mg.[2] The body maintains copper level balance through absorption from the intestine and the release of copper by the liver into bile. [3] Current studies indicate that copper deficiency may be more frequent than what was previously discovered, while copper toxicity is rare due to conventional diets. [4] Symptoms of mild to moderate copper deficiency are uncommon. More severe copper deficiency can cause anemia from the lack of iron mobilization in the body for red blood cell synthesis. Other signs and symptoms include growth retardation in children and neurological problems because copper is a cofactor for an enzyme that synthesizes , which surrounds many nerves.

Dietary Reference Intakes for Copper

Table 11.4: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) Values for Copper (μg/day)
Life stage group RDA (μg/day) UL
Infants (0-12 months) ND1
Children (1-3 years) 340 1,000
Children (4-8 years) 440 3,000
Children (9-13 years) 700 5,000
Adolescents (14-18 years) 890 8,000
Adults (>18 years) 900 10,000

1 Not Determinable 


The National Academies Press (2006). Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements. The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine. 

Dietary Sources of Copper

Copper is distributed in many foods and is abundant in organ meats, seafoods, nuts, and seeds. Wheat bran cereals, whole grains and cocoa products are also good sources of copper. The absorption of copper from foods may be reduced by excess intakes of zinc and the amino acid histidine in addition to high intakes of iron and fructose. Copper is also available as part of other ingredients in a multimineral supplement or by itself in a copper only supplement. Dietary supplements containing copper typically range from a few micrograms to 15 mg. [5]

Learning Activities

Technology Note: The second edition of the Human Nutrition Open Educational Resource (OER) textbook features interactive learning activities.  These activities are available in the web-based textbook and not available in the downloadable versions (EPUB, Digital PDF, Print_PDF, or Open Document).

Learning activities may be used across various mobile devices, however, for the best user experience it is strongly recommended that users complete these activities using a desktop or laptop computer.



  1. Collins JF. Copper. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:206-16.
  2. Prohaska JR. Copper. In: Erdman JW, Macdonald IA, Zeisel SH, eds. Present Knowledge in Nutrition. 10th ed. Washington, DC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2012:540-53.
  3. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2001.
  4. de Romaña, D. L., Olivares, M., Uauy, R., & Araya, M. (2011). Risks and benefits of copper in light of new insights of copper homeostasis. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology: Organ of the Society for Minerals and Trace Elements (GMS), 25(1), 3–13.
  5. Institute of Medicine (US) Panel on Micronutrients. (2001). Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 7, Copper.


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