Copper Supplementation

Benefits of Copper SupplementsCopper is an often over-looked trace mineral found in all tissues and most secretions in the human body. This trace nutrient gets a bad name for being harmful when unbound to other nutrients and toxic in high doses. But copper is absolutely essential for energy production, a key component in powerful antioxidant processes, and it maintains a special love/hate relationship with two main minerals – iron and zinc.

Because of its bad reputation, copper deficiency is often overlooked and misdiagnosed. Here’s what you need to know:

Copper, Iron & Anaemia

Have your blood tests showed healthy iron levels even when you have felt fatigued and looked pale as a ghost? You might have needed copper.

Iron requires copper for its movement in and out of cells. Low levels of copper can cause secondary iron-deficient anaemia by keeping iron trapped within cells.

Here’s how:

Copper is transported through the blood via a carrier called ceruloplasmin. Once this transporter has attached to copper, ceruloplasmin acts as oxidative enzyme in the blood – but not the type of oxidation you need to worry about. Ceruloplasmin transforms iron into its oxidised state (Fe3+) so that iron can bind to its own transporter (transferrin). This allows iron move to and from the body’s tissues.

If your iron levels are normal but your red blood cells are low or you feel fatigued or easily exhausted, ask your doctor or nutritionist to investigate your copper status.

Copper for Energy Production

Iron isn’t the only way that copper can boost your vitality. Copper is required for the production of cellular energy (ATP). Copper is an essential element in the electron transport chain where it accepts and passes electrons along the chain in the creation of ATP. Because of this key role in energy production, low levels of copper can lead to diminished cellular function which can show up as fatigue, sluggish metabolism and slow wound healing.

Copper & Zinc

Zinc and copper have a love/hate relationship depending on where they interact. They join forces as potent antioxidants in the blood, but inhibit each other in the gastrointestinal tract.

Superoxide dismutase (SOD) is a powerful antioxidant enzyme that relies on copper and zinc for its formation and function. Copper and zinc are bound to either end of the SOD enzyme. Zinc stabilises the molecule while copper snatches the extra electron from superoxide free radicals, reducing them to harmless oxygen molecules.

Even though they are best friends when joined together with SOD, zinc inhibits the absorption of copper in the small intestine. High levels of zinc supplementation can have chronic negative effects on copper absorption. Studies have shown that people who take zinc supplements are most likely to develop a serious copper deficiency [1]. Doses of 40mg or more have been shown to impair copper absorption and diminish copper status in tissue.

  • High dose zinc (110 – 165mg per day) supplementation was shown to have long-lasting effects on blocking copper absorption. One case study demonstrated that intravenous administration of copper chloride was needed to correct a zinc-induced copper deficiency [2].
  • A more recent report showed that zinc-based adhesives for dentures caused a fatal copper deficiency – yikes [3]!

Copper creates an antagonistic link between zinc and iron. Zinc supplementation or high zinc intake can cause iron-related anaemia:

  • Zinc lowers copper levels → ceruloplasmin levels are too low to effectively transport iron → iron cannot be used for red blood cells formation → anaemia.

Note: In the fitness industry, ZMA supplements which consist of Zinc and Magnesium are very popular. Adding copper to this regimen may be worth further investigating.

Copper & Other Nutrients

Copper has little affect on the levels of nutrients apart from iron, but plenty of other nutrients can throw copper out of balance:

  • Magnesium supplementation can draw copper out of the tissue and increase its excretion via bile [4].
  • Selenium supplements can do the same, reducing total copper status and increasing excretion [4].
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) inhibits the absorption of copper in the diet [4]. Calcium can help to boost copper by neutralizing vitamin C.
  • Molybdenum supplementation can increase the excretion of copper out of tissues and into the urine [5].

Signs of Copper Deficiency

  • Anaemia (low levels of red blood cells)
  • Fatigue
  • Poor wound healing
  • Muscle aches
  • Digestive issues
  • Weakness
  • Leukopenia (low levels of white blood cells)
  • Depigmentation of the skin and hair
  • Poor immune function and frequent infections
  • High cholesterol

Risk Factors for Copper Deficiencies

  • Zinc supplementation of 40mg/day or more
  • Use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – these reduce stomach acid, reducing the bioavailability of copper
  • Renal disorders
  • Conditions that inhibit absorption of nutrients (e.g. celiac disease, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis)

Safe Levels of Copper

By now copper sounds like a superstar, right? Don’t reach for a mega dose copper supplement just yet. High levels of copper are dangerous and even lethal – copper is an oxidative element that can cause damage when unbound in the blood. Even though moderate levels of bound copper act as antioxidants via SOD, free copper ions are oxidative – they participate in the formation of reactive oxygen species free radicals and are involved in inflammatory processes [6].

  • A longitudinal study of cancer and cardiovascular deaths showed that prematurely deceased participants had higher levels of copper than those who survived longer [7].
  • The same study also suggested that low levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”) and high levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) were associated with higher levels of copper. This isn’t to say that copper causes cholesterol problems – high copper levels were also associated with other things that can affect cholesterol: cigarette smoking, diabetes, and age [7]
  • A little bit goes a long way. Research suggests that therapeutic and safe levels of copper supplementation occur between 2 – 8mg per day. The Upper Tolerable Limit is 10mg.

When to Take Copper

Take copper away from all other supplements and food to improve its absorption and prevent negative interactions.

Side Effects & Cautions for Copper Supplements

High levels of copper (5mg and above) may cause gastrointestinal discomfort. Higher levels (30mg and above) can cause toxicity characterised by vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, lethargy and nausea. Prolonged use of high dose copper can cause kidney damage, liver damage, blood in the urine or inability to urinate.

Warning: Do NOT take copper supplements if you have Wilson’s disease.


Top 5 Copper Supplements

#5 Thorne Research Copper Biglycinate (2mg / 60 capsules)

Copper BisglycinateThorne Research have created a copper supplement that is chelated with two glycine molecules to give extra stability and absorption to the copper ion. Free from GMOs, artificial preservatives and allergens, Thorne Research products are clean, safe and easy to take – each capsule contains 2mg of copper so you would only need to pop one a day to get a therapeutic dose.

#4 Organa Crystalline Nano Colloid Copper (32oz / 30ppm)

Colloidal CopperColloids are liquids which contain a different substance (in this case, copper) that is dispersed evenly on a microscopic level — in this case, nanoparticles of copper are dispersed in water. The colloid particles are so small that they are able to penetrate through the cell membrane without requiring traditional copper transporters. In theory, this means that colloids are more able to rectify a deficiency than traditional supplement forms — unfortunately there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to back that up but there is anecdotal evidence that people who struggled to raise their copper levels with other supplements were able to do so with colloidal copper forms.

Organa Cystalline Nano Colloid Copper delivers 0.06mg of copper per 2 teaspoons.

NOTE: Therapeutic doses of colloids are lower than other supplements due to their easy absorption.

This is a good choice if you’ve unsuccessfully tried to raise your copper levels with other supplements, or if you would like to easily control your dosage.

#3 Solaray BioCitrate Copper (2mg, 60 capsules)

Solaray CopperIn this supplement, copper is joined to a citrate molecule which assists copper’s absorption in the small intestine. This is particularly effective for people with low stomach acid, taking PPIs, or who have poor digestive function. Solaray have further combined copper citrate with a herbal blend that may help to support blood formation, iron function, and proper metabolism of copper. This is a good choice if you’re looking for a supplement to correct secondary iron deficiency anaemia due to low copper.

#2 Pure Encapsulations Copper (2mg, 60 capsules)

Copper tabletsThis Pure Encapsulations supplement contains copper chelate — a copper molecule bound to the amino acid glycine. Chelated copper is stable and highly bioavailable compared to free copper ions. Pure Encapsulations manufacture clean supplements that are free from gluten, wheat, artificial colours, binders and capsule coatings. This is a good choice if you have sensitivities or are looking for a therapeutic dose of clean copper in a highly absorbable form.

#1 Mitosynergy Copper (90 capsules)

Bioavalable CopperMitosynergy have created a copper supplement in the form of copper-niacin or “Cunermuspic”, along with the amino acid L-glycine. Mitosynergy claim that this is the cleanest, high potency copper supplement available on the market, and they might be right; there are no binders, fillers, or flow agents in this supplement – just highly absorbable, bioactive copper, niacin and L-glycine.

While Mitosynergy MitoActivor carries a much higher price tag to other copper supplements, it really is one of a kind and the anecdotal evidence in support of its effects is endless.

Each capsule contains 0.1mg of copper and Mitosynergy recommend taking no more than 4 per day – while this 0.4mg of copper per day is far form a standard therapeutic dose, the seemingly endless anecdotal reports of this product’s effectivenvess suggest that these low doses are more than enough.

This is a good product if you’re looking to go all-out to correct a copper deficiency or try leading-edge nutraceuticals.

Further Reading:


About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.

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