Copper Deficiency: Symptoms, Treatment, and More


Copper is more than a metal used to cover pipes. It’s present in the body in percentages and assists the body carry out required functions in the brain, blood, and more. A minimum of 12 enzymes exist in the body that doctors call “cuproenzymes.” These depend on copper to operate. An example is tyrosinase, which the body uses to make melanin, a compound present in the skin cells. The body also depends on copper to break down iron. Doctors call a copper deficiency in the blood “hypocupremia.” According to the British Medical Journal, the condition is typically underdiagnosed.

What Are the Manifestations?

Copper deficiency can be tough for doctors to diagnose since the symptoms are like numerous other conditions. For instance, the symptoms associated with copper deficiency are similar to those of vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Low copper levels can affect a person’s immune system and energy levels. Examples include:

  • always feeling cold
  • easy bone breakage
  • easy bruising
  • fatigue
  • getting sick easily or frequently
  • pale skin
  • poor growth
  • skin inflammation
  • skin sores
  • unexplained muscle soreness

Really low copper levels can cause problems with muscle motion also.

Common Causes

Since the body primarily takes in copper in the stomach and after that in the small intestine, problems with either organ typically impact a person’s ability to soak up copper.

Many times, copper deficiency is the result of stomach surgery that can impact absorption.

Zinc supplementation is also a common cause of copper deficiency. This is since zinc and copper complete for absorption in the stomach, with zinc being the usual winner. As a result, copper isn’t soaked up.

Copper Deficiency and Hair

Because copper plays a crucial function in melanin formation, a lack of copper can impact a person’s hair. Melanin is important for coloring (color) of a person’s hair. For that reason, some doctors think that low copper levels might affect a person’s hair color, potentially leading to premature graying hair.

Nevertheless, the links between copper and hair color modifications and hair loss haven’t been commonly studied. A 2013 study found no connection between blood copper levels and alopecia areata, a condition that triggers hair loss. (Zinc, another trace metal, has been related to potentially leading to hair loss.).

How It’s Diagnosed

To diagnose copper deficiency, a doctor takes a health history and asks what sort of medications and supplements you’re taking. They consider your symptoms when assessing you for a copper deficiency. They might think about if you have risk elements.

These include:

Information verified by the team.
  • excess zinc supplementation.
  • history of bariatric surgery, such as gastric bypass.
  • history of gastrectomy (surgical removal of a part or all of the stomach).
  • history of upper gastrointestinal surgery.
  • malabsorption syndrome, such as celiac or inflammatory bowel illness, where a person might not totally take in all the nutrients in their food.

A doctor may also purchase a blood test for plasma copper levels to determine if your blood copper levels are low. This test isn’t a conclusive diagnostic test for copper deficiency because other factors can falsely raise a person’s blood copper levels. Doctors usually think about copper levels to be significantly deficient if they’re less than 30 percent of the expected typical variety.

Treatment Options

Initial treatment of copper deficiency might depend on why your copper levels are low in the first place. For example, if you’re taking too much zinc, you might just require to cut down on zinc supplements.

Doctors often suggest a copper supplement as sufficient treatment. Copper supplements on the market include copper gluconate, copper sulfate, and copper chloride.

Taking about 2 milligrams (mg) of copper per day may assist to correct a deficiency, but your doctor will let you know the best dosage for you. Increasing your consumption of copper-rich foods may likewise help.

If your deficiency is extreme and your doctor is worried that your body will not soak up copper supplements, they might recommend intravenous (IV) copper treatments.

According to the British Medical Journal, correction of copper deficiency can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks.

Copper-rich Foods

The typical day-to-day recommended intake for copper is about 0.9 mg. Most people discuss this amount in their day-to-day diets. The most common sources of copper in foods are found in breads and cereals. The very best food sources of copper include:

  • oysters (6 medium, cooked): 2,397 micrograms (mcg).
  • crab meat (3 ounces, Alaskan king): 1,005 mcg.
  • cashew nuts (1 ounce, raw): 622 mcg.
  • sunflower seeds (1 ounce, dry roasted): 519 mcg.

Whole-grain bread and pasta, broccoli, potatoes, and bananas are likewise high in copper.

Possible Complications

The most common problems of copper deficiencies are anemia, pancytopenia, and ataxia:

  • Anemia is a condition where a person’s red blood cells are low. This impacts the amount of oxygen provided to organs and tissues.
  • Pancytopenia is a condition where all 3 significant cellular parts of the blood are low. These include red blood cell, leukocyte, and platelet counts. This condition can impact the body’s immune system and overall health.
  • Ataxia is the loss of control of body movements. This accompanies low copper levels because a person’s nerve system is affected.

Other, less-common problems of copper deficiency include problems with bone advancement, loss of pigment in the hair and skin, and impacted growth.

What’s the Outlook?

Copper deficiency is an unusual condition, but it can happen, specifically in people who have had stomach surgery. Thankfully, the condition is highly treatable through dietary modifications in addition to copper supplements.

If your copper levels are really low, speak with your doctor about the very best treatments. Your levels can normally be corrected in a few weeks.

Ali Gadimov
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