Eating foods that are high in copper may help to prevent conditions such as cardiovascular disease, decreased immune system function, and osteoporosis. Foods that are high in copper include: liver, cashews, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, lentils, mushrooms, and cocoa.
Copper, an essential trace element, is found in all tissues of the body.
Copper plays an important role in the production of hemoglobin (the main component of red blood cells), myelin (the substance that surrounds nerve fibers), collagen (a key component of bones and connective tissue), and melanin (a dark pigment that colors the hair and skin). Copper and vitamin C work together to help make a component of connective tissue called elastin.
Maintaining the proper dietary balance of copper and other minerals including zinc and manganese is important. When there is balance, copper will usually act as an antioxidant by scavenging free radicals (damaging particles in the body). If there is an imbalance, copper can act as a pro-oxidant by promoting free radical damage and by contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and possibly, cervical dysplasia (precancerous lesions of the cervix which forms the opening to the uterus).
Individuals who are at high risk for copper deficiency include: premature infants, infants with prolonged diarrhea, infants and children recovering from malnutrition, individuals with malabsorption syndromes (including celiac disease, sprue, and short bowel syndrome due to surgical removal of a large portion of the intestine), individuals receiving intravenous total parenteral nutrition or other restricted diets, and individuals who have cystic fibrosis.
Symptoms of copper deficiency include anemia, low body temperature, bone fractures and osteoporosis, low white blood cell count (the cells that help fight infection), irregular heartbeat, loss of pigment from the skin, and thyroid disorders.
Note: A variety of medical conditions can lead to the symptoms mentioned above. Therefore, it is important to have a physician evaluate them so that appropriate medical care can be given.
Causes of copper overload include the regular use of copper cookware and water supplied by copper pipes. If water (especially hot water) sits in copper pipes for an extended period of time, the copper can leach into the water supply. For this reason, it is best to always cook with cold water. Running cold water for 2 to 3 minutes can flush the pipe system and reduce the copper content. Copper lined cookware can also leach into acidic foods such as vinegar, tomato, and citrus. If there are blue-green stains around your faucet, sink or bathtub, or if you detect a metallic taste in your water, you may want to have the water tested by a certified laboratory.
Symptoms of excessive copper intake include nausea, dizziness, headaches, vomiting, stomach pain, weakness, diarrhea, and a metallic taste in the mouth. If left untreated, copper toxicity can cause heart problems, jaundice, coma, and even death.
Caution: Eating natural foods that are high in copper is the safest and healthiest way to get an adequate supply of the nutrient. Due to risk of toxicity, individuals should always consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider before starting doses of supplements. Before giving supplements to children, it is recommended that you first consult with their pediatrician. Also, some supplements may interfere with medications. If you are taking medication, it is recommended that you consult with your physician before taking any supplements. All supplements should be kept in childproof bottles and out of children’s reach.
Liver (beef), cooked, 1 ounce – (4,049 mcg)
Oysters, cooked, 1 medium oyster – (670 mcg)
Cashews 1 ounce – (629 mcg)
Crab meat, cooked, 3 ounces – (624 mcg)
Clams, cooked, 3 ounces – (585 mcg)
Sunflower seeds 1 ounce – (519 mcg)
Lentils, cooked, 1 cup – (497 mcg)
Hazelnuts 1 ounce – (496 mcg)
Mushrooms, raw, sliced, 1 cup – (344 mcg)
Almonds 1 ounce – (332 mcg)
Chocolate, semisweet, 1 ounce – (198 mcg)
Peanut butter, chunky, 2 tablespoons – (185 mcg)