What are the health benefits of copper?

Copper for health and nutrition

As a naturally-occurring element, copper is present everywhere in the world around us. Life has evolved in this natural presence, and humans have developed built-in mechanisms to manage intake levels. Copper is required as part of a balanced diet and is important to doctors and nutritionists.

We obtain copper from a variety of sources. As a natural element, it is present in many of the foods we eat and the water we drink. Our digestive systems assimilate the amount necessary for good health through a system of uptake called homeostasis. Excess copper is excreted.

1 mg of copper per day keeps the doctor away!

According to the World Health Organisation’s nutritional guidelines, adults typically need 1 – 2 mg of copper in our daily diet. Fortunately, we can obtain it from many different foods. Dark chocolate, leafy greens, legumes, lentils, nuts, organ meats (liver, kidney) and shellfish all contain copper and provide essential health benefits.

Copper’s role in growth and development

The health benefits of copper are numerous. Copper is essential for infant growth, bone strength, red and white blood cell maturation, iron transport, cholesterol and glucose metabolism, heart muscle contraction and brain development. Copper nutrition is especially important for pregnant women, the developing foetus and new-born babies. The WHO recommended daily requirement for copper is 20 mg/kg body weight for adults and 50 mg/kg body weight for children.

According to the World Health Organisation, there is a greater risk from copper deficiency than from copper toxicity, even in developed areas such as the US and Western Europe. Copper deficiency can lead to health problems such as anaemia, heart and circulation problems, bone abnormalities and complications in the functioning of the nervous and immune systems, the lungs, thyroid, pancreas and kidneys.

Our duty of care

In partnership with the European Commission and Italian authorities, we produced safe threshold values for copper in drinking water. These are listed below, and more information is available in the Voluntary Risk Assessment.

  • The threshold value for acute effects in drinking water is 4.0 mg/l of copper, with the general public typically exposed to 0.7 mg/l. This is consistent with the 2.0 mg/l guideline for copper advised by the World Health Organisation.
  • For adults, the minimum daily dietary intake is 1 mg, with a maximum threshold of 11 mg. Actual intakes range between 0.6 and 2 mg, suggesting that deficiency may be of concern.