Although side effects from low doses of supplemental copper are uncommon, copper can cause serious health complications when it accumulates at high levels in your liver and other vital organs. Copper is an essential element that enables your body to utilize iron and contributes to the production of healthy red blood cells. Copper facilitates sugar metabolism and plays roles in the formation of nerves and connective tissues. Your doctor may prescribe copper supplements if you have a gastrointestinal disorder that interferes with copper absorption or a health condition that causes you to lose this essential element. Consult your doctor for a medical evaluation before taking copper supplements.
Your body needs very small amounts of copper for healthy physical function. Copper occurs naturally in foods like organ meats, shellfish, nuts, beans, chocolate and many fruits and vegetables. Diseases of the kidneys or pancreas, severe burns and chronic stress may increase your need for copper. The recommended intake of copper for men and non-pregnant women ages 19 and older is 900mcg per day. If you are taking copper supplements, the University of Maryland Medical Center advises that you also take zinc supplements to prevent an imbalance of these nutrients, which may cause health complications. Consult your doctor about the correct dose of copper supplements to take for your condition.
Effects on Digestive System
The most common side effects of copper supplements affect your digestive system. Nausea, heartburn, vomiting, abdominal pain or an upset stomach are among the gastrointestinal side effects of copper. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the gastrointestinal side effects of copper are most likely to occur from using water contaminated by copper pipes or foods and beverages prepared in unlined copper cookware. If you experience diarrhea, weakness, nausea, black or bloody vomit or abdominal pain while taking copper supplements, consult your doctor immediately.
Effects on Liver
Your body stores excess amounts of copper in your liver. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, liver damage may occur from prolonged exposure to high doses of copper. People with Wilson's disease, a disorder that causes copper to build up in your liver, kidneys and brain, may experience severe side effects from taking copper supplements. Because of the potential for liver damage, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has established a tolerable upper intake level of 10mg of copper per day for food and supplements combined. For people who have Wilson's disease or other metabolic conditions that promote copper accumulation, a dose of 10mg per day of copper may be too high, the Linus Pauling Institute cautions.
Additional Side Effects
Copper may cause dizziness, fainting, headaches, pain with urination or bloody urine. In rare cases, an overdose of copper may lead to kidney failure, coma or even death. Although copper toxicity is more likely to result from water or food contamination than from supplements, you should take copper under medical supervision to avoid side effects and ensure effective treatment. Report any symptoms of copper toxicity to your doctor immediately.
Before you take copper supplements, consult your doctor about possible medication interactions. Some drugs increase copper levels in your bloodstream, which may put you at risk of copper toxicity if you take copper supplements. Birth control pills, estrogen replacement medications, and certain medications used to decrease stomach acid production in people with heartburn and stomach ulcers may increase copper levels in your body. Take copper supplements under medical supervision to prevent the side effects of a copper imbalance.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Copper; Stevne D. Ehrlich, N.M.D.; March 20, 2009
- Mayo Clinic: Copper Supplement (Oral Route, Parenteral Route); November 1, 2010
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center: Copper; Jane Higdon, Ph.D.; Reviewed by Judith R. Turnlund, Ph.D.; July 2007