The Effects of Consuming Too Much Copper

Spice and pepper grinder on wooden background
Black pepper is a good source of copper. (Image: circlePS/iStock/Getty Images)

Copper is necessary for several bodily functions, but you only need a small amount of it each day. While rare, consuming too much copper can lead to toxicity, which is characterized by many adverse symptoms. An inherited condition known as Wilson’s disease can also result in an excess buildup of copper within the body. Never add more copper to your diet without first checking with your health care provider.

Symptoms and Risks of Too Much Copper

If you consume too much copper, the effect can be poisonous. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, stomach pain and a metallic taste in your mouth. If you then develop a copper toxicity, this rare occurrence can lead to heart problems, jaundice, coma and potentially death. Using copper cookware or water that comes from copper pipes can also result in copper toxicity. You can have your water tested for copper content and avoid using unlined copper cookware to reduce these risks.

Wilson's Disease

Wilson’s disease is a rare, inherited disorder that causes your bodily tissues to accumulate too much copper. When this occurs, your liver and nervous system become damaged, and this can then result in tissue death. This disease has several symptoms, including confusion, dementia, difficulty moving, phobias, speech impairment, tremors, vomiting blood, weakness and jaundice. Your doctor can conduct a series of tests to determine if you have this condition, and then prescribe treatments and a diet to reduce the amount of copper in your body.

Importance of Copper

While too much copper is dangerous, your body needs this mineral to function. It works with iron to form red blood cells, and it also aids in the production of myelin, collagen and melanin. Copper’s antioxidant properties allow it to get rid of the free radicals that can damage your cells, which can lead to premature aging and various health conditions. Symptoms of a copper deficiency include anemia, low body temperature, osteoporosis and thyroid disorders.

RDA and Sources

Adults over 19 should consume 900 mcg of copper daily. You can get this amount by eating foods like seafood, blackstrap molasses, chocolate, black pepper, nuts and enriched cereals. While getting your copper through diet is best, you can also choose to take a supplement. However, if you take a copper supplement, you should take a zinc supplement as well to avoid an imbalance of these minerals. The general guideline is 8 to 15 mg of zinc for every 1 mg of copper, but your doctor can help you determine the correct dosage for you.

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