Most of the copper in the body is located in the liver, bones, and muscle, but traces of copper occur in all tissues of the body. The liver excretes excess copper into the bile for elimination from the body. Copper is a component of many enzymes, including ones that are necessary for the following:
Formation of red blood cells, bone, or connective tissue (which binds other tissues and organs together)
Antioxidant action (to help protect cells against damage by free radicals, which are reactive by-products of normal cell activity)
(See also Overview of Minerals Overview of Minerals Minerals are necessary for the normal functioning of the body’s cells. The body needs relatively large quantities of Calcium Chloride Magnesium Phosphate read more .)
Copper excess (toxicity) may also be acquired or inherited (as Wilson disease Wilson Disease In Wilson disease, a rare hereditary disorder, the liver does not excrete excess copper into the bile as it normally does, resulting in accumulation of copper in the liver and liver damage.... read more ).
Consumption of excess copper is rare. People may consume small amounts of excess copper in acidic food or beverages that have been in copper vessels, tubing, or valves a long time.
Consuming even relatively small amounts of copper may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Large amounts, usually consumed by people intending to commit suicide, can damage the kidneys, inhibit urine production, and cause anemia due to the rupture of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia) and even death.
Rarely, liver damage or cirrhosis occurs in children. It probably results from drinking milk that has been boiled or stored in corroded copper or brass vessels.
Diagnosis of Copper Excess
Blood or urine tests
A liver biopsy
Doctors measure copper and ceruloplasmin levels in blood or urine. However, a liver biopsy Biopsy of the Liver Doctors can obtain a sample of liver tissue during exploratory surgery, but more often they obtain a sample by inserting a hollow needle through the person's skin and into the liver. This type... read more to measure the amount of copper and look for damage in the liver is usually required for diagnosis unless large amounts of copper were consumed.
Treatment of Copper Excess
Pumping the stomach
Dimercaprol injected into a muscle
If large amounts of copper were consumed, the stomach is pumped.
If copper toxicity has caused problems such as anemia or has damaged the kidneys or liver, dimercaprol is injected into a muscle, or a drug that binds with copper, such as penicillamine, is given to remove excess copper. Children with liver damage are treated with penicillamine.
If used early, hemodialysis (a procedure that filters the blood) may be effective.
Occasionally, death occurs despite treatment.