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 deficiency may be acquired or inherited. It is rare among healthy people and occurs most commonly among infants who are
Recovering from severe undernutrition
Having persistent diarrhea
Some male infants inherit a genetic abnormality that causes copper deficiency. This disorder is called Menkes syndrome.
In adults, copper deficiency may be caused by
Disorders that impair absorption of nutrients (malabsorption disorders Overview of Malabsorption Malabsorption syndrome refers to a number of disorders in which nutrients from food are not absorbed properly in the small intestine. Certain disorders, infections, and surgical procedures can... read more , such as celiac disease, Crohn disease, cystic fibrosis, or tropical sprue)
Weight-loss (bariatric) surgery
Consumption of too much zinc Zinc Excess Zinc excess occurs when the body has too much of the mineral zinc. Zinc is widely distributed in the body—in bones, teeth, hair, skin, liver, muscle, white blood cells, and testes. It is a component... read more , which reduces the absorption of copper
Symptoms of Copper Deficiency
Symptoms of copper deficiency include fatigue, anemia, and a decreased number of white blood cells. Sometimes, osteoporosis Osteoporosis Osteoporosis is a condition in which a decrease in the density of bones weakens the bones, making breaks (fractures) likely. Aging, estrogen deficiency, low vitamin D or calcium intake, and... read more develops or nerves are damaged. Nerve damage can cause tingling and loss of sensation in the feet and hands. Muscles may feel weak. Some people become confused, irritable, and mildly depressed. Coordination is impaired.
Menkes syndrome, a genetic disorder, causes severe intellectual disability, vomiting, and diarrhea. The skin lacks pigment, and the hair is sparse, steely, or kinky. Bones may be weak and malformed, and arteries are fragile, sometimes rupturing.
Diagnosis of Copper Deficiency
A doctor's evaluation
Copper deficiency is usually diagnosed based on symptoms and on blood tests that detect low levels of copper and ceruloplasmin (a copper-carrying protein).
Early diagnosis and treatment of copper deficiency seem to result in a better outcome.
Treatment of Copper Deficiency
Treatment of the cause
A copper supplement or injection
The cause of copper deficiency is treated, and a copper supplement is given by mouth.
For infants with Menkes syndrome, copper is injected under the skin (subcutaneously). Despite treatment, children with Menkes syndrome usually die before they are 10 years old.