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Is Your Anemia Caused by a Copper Deficiency?

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Anemia is often thought of as a problem only for the iron deficient, but it turns out, many other nutrient deficiencies can also lead to anemia. Copper deficiencies are highly likely if you are suffering from symptoms of anemia. Before starting to take massive iron supplements to reverse anemia, take a few moments to see if maybe it isn't a copper deficiency instead. Read more about this connection below.

Anemia is commonly associated with an iron deficiency, but did you know that a copper deficiency is also linked with causing anemia?

According to research, anemia, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, impaired cellular immunity, and neurodegenerative disorders can all be linked with copper deficiency. Copper deficiency is not the cause of all of these issues, but it does play a significant role in these diseases and disorders, particularly in anemia.

Copper is a hugely important trace mineral in the body, but since it is used in such small amounts, it is often overlooked. According to researchers, copper is absolutely essential for hemoglobin production, which is the hallmark of anemia. Some researchers have stated that many cases of anemia, early-stage multiple sclerosis, or other immunodeficiency disorders may simply be suffering from low copper levels, which would quickly be reversed with an increase of copper in the diet.

Signs of Copper Deficiency

Copper deficiency manifests differently in different people, making it hard to identify from the outside. Often, copper deficiency has some of the following signs:


  • Anemia
  • Connective tissue degeneration
  • Bone mineral loss
  • Pallor
  • Poor temperature control
  • Thinning, weak hair
  • Poor skin quality
  • Neurological problems (in severe cases)
  • Seizures (in severe cases)


Copper deficiency has also been linked with an increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, although the precise role of copper in these diseases is unknown.

How Common is Copper Deficiency?

Most adults only require about 1.5 to 3 mg of copper a day, however, many Americans get far less copper in their diets. Researchers estimate that about 30 percent of Americans are significantly deficient in copper. One-third of Americans are estimated to eat less than 900 mcg of copper a day, which is below the minimum recommendation.

Copper from dietary sources is found mainly in shellfish and organ meats. Most Americans eat these foods rarely, either due to cost or taste preferences. Nuts, bananas, grapes, tomatoes, avocados, and sweet potatoes also have copper, although in smaller amounts than in meat. Another factor that makes copper deficiency common is that many of our common medications, digestive disorders, and supplements make it harder to absorb copper.

The small intestine is the only place of the body where copper is absorbed, but this process is easily blocked. Anything that disrupts digestion can make it difficult for the body to absorb copper. Medications that block the secretion of stomach acid, including proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers, also prevent the absorption of copper, as the acid is necessary to absorb the copper.

Researchers state that high-fructose corn syrup also triggers copper deficiency. HFCS increases the excretion of copper in urine, making a higher dosage of copper necessary to keep optimal levels in the body. Since HFCS is so prevalent in the modern diet, it is easy to see how such a large number of people are deficient in copper.

Doctors also recommend taking supplements at strategic times of the day. Some foods, such as whole grains and vegetables, contain phytates, which make it harder to absorb nutrients. It is better to take copper supplements or eat sources of copper when these foods are off the menu.

Can You Eat Too Much Copper?

Copper overdosing is definitely possible, mostly by supplementing too much or by eating out of uncoated copper cookware. Too much copper can cause liver damage, skeletal abnormalities, neurological problems, and chondroplasia abnormalities. However, copper overdose in America is rare, because we eat so many other things that make it harder to absorb copper.

Zinc Goes with Copper

Certain nutrients play better with others. Copper and zinc are two such minerals. In fact, they are essential to take together. Copper and zinc can both work together and against each other. Both zinc and copper are needed for enzyme reactions and metabolic reactions. The key is to balance both nutrients to optimal levels. Too much of one or the other will cause issues.

Excessive levels of zinc without copper will lead to anemia, neutropenia, leukopenia, and other disorders. It is more common to have too much zinc and too little copper in Americans than the reverse, thanks to zinc being included in many immune-boosting supplements and present in a greater number of foods.

Any ratio where zinc outnumbers copper 10 to 1 can become problematic. Both nutrients should be taken at closer to a 1 to 1 ratio, or 5 to 1 in favor of zinc. Supplementing with the incorrect balance of zinc and copper can actually cause more problems than it solves.

The easiest way to become copper deficient is in cold and flu season by taking zinc supplements and vitamin C. Both zinc and vitamin C can make it harder for your body to absorb copper. Doses of vitamin C over 1000 mg a day will deter the absorption of copper.

Is It Iron or Copper-Deficient Anemia?

Even some doctors might misdiagnose as an iron-deficiency when copper is really the problem. Iron-related anemia is more common to the point that some doctors may not perform a full blood workup to see if you are also deficient in other vital nutrients.

However, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007 found that most individuals with copper-related anemia also have a low neutrophil count. However, the only way to determine this is with a blood test, so always ask for a blood test to determine exactly whether you are deficient in copper, iron, or some other nutrient that is causing your anemia.

Taking iron supplements instead of copper, for example, will not cure your anemia if the true cause is a copper deficiency. Commonly, multiple nutrient deficiencies lead to anemia, which is another benefit to having full blood work done to check your nutrient profile.

Reversing Copper-Deficient Anemia

Reversing a copper deficiency is simply a matter of adding more copper back into the diet. However, this can also be tricky as too much copper carries its own risks and side effects that are just as bad or worse as anemia. The USDA recommends that adults consume no more than 2 mg of copper daily (pregnant women can consume slightly more at about 2.5 mg). Consuming this through diet is not that difficult, as some foods naturally carry levels of copper.

Foods High in Copper
  • Liver
  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts
  • Chickpeas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Raisins
  • Goat cheese
  • Lentils
  • Kale
  • Chocolate
  • Chia seeds

One to two servings of these foods daily is enough to maintain healthy copper levels. However, supplementing with copper to restore your body's optimal copper level can also help reverse anemia, but should be monitored closely. Do not take more than 1 mg of copper supplements per day.

Other Health Benefits of Copper

Copper is the third-most prevalent trace mineral in the body and is used in hundreds of the body's systems. Copper is essential for the following systems:


If you are low in copper, your metabolism will likely be more sluggish. Copper is necessary for about 50 of your metabolic enzyme reactions. Copper is also used in the brain, nervous system, digestive system, and cardiovascular system.

Energy Production

Copper is a catalyst in the reduction of oxygen to water at the molecular level, which is necessary to synthesize ATP, the fuel of the body. Low ATP levels lead to fatigue and weak muscles.

Brain Function

Copper is used in the brain pathways that involve galactose and dopamine. These neurotransmitters keep energy up, boost mood, and focus the brain. Without copper, your brain will struggle to keep these functions up.

Nervous System

Copper protects the myelin sheath, which is the layer that surrounds the nerves. Copper stimulates the brain and helps transporter proteins that fire neurons in the brain. Copper works similarly to stimulant medication in individuals with attention problems or ADHD.

Additional Nutrients for Anemia Support

As the studies mentioned earlier state, anemia is often caused by multiple nutrient deficiencies rather than just one. Commonly, individuals with anemia are low in selenium, copper, iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid.


Iron is essential for preventing iron-deficient anemia. Copper deficiencies can make it harder to absorb iron, which means that being low in one often means you are low in another. Iron overdosing is possible, so it is important to monitor your iron intake if you choose to supplement with iron for anemia.

Zinc and Vitamin C

Zinc deficiencies can also be a cause of anemia, particularly in pregnant women. However, you should never take a zinc supplement without a copper supplement, because copper deficiencies are more common than zinc and too much zinc will actually deplete any of the copper you have in your body. Vitamin C boosts the absorption of iron and other trace minerals, which is especially important if you are taking medication that interferes with vitamin absorption or have a digestive disorder.


Individuals with anemia are often low in zinc, iron, and selenium. Selenium is commonly found in shellfish, which may be one reason why many Americans are lacking in the nutrient. Selenium supplements work well both in fighting the symptoms of anemia but also the brain-related side effects of anemia.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiencies cause a certain form of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. Supplementing with vitamin B12 will reduce this form of anemia and support the healing of any other form of anemia by providing more energy and brainpower.

Folic Acid

A deficiency in folic acid may also cause megaloblastic anemia. Folic acid deficiency is not as common as the others, as many of our grains and breads sold in grocery stores are supplemented with folic acid. However, if you are on medication or oral contraceptives you have a higher risk of a folic acid deficiency.

Copper Deficiencies May Cause Anemia

Although not as well known, copper deficiencies can also lead to anemia just like iron deficiencies. All trace elements are incredibly important and necessary for preventing anemia and many other common diseases and disorders. Try to consume optimal levels of all of the trace minerals necessary in the body each day and you will reverse anemia symptoms in just a few weeks.





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