Copper is a trace mineral that you need in very small amounts, but it has many vital roles for everyday processes. The mineral’s ability to give and take electrons lowers the levels of free radicals in your system. Free radicals tend to damage healthy cells and cause cancer, heart disease and other chronic ailments. Copper even produces energy in cells, aids in making connective tissue, supports the function of iron and keeps your brain going. While it’s very rare to have a low copper level, the effects can be dangerous.
Some of the enzymes that copper produce transform ferrous iron into the ferric form. This function is important because your system can’t really utilize iron until it turns into free ferric iron. After the conversion process, proteins in your blood can easily pick up the free iron molecules to carry around oxygen to vital organs and to produce new red blood cells. But when you don’t have enough copper in your system, that transformation process is limited and your system doesn’t get the iron it needs to thrive, a condition known as anemia. Your red blood cell count drops, oxygen transportation slows down and as a result, you may feel overly tired all the time.
Increased Risk of Infection
Copper plays a role in developing new white blood cells. These are the cells that combat foreign bacteria in your body and keep you healthy. But when your copper levels plunge, so does your white blood cell count. You’re more susceptible to getting sick or suffering from some type of infection -- a flu, common cold or something more serious -- since your body cannot defend itself.
Having a low copper level could increase your risk of developing osteoporosis, especially if you were born at a low weight and had a copper deficiency from birth. Copper is essential for regular growth and development, particularly bone growth. If you don’t have enough copper from the beginning, your bones might not develop properly. Later on down the line, such as after menopause, you could have brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures.
Your copper level could be low if you’re not meeting your recommendation. You need 900 micrograms a day, unless you’re pregnant or breast-feeding. In these cases, your required amount goes up to 1,000 micrograms and 1,300 micrograms a day, respectively, reports the Linus Pauling Institute. Because it comes from so many foods -- organ meats, clams, crab, nuts, mushrooms, lentils and chocolate, to name a few -- a poor intake isn’t likely to be the primary cause of low copper. If you have malabsorption issues like celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic diarrhea, your body might not be able to absorb the copper you need, resulting in a deficiency. You could also be at risk if you have cystic fibrosis, have had a gastric bypass surgery or if you’re severely ill and require tube feeding.