Should you be worried about a mineral deficiency? Er, maybe. Let’s consider the mineral, copper. Your body needs teensy amounts of copper (yes, the same metal that’s on your pipes and pennies) to stay in tip-top shape.

Copper supports your brain, blood, bones, and metabolism. Plus, it helps your body break down iron, which is essential for energy and strength. If you have a copper deficiency, all these parts of your bod may be affected.

So, how do you know if you’ve got copper probs? Here’s how to spot and fix a copper deficiency.

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According to the National Institutes of Health, copper deficiency is a tricky diagnosis because so many of the symptoms mimic more common conditions like a vitamin B12 deficiency or anemia.

Common symptoms of a copper deficiency include:

  • Exhaustion. Copper helps your body absorb iron. And when you don’t get enough iron, you feel tired and weak.
  • Getting sick more than usual. Since copper plays a role in immune function, a deficiency could mean you’re more likely to get sick.
  • Brittle, easily broken bones. Copper plays a part in strengthening your bones, according to a 2013 research review. A deficiency could lead to osteoporosis.
  • Memory loss. Copper is essential for healthy brain function. One study found that folks with Alzheimer’s have up to 70 percent less copper in their brains than the general population.
  • Unsteady walking. Yep, a 2010 case report said that copper deficiency can lead to poor balance and lack of coordination ( 💫 the more you know).
  • Sensitivity to cold. Lack of copper = low thyroid levels, according to a small study. And low thyroid levels = feeling cold AF.
  • Paler skin than usual. Copper plays a small role in your body’s production of melanin. This affects skin color.
  • Premature graying. Lack of copper = goodbye melanin, hello monochrome mane.
  • Vision probs. Long-term copper deficiency can damage your optic nerves, according to a 2014 case report. This can manifest as blurry vision, bad night vision, or loss of color vision.

Remember, these symptoms can signify other health probs too. Don’t try to self-diagnose. If you think there’s a chance your body isn’t getting enough copper, call your doc.

Obviously, deficiencies happen when your body isn’t getting enough of a certain vitamin or mineral. A copper deficiency usually means you’re not absorbing enough of the copper you eat.

Conditions like celiac disease or Menkes disease can lead to malabsorption. Stomach surgeries can also affect your copper absorption. Other times, your stomach stops absorbing copper because it’s absorbing other supplements and minerals (we’re lookin’ at you, zinc).

A copper deficiency might trigger hair loss and premature gray hair.

Like we said earlier, copper is a key player in your body’s melanin production line. And melanin is what gives your hair (and skin) its color.

Because of the connection, some doctors believe low copper levels can lead to premature graying. However, no studies have proven that a copper deficiency itself leads to silver locks, we just have the melanin connection.

When it comes to hair loss, one 2013 study of people with alopecia — a health condition that causes hair loss — also failed to find a link between copper deficiency and amount of hair loss.

Vitamins and hair health

Copper isn’t the only possible cause of hair loss or early grays. Lots of vitamin deficiencies can make your hair go limp, dry, or gray.

A few hair heroes include:

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Only a doctor can determine if you have a copper deficiency. That said, some factors increase your risk.

  • You take zinc supplements.
  • You’ve had stomach or gastric surgeries — bariatric surgery, gastrectomy, etc.
  • You have a gut absorption condition like celiac or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

To figure out if you have a copper deficiency, your doc will ask for

  • your health history
  • a list of supplements and meds you take on the reg
  • details about your symptoms

Your doctor will probably order a blood test. Copper levels that are 30+ percent lower than normal usually indicate a deficiency.

Since multiple factors can influence your blood’s copper levels, the test results won’t be an automatic diagnosis. It’s up to healthcare professionals to weigh your blood test results along with other information about your health and symptoms.

That depends on why your levels are low!

If your zinc supplements affect your copper absorption, your doctor will probably ask you to cut back on the zinc or take it at a different time.

If you’re not getting enough copper from food, your doc will probably recommend a copper supplement. Most folks will take 2 milligrams of copper gluconate, copper sulfate, or copper chloride each day.

In cases of severe deficiency, some docs recommend intravenous (IV) infusions of copper.

Because copper deficiency can mimic other problems, it’s super important to talk with your doctor before buying a bottle of copper pills.

How long until I feel better?

A 2014 case report suggested that it takes at least 4 weeks of supplementation to get low copper levels back in the safe zone.

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TBH, you don’t need much copper to keep your levels on the up and up. The average daily recommended intake for adults is about 0.9 milligrams, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Most folks get enough from whole-grain bread and cereal, but there are other stellar foods to help top up your copper supply:

  • oysters (just 3 medium oysters give you what you need for the day!)
  • crab meat (3 ounces = your daily recommended value)
  • cashews (a couple of handfuls = your daily recommended value)
  • sunflower seeds (a couple of handfuls = your daily recommended value)
  • broccoli
  • potatoes
  • bananas

Eventually, a copper deficiency can lead to anemia, pancytopenia, or ataxia.

  • Anemia. This means you don’t have enough red blood cells, which interferes with your body’s ability to deliver energy-giving oxygen to your organs and muscles.
  • Pancytopenia. This results from low red and white blood cells *and* platelets. The result is a sub-par immune system, overall weakness, and excess bleeding.
  • Ataxia. According to the National Ataxia Foundation, this neurological condition causes slurred speech, trouble walking, and a greater lack of coordination than usual.

Sometimes long-term copper deficiency also weakens your bones, hair, and skin.

Moral of the story? If you think you have a copper deficiency, talk with your doctor!

The takeaway

  • Copper deficiency is rare, but it can be serious if left untreated.
  • Most folks with a copper deficiency either take too much zinc, have had stomach surgery, or have digestive conditions such as celiac or Crohn’s disease.
  • It’s easy to treat a copper deficiency with supplements or dietary changes. Just don’t self-diagnose and self-treat — too much copper isn’t good for you.
  • If you think you’re deficient, talk with your doc. Most folks can correct low levels within a few weeks.
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