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7 Clear Symptoms of Copper Deficiency

This article summarizes the deficiency symptoms of copper. We will discuss what are the Symptoms of Copper Deficiency, its signs, copper deficiency side effects, as well why copper deficiency causes sideroblastic anemia.

Copper is an essential mineral that covers many functions in the body, even in the low amounts that are required. Although this problem is not very common, copper deficiency causes countless problems that can compromise your health and harm your body.

This element acts by maintaining the correct metabolic activity and promoting adequate strength at the bone level (yes, not only calcium covers its demand). In America (Canada and the United States) it is quite frequent specific moments with copper deficiency (up to 25%)

The lack of copper is not only caused by not taking foods rich in this metal, but also by the over-intake of other elements that reduce its absorption rate.

In this article, we want to teach you the causes of copper deficiency, the first symptoms, and the foods rich in this essential nutrient.

Symptoms of Copper Deficiency

Let’s see the low copper levels symptoms and copper deficiency signs. 

1. Vision loss

Sight is one of the most precious organs that we punish the most days with the use of computers and screens that emit artificial light.

In turn, eating habits influence visual acuity and the quality of being able to maintain it for years.

Copper acts as a transporter for many enzymes that connect the nervous system to the organ of vision. Therefore, a lack of this microelement causes vision loss and can be permanent in the most severe cases.

In most cases, the loss of vision caused by the absence of copper is reversible, no improvement in vision has been found by increasing its intake.

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2. Fatigue and weakness

A cause of feeling weak, decay and fatigue could be not covering the desired levels of copper.  An important cause of this problem is that it collaborates with the absorption of iron at the intestinal level, so the problem is aggravated.

Anemia or lack of an adequate level of iron causes weakness, which in turn has its origin in the low level of iron. This is because iron is necessary to transport oxygen to all muscle groups, so the lack of it leads to problems at the level of joints and muscle movements.

Does fatigue only come from a lack of iron?

It is not only for this reason since copper is also necessary to produce the energy source of the organism (ATP or adenosine triphosphate). In any case, the synergy between copper and iron is acting in several ways to keep us in an active and energetic state.

Copper deficiency causes fatigue and weakness to reduce ATP production, but also limits the absorption of iron, involved in the transport of oxygen to all muscle groups.

The origin of many problems and diseases are caused by a deficiency of copper in the body, at least in its origin, and this is linked to the eating habits we have.

The immune system influences the ability or sensitivity we have to cope with bacteria and viruses. In this, copper has a lot to say, as it contributes to the good maintenance of the immune system.

The white blood cell levels are intimately related to the levels of copper we store in our metabolism. In turn, this makes us more likely to contract diseases (pneumonia, flu, colds, etc.) if our body does not have enough weapons to fight infections. [See functions of copper]

A copper deficiency is linked to a decrease in the manufacture of Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that attacks pathogenic microorganisms when they enter the body.

A lack of copper harms the immune system, which can cause a greater percentage of times that we get sick.

3. Loss of melanin in the skin and gray hair

The pigment Melanin is what contributes to characterizing the color of the skin, increasing when we are exposed to the Sun in the summer.

That one person has a lighter skin tone than another means that he has a lower concentration of these pigments, and in turn is related to the accumulation of copper in the body.

The enzymes that produce melanin need the copper micronutrient as a catalyst. A lack of this element causes, in the short term, greater paleness in the skin.

At the capillary level, copper is also involved in the accumulation of melanin in the hair, so it causes anticipation in gray hair. In this aspect, there is a lack of contribution and studies to correctly analyze the relationship between gray hair and copper deficiency.

4. Weakening of the bone system

Not only calcium or magnesium act in the construction of the bone system. A diet based on foods rich in calcium and magnesium does not guarantee strong, shock-resistant bones. In this regard, copper has a lot to say, since it acts as the glue of bone tissue, helping to create new structures and reinforcing existing ones.

This role is performed based on the production of osteoblasts, cells responsible for forming the bone tissue of our body.

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5. Lack of memory and quality in learning

Although there are vitamin supplements on the market to help retain information in our heads, if we have copper deficiency we will continue to maintain the same problem.

Copper is closely linked to brain activity and the formation of neural connections. It is a great catalyst for energy transfer processes to the brain, so the lack of this mineral reduces brain activity.

In such a case, we will notice problems in memory retention and the ability to think and act correctly. This is very important, as the relationship between copper and Alzheimer’s or senile dementia is currently being analyzed.

6. Temperature sensitivity

There is a studied relationship between the sensation of cold due to low temperatures and copper deficiency.

This is because this element, together with zinc, intervene in the functionality of the thyroid gland.

If at the blood level we can not enjoy an adequate level of copper, the hormone levels T3 and T4 are considerably reduced, limiting the functionality of this gland.

The sensation of cold and heat is regulated by the thyroid, as it influences many regulatory aspects of the body. This has been documented in more than 80% of patients with copper deficiency.

7. Deficiency Symptoms of Copper: Reduction of Motor Activity 

A person suffering from a significant lack of copper may have difficulty performing activities that involve movement for the lower musculoskeletal system. Copper is related to the health of the spinal cord, through the function of certain enzymes that act in this part of the body.

This is linked to the signals that occur between the brain and the spinal cord, so in the long term, it is as if we are paralyzed.

A lack of copper studied in animals has led to the conclusion that there is a decrease of almost 60% in the signals between the brain and the spinal cord.

Deficiency Symptoms of Copper

How Does Copper Deficiency Cause Sideroblastic Anemia

In the following paragraphs, we will explain why copper deficiency causes sideroblastic anemia and what is the mechanism by which this type of anemia can occur.

In general, we relate anemias to iron deficiency in the diet. However, in this anemia the amount of iron supplied by the diet is adequate, but it is not mobilized correctly. The body seeks to compensate for this, so serum levels of iron, ferritin, and transferrin are usually increased.

Let’s discuss why it cannot be mobilized. Sideroblastic anemias are defective iron utilization anemias characterized by inadequate utilization of marrow iron for heme synthesis, despite the presence of adequate iron concentrations.

Sideroblastic anemias can be acquired or congenital.

Congenital sideroblastic anemia is due to one of several numerous Z-linked or autosomal mutations and is generally a microcytic-hypochromic anemia.

Acquired sideroblastic anemia is frequently associated with myelodysplastic syndrome (but can be caused by drugs or toxins) and causes macrocytic anemia.

In both acquired and congenital sideroblastic anemia, heme group synthesis is impaired due to the inability to incorporate iron into protoporphyrin IX, leading to the formation of ring sideroblasts.

The sideroblastic anemia that can be produced by copper deficiency is not congenital but acquired and is of the macrocytic type. Congenital sideroblastic anemias are of the microcytic type.

Most often, acquired sideroblastic anemias are part of a myelodysplastic syndrome.

Less common causes of acquired sideroblastic anemias include:

  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency.
  • Copper deficiency (possibly caused by ingestion of zinc, which prevents copper absorption in the gastrointestinal tract).
  • Administration of certain drugs (e.g., chloramphenicol, cycloserine, isoniazid, linezolid, pyrazinamide)
  • Ingestion of toxins (including ethanol and lead).

The deficiency symptoms of copper when the diagnosis is a copper deficiency are easy to correct in a short time. During the COVID-19 pandemic patients auto-medicated with zinc supplements frequently showed sideroblastic anemia caused by the lack of absorption of copper by zinc ingestion. After stopping taking the zinc supplement and integrating some foods rich in copper, the anemia was fully corrected one month after.

However, it is important to receive the full diagnosis from the physician to receive a proper diagnosis looking for the signs and symptoms of copper deficiency as a possible cause of sideroblastic anemia.

Foods Rich in Copper

Once we have known the disorders created by the absence of copper, we will know what foods we can take rich in this essential micronutrient.

Taking a varied diet, it is rare to suffer from this deficiency, since it is usually present in a multitude of foods.

The main ones are as follows:

For a consumption of 200 kcal of each food:

  1. Mollusks and clams: 39 mg
  2. Veal, veal liver: 17 mg
  3. Duck liver: 9 mg
  4. Coffee (with and without caffeine): 10 mg
  5. Algae (spirulina): 4 mg
  6. Squid and crustaceans: 4 mg
  7. Mushrooms: 4 mg
  8. Capers: 3 mg
  9. Beets: 2 mg
  10. Tomato juice: 2 mg

The recommended daily allowance of copper (RDA) is 0.9 mg daily. We can also find it in foods such as dark chocolate (100 g provides 88% RDA) and nuts and other nut fruits such as almonds (28 grams provide 35% RDA).

As you can see, it is quite simple, even taking a vegetarian or vegan diet, to cover the daily needs of copper.

Almond consumption and copper deficiency

Food Supplements for Deficiency Symptoms of Copper

What if We Take Too Much Copper?

Although the whole article has been focused on not having enough levels of this microelement, we can also go over and accumulate it in excess. In this case, there are also consequences that can become serious, in what is known as copper toxicity.

Some of the side effects caused by a high concentration of this micronutrient are the following:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Palpitations and irregular heartbeat.
  • Headache
  • Stomach pain
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Jaundice
  • Coma
  • Reduced blood pressure

However, having such high levels of copper simply by eating food is very rare and is usually associated with other pathologies, since the body absorbs not all copper.

About Andrew Parkinson

Andrew Parkinson is a highly accomplished pharmacist with a passion for improving healthcare. With a wealth of experience in both community and clinical pharmacy settings, he's known for his dedication to patient well-being. Mr. Parkinson actively engages in medication management, offering personalized solutions and promoting better health outcomes. He has also played a pivotal role in educating patients on proper medication usage and potential interactions. Andrew's commitment to advancing the field of pharmacy and ensuring safe and effective drug therapies has garnered him recognition as a trusted and invaluable healthcare professional, making a positive impact on countless lives.

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