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Copper is essential for enzymes involved in metabolic reactions that consume oxygen or oxygen radicals. Copper functions as an antioxidant with the copper-requiring enzyme superoxide dismutase, which protects cell membranes from free radical damage. In addition, oxidation of ferrous iron to ferric iron (a reaction needed for hemoglobin synthesis) requires copper. Lysyl oxidase is another copper-requiring enzyme necessary for synthesizing collagen and healing wounds.
Copper is also needed in reactions related to respiration and the release of energy. Recent research indicates a role of dietary copper in reducing heart disease by significantly affecting the composition and progression of atherosclerotic lesions.
Absorption of copper is relatively high in humans, generally between 55% and 75% except at very high intakes (where it is reduced to less than 10%). The best food sources are oysters and shellfish, nuts, grains, and legumes, although the copper content of vegetables, fruits, and meats varies considerably.
Copper is relatively nontoxic to most mammals, including humans. An FAO/WHO Expert Committee specified intakes of 0.5mg per kg body weight as safe, or ~25mg per day for a typical adult.
For additional information (including a list of references), please refer to the copper technical bulletin at