Mention copper and you’re likely to think of pennies, pots and pipes — but this essential mineral also plays a major role in keeping you healthy. Over-reliance on processed foods may be responsible for Americans’ lower levels of copper intake relative to the rest of the world. Below we provide the latest round-up of research on copper’s potential health benefits, plus suggestions on dietary copper sources.

Heart Health: Duke researchers have linked lower dietary copper intakes with high triglycerides, high cholesterol and high blood pressure — all known risk factors for heart disease. A very recent Italian study appeared to confirm these results, while also demonstrating lower levels of C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker for heart disease) among those in the top 10% of dietary copper intake.

Cancer Prevention: Analyzing data from over 3,000 subjects, University of Texas scientists discovered that those in the top fourth of dietary copper intake were 66% less likely to suffer from lung cancer than those in the lowest fourth.

Pregnancy Health: Chinese researchers found that mothers of premature babies were low on copper, suggesting that deficient copper could undermine collagen production, contributing to a more precarious pregnancy. Other animal research suggests that copper deficiency during pregnancy could lead to lower levels of certain enzymes needed for infants’ brain development.

Bone Health: Copper is necessary for the construction of the cartilage framework upon which bones are built. One study found that dieting women with higher copper intakes kept more calcium in their bones than those with lower intakes.

Food Source Quantity RDA – %*
Oysters, Pacific 3 oz, cooked 253%
Lobster 3 oz, cooked 183%
Alaska King Crab 3 oz, cooked 112%
Soybeans 1 cup, cooked 78%
Shiitake Mushrooms About 4 mushrooms, cooked 72%
Cashews 1 oz 69%
Clams 3 oz, cooked 65%
Sunflower seeds 1 oz 57%

* Source data is USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 (2007)

 Published September 1, 2008