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Copper in health
 Balancing trace elements 
Sources of minerals
The intake of adequate copper is, on its own, not good enough. Minerals interact in the body, working as a team. The advice of research scientists is to regard copper, iron and zinc as an essential trio - too much of one can hamper the body's ability to absorb or process the other two. Deficiency diseases may then result.

Periodic table highlighting iron, copper and zinc
Picture 5. The trio of essential micronutrients are all transition metals and are close to each other in the periodic table.
Sources of minerals
Mineral Functions in human body Deficiency/
Common food sources
Iron anaemia
  • liver
  • red meat
  • spinach
  • enzyme cofactor (carbonic anhydrase - carriage of carbon dioxide; carboxypeptidase - protein digestion)
  • most foods

For example:
  • zinc inhibits copper - too much zinc can inhibit the absorption of copper. This may result in poor copper status in the body, which over time may lead to bone abnormalities, problems with the heart and circulation and impaired immunity.
  • iron needs copper - without adequate copper, iron cannot be converted to its most useful ferric form; copper is also necessary for the transport of iron to and from the tissues.

The ankh symbol
Picture 6. The Egyptians used the ankh symbol to denote copper in their system of hieroglyphs. It also represented eternal life.


Copper is increasingly being recognised as an essential micronutrient. A growing body of research indicates that, as part of a balanced diet, an adequate intake of copper is vital to ensure a wide range of health benefits.

Question 5
Look at the table below. Across the top it shows the three mineral micronutrients iron, copper and zinc. The headings down the left hand side show features associated with these micronutrients. Each of these might be relevant to one, two or all three of the micronutrients.

Decide which micronutrients are associated with which effect and tick the relevant boxes.

iron copper zinc
Enzyme cofactor
Oxygen carrier
Synthesis of collagen
Contained in:
Deficiency can lead to:
Degeneration of nervous system
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