Acquired Copper Deficiency

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Acquired Copper Deficiency


Acquired copper deficiency is a very rare disease of the blood and nervous system, caused by insufficient intake of the trace element copper. The rarity of copper deficiency arises from the presence of copper in a wide variety of food sources, and the very low daily intake requirement for the mineral.

Copper is essential to the normal function of many enzymes. In 2001, copper deficiency was also linked to a number of neurological disorders.



Generally, acquired copper deficiency will be due to a defect of biological mechanisms regulating copper absorption.

Surgical procedures aimed at restricting parts of the gastrointestinal system to aid weight loss may disrupt digestion, resulting in loss of the ability to absorb essential minerals and nutrients, such as copper.

Excessive consumption of zinc is also associated with copper deficiency. Zinc is a common component of many medications and ointments.

Celiac disease has also been suggested to be a cause of copper deficiency, due to impaired nutrient absorption.       


Symptoms and diagnosis

Copper is involved in a large number of bodily functions, and a deficiency therefore results in a large range of symptoms. These include:

·         Anaemia;

·         Fatigue;

·         Depression;

·         Decreased white blood cell count;

·         Osteoporosis; and

·         Nerve damage.

Usually, a deficiency of copper is diagnosed based on the identification of symptoms and subsequent blood tests and biopsies indicating low copper levels. Due to the rarity of the condition, the symptoms of copper deficiency are often misdiagnosed.



Following diagnosis, a copper supplement is gradually administered to the patient, either orally or via a drip (intravenously). If the cause of copper deficiency is known to be zinc intoxication, intake of zinc in the patient’s diet will be restricted and monitored closely.

Physical symptoms are usually restored to normal quickly. Further treatment may be required for neurological damage, and residual neurological impairment is likely. 

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