Copper: Nootropic Benefits, Uses, Dosage, & Side Effects

a surreal and imaginative image of the neurological effects of copper as a nootropic

Copper is an essential trace mineral that plays a crucial role in brain function and cognitive processes.

As a nootropic, copper supplements have been studied for their potential to enhance memory, learning, focus, and mental energy.

However, excessive copper intake can lead to adverse effects.

This article explores the cognitive benefits, risks, recommended dosages, and best practices for copper supplementation.

What is Copper?

a photoreaslitic image of the nootropic compound copper and it's molecular structure.

Copper (Cu) is a reddish-brown transition metal with an atomic number of 29 and an atomic weight of 63.546 u.

It’s a ductile, malleable, and corrosion-resistant material widely used in electrical wiring due to its high conductivity of 59.6 × 106 S/m.

Copper has a density of 8.96 g/cm³ and a melting point of 1084.62°C.

It forms various alloys like brass and bronze, and compounds such as copper sulfate.

What Is the Role of Copper in Cognitive Enhancement?

Copper plays an essential role in cognitive function by supporting neurotransmitter synthesis, energy production, and antioxidant defense in the brain.

It’s a cofactor for enzymes involved in the synthesis of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that regulate mood, motivation, and cognitive processes.

Copper also aids in the production of ATP, the primary energy currency in brain cells.

Additionally, copper is a component of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an antioxidant enzyme that protects brain cells from oxidative stress.

How Does Copper Affect Brain Function and Cognitive Processes?

Copper influences several aspects of brain function and cognition:

Neurotransmitter synthesisCopper is required for the activity of dopamine β-hydroxylase, an enzyme that converts dopamine to norepinephrine. Adequate copper levels support balanced neurotransmitter production.(1)
Energy metabolismCopper is a cofactor for cytochrome c oxidase, a key enzyme in the electron transport chain that generates ATP in mitochondria. Optimal copper status ensures efficient energy production in brain cells.
Antioxidant defenseAs a component of SOD, copper helps neutralize reactive oxygen species (ROS) that can damage neurons and impair cognitive function.
Neuronal signalingCopper modulates the activity of NMDA receptors, which are involved in synaptic plasticity, learning, and memory formation.

Can Copper Supplements Enhance Cognitive Performance?

Some studies suggest that copper supplementation may improve certain aspects of cognitive performance and protect the brain from cognitive decline.(2)

However, more research is needed to establish the efficacy and safety of copper supplements for cognitive enhancement in healthy individuals.

How Can Copper Supplements Improve Memory and Learning Abilities?

Copper may enhance memory and learning by:

  • Supporting neurotransmitter synthesis and signaling involved in memory formation and recall.
  • Promoting synaptic plasticity and long-term potentiation (LTP), cellular mechanisms underlying learning and memory.
  • Protecting brain cells from oxidative damage that can impair memory function.

How Can Copper Supplements Enhance Focus, Attention, and Concentration?

Copper supplementation may improve focus, attention, and concentration by:

  • Optimizing dopamine and norepinephrine levels, neurotransmitters that regulate attention and cognitive control.
  • Supporting energy production in brain cells, ensuring adequate ATP supply for attentional processes.
  • Modulating NMDA receptor activity, which is involved in attentional regulation.
Improves attention spanSupports dopamine and norepinephrine synthesis
Enhances cognitive controlModulates NMDA receptor activity
Increases mental staminaOptimizes ATP production in brain cells

How Can Copper Supplements Boost Mental Energy and Alertness?

Copper supplements may boost mental energy and alertness by:

  • Enhancing mitochondrial function and ATP production in brain cells, providing the energy needed for cognitive processes.
  • Supporting the synthesis of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote arousal and vigilance.
  • Protecting brain cells from oxidative stress that can lead to mental fatigue and cognitive decline.

Copper is typically not taken as a standalone nootropic supplement.

Instead, it’s included as a component of multivitamin/mineral formulations or targeted supplements that aim to support overall brain health and cognitive function.

It’s also used to prevent or treat copper deficiency, which can have neurological symptoms such as numbness and weakness.

A photorealistic image of copper metal in a 3 dimensional sphere.

What Are the Risks and Side Effects of Copper Supplementation?

While copper is an essential nutrient, excessive intake can lead to adverse effects:

  1. Gastrointestinal distress: High doses of copper supplements (>10 mg/day) may cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  2. Liver toxicity: Chronic copper overload can damage the liver and lead to cirrhosis.
  3. Neurological symptoms: Excessive copper accumulation in the brain has been linked to neurological disorders like Wilson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
  4. Interactions with medications: Copper supplements may interact with antibiotics, penicillamine, and zinc supplements.

What Interactions or Contraindications Should Be Considered with Copper Supplements?

Copper supplements may interact with:

  • Zinc: High zinc intake can reduce copper absorption and lead to deficiency.
  • Iron: Copper and iron compete for absorption in the gut.
  • Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid enhances copper absorption and may increase the risk of toxicity.
  • Penicillamine: This medication, used to treat Wilson’s disease, can increase copper excretion and cause deficiency.

How Can Copper Levels Be Tested and Monitored?

Copper status can be assessed through:

  1. Serum copper: Measures the total amount of copper in the blood. Normal range: 70-140 μg/dL.
  2. Ceruloplasmin: A protein that binds and transports copper in the blood. Normal range: 20-60 mg/dL.
  3. 24-hour urine copper: Evaluates copper excretion. Normal range: 20-50 μg/day.

Regular monitoring of copper levels is recommended for individuals taking copper supplements to prevent toxicity.(3)

Who Should Avoid Copper Supplements?

The following groups should avoid copper supplements:

  • Individuals with Wilson’s disease or other genetic disorders affecting copper metabolism.
  • People with liver disease or a history of liver damage.
  • Pregnant women, as excessive copper intake may harm the fetus.
  • Individuals taking medications that interact with copper, such as penicillamine or high-dose zinc supplements.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for copper is:

Adults900 μg/day
Pregnant women1,000 μg/day
Lactating women1,300 μg/day

Copper supplements typically provide 2-4 mg of elemental copper per dose.

Important Note: Do not exceed the tolerable upper intake level (UL) of 10 mg/day to avoid toxicity.

How Do Antioxidants Like Vitamin C Affect Copper Absorption and Utilization?

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) enhances copper absorption in the gut by reducing copper ions from Cu2+ to Cu+, which is more readily absorbed.

However, excessive vitamin C intake (>1,000 mg/day) may increase the risk of copper toxicity by promoting its accumulation in tissues.

Vitamin C also acts as a cofactor for the enzyme that incorporates copper into ceruloplasmin, the main copper-binding protein in the blood.

Adequate vitamin C intake supports proper copper utilization and transport.

a photorealistic image of copper's molecular structure.

What Are the Different Forms of Copper Supplements?

Copper supplements are available in various forms:

  • Copper gluconate: A highly bioavailable form of copper bound to gluconic acid.
  • Copper citrate: Copper is chelated with citric acid for improved absorption.
  • Copper bis-glycinate: A well-tolerated form of copper bound to the amino acid glycine.
  • Copper sulfate: A common form of copper used in supplements, but may cause gastrointestinal side effects.

Pro Tip: Chelated forms of copper, such as copper gluconate and bis-glycinate, are generally better absorbed and less likely to cause digestive discomfortcompared to copper sulfate.

What is The Best Way To Take Copper Supplements?

To optimize copper absorption and minimize side effects, follow these 5 steps:

  1. Take copper supplements with a meal to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort.
  2. Avoid taking copper with high-dose zinc supplements, as zinc can interfere with copper absorption.
  3. Choose chelated forms of copper, such as copper gluconate or bisglycinate, for better tolerability.
  4. Start with a low dose (1-2 mg/day) and gradually increase if needed, monitoring for adverse effects.
  5. Consider dividing the dose into smaller amounts taken throughout the day to improve absorption and reduce the risk of toxicity.

What Are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Obtaining Copper from Dietary Sources?

Benefits of dietary copper:

  • Lower risk of toxicity compared to supplements.
  • Provides a balanced array of nutrients that work synergistically with copper.
  • May be more bioavailable than some supplemental forms.

Drawbacks of relying solely on dietary copper:

  • Difficulty in achieving optimal intake, especially for vegetarians and vegans.
  • Copper content in foods can vary depending on soil quality and agricultural practices.
  • Certain dietary factors, such as phytates and high zinc intake, can inhibit copper absorption.

Copper-rich foods include:

FoodCopper Content (mg per 100g)
Beef liver12.4
Shiitake mushrooms1.3

What Is the Relationship Between Copper and Other Nutrients or Compounds?

Copper interacts with several nutrients and compounds:

  1. Zinc: Copper and zinc compete for absorption in the gut. High zinc intake can lead to copper deficiency, while low zinc status may increase copper absorption and toxicity risk.
  2. Iron: Copper is required for the proper utilization of iron in the body. Copper deficiency can lead to anemia, even in the presence of adequate iron intake.
  3. Manganese: Copper and manganese are cofactors for the antioxidant enzyme SOD. A balance between these minerals is important for optimal antioxidant defense.
  4. Molybdenum: Copper and molybdenum are antagonists. High molybdenum intake can increase copper excretion and lead to deficiency.

How Does Copper Interact with Other Minerals and Vitamins?

Copper’s interactions with other minerals and vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: Copper is required for the synthesis of retinol-binding protein, which transports vitamin A in the blood.
  • Vitamin B12: Copper deficiency can impair vitamin B12 absorption and lead to megaloblastic anemia.
  • Vitamin C: Ascorbic acid enhances copper absorption and utilization, but excessive intake may increase toxicity risk.
  • Selenium: Copper and selenium are components of antioxidant enzymes (SOD and glutathione peroxidase, respectively) that work synergistically to protect cells from oxidative damage.

What Is the Importance of Copper-Zinc Balance for Cognitive Function?

Copper deficiency can impair zinc utilization, while zinc deficiency may lead to copper accumulation and toxicity.

But, why?

Copper and zinc are antagonists that compete for absorption and utilization in the body.

Zinc is required for the activity of numerous enzymes and transcription factors involved in brain development and function.

An imbalance in the copper-zinc ratio has been associated with cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Optimal copper-zinc balance supports:

  • Neurotransmitter synthesis and signaling
  • Antioxidant defense in the brain
  • Synaptic plasticity and memory formation
  • Neuroprotection against oxidative stress and inflammation

To maintain a healthy copper-zinc balance, it’s recommended to:

  • Consume a balanced diet with a variety of copper and zinc-rich foods.
  • Avoid excessive supplementation of either mineral.
  • Monitor copper and zinc levels through blood tests, especially if taking supplements.
  • Consider taking copper and zinc supplements in a balanced ratio (e.g., 1:8) under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Lutsenko, Svetlana et al. “Copper and the brain noradrenergic system.” Journal of biological inorganic chemistry : JBIC : a publication of the Society of Biological Inorganic Chemistry vol. 24,8 (2019): 1179-1188. doi:10.1007/s00775-019-01737-3
  2. Agarwal, Puja et al. “Brain copper may protect from cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease pathology: a community-based study.” Molecular psychiatry vol. 27,10 (2022): 4307-4313. doi:10.1038/s41380-022-01802-5
  3. Adlard, Paul A, and Ashley I Bush. “Metals and Alzheimer’s Disease: How Far Have We Come in the Clinic?.” Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD vol. 62,3 (2018): 1369-1379. doi:10.3233/JAD-170662

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.