Key Findings

  • Zinc and copper are trace minerals. Together, they promote health of the digestive, immune, and nervous systems.
  • When zinc and copper are balanced, they can accomplish both their individual and cooperative functions. However, an imbalance can lead to deficiencies and health problems.
  • In the diet, zinc usually comes from animal sources and copper usually comes from plant-based foods.

A delicate balance

The link between zinc and copper is complicated – not unlike many other nutrient combinations. When ingested in suitable proportions, both important minerals work together to support immune system response, good digestion, nervous system function, and other key life-maintaining functions. However, their interaction becomes antagonistic when either one or the other is outside of its recommended range. Like two children playing on a teeter-totter or see-saw, as one nutrient level declines the other rises, simultaneously resulting in both deficiency and excess conditions which can have disastrous consequences on the body.

To maintain a healthy balance of these two essential trace elements, you should eat a well-rounded diet that includes both animal and plant-based foods. Supplementation under the guidance of a physician or holistic practitioner may help people who are deficient in zinc or copper to achieve a healthy balance.

The zen of zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral, which means you only need to ingest a very small amount of it every day (8 mg a day for women, and 11 milligrams a day for men). But don’t be fooled by the small number – zinc is a very important nutrient and is required for a wide variety of important functions. The body uses zinc to activate at least 100 different kinds of enzymes.

Zinc assists in the activation of T lymphocytes, which can destroy diseased cells and help in coordinating immune responses. Supplementing with zinc can sometimes stop a cycle of recurring ear and respiratory infections. Many sufferers of the common cold (rhinovirus), rely on zinc lozenges. When taken in the first day of a cold, you can recover up to 40% faster.

When it comes to your digestive system, zinc may be able to help ease diarrhea and prevent this troublesome condition from returning in the future. Zinc makes your skin more resistant to bacteria, so it can help in the healing of chronic wounds and ulcers. It can also reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases, increase fertility and prevent retinal cell damage to delay the progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Zinc’s rival

Zinc is powerful, but it has a powerful rival: copper. The synthesis of many vital enzymes depends on copper. Copper is necessary for the production of red blood cells, for maintaining regular metabolic processes, and for the production of neurotransmitters. It also aids in the creation of strong bones, a healthy brain and a robust cardiovascular system.

A balanced life

Zinc and copper must be properly balanced in the body in order to maintain homeostasis, and the ideal ratio is 8:1 to 12:1. Both of these trace minerals are abundant in animal proteins, which constitute a good source because they occur in natural proportions. When levels are balanced , zinc and copper can work together synergistically to help you maintain a healthy digestive, neurological, and immune system.

Levels of zinc and copper are tied together. A deficiency of one element can lead to an excess of the other, which can cause a wide range of symptoms depending on which trace mineral is in abundance. For example, when copper is high and zinc is too low, you could experience fatigue, diarrhea, depression, hair loss, stunted growth and slow wound healing.

Best sources of copper and zinc

Going back to our illustration of a teeter-totter or see-saw, these two essential trace minerals also sit on opposite ends of our food spectrum. Plant foods are the primary source of copper, while animal products like meat and shellfish are the richest sources of zinc.

Zinc can be found in the following substances (listed alphabetically):

  • Baked beans
  • Beef
  • Crab
  • Egg yolks
  • Lobster
  • Organ meats
  • Pork
  • Raw oysters

And these foods are sources of copper:

  • Asparagus
  • Beans, including soybeans
  • Beef liver
  • Leafy greens
  • Nuts, like cashews and almonds
  • Organ meats
  • Oysters
  • Sesame seeds


To preserve the body’s delicate zinc–copper balance, eat a nutritionally balanced diet that includes both animal and plant foods. This will allow both essential trace elements to perform their individual jobs in the body, and to cooperate to keep your digestive, immune and nervous systems healthy. Supplementation under the supervision of a medical or holistic doctor may be recommended if you are unable to receive the minimum daily necessary amount of zinc.