By Dr. Mercola
Copper has been emphasized as an element that's needed to support proper health, since the body uses it for bone growth, nerve conduction, hormone secretion and more.1 The European Copper Institute notes that it may promote positive impacts to the blood vessels, heart and immune system, and that a deficiency may actually lead to different health problems.2
There are numerous forms of copper that have been discovered through scientific research, such as copper sulfate. It's also one of the many types of copper added to copper supplements in the market today, with other examples including cupric oxide, copper gluconate and copper amino acid chelates.3
Upon closer inspection, however, copper sulfate isn't a substance that you would want anywhere near your body. Read more and to out what exactly copper sulfate is, what it can be used for and the probable side effects that can arise because of it.
What Is Copper Sulfate?
Copper sulfate is an inorganic compound made by combining two elements, sulfur and copper. This substance is mainly used as a pesticide in agricultural or nonagricultural practices to help eliminate bacteria, algae, roots, plants, snails and fungi. This effect occurs because the copper binds to proteins in fungi and algae and damages the cells, causing them to leak and die. In mollusks like snails, copper tends to disrupt the normal function of the skin cells and enzymes.4
Copper sulfate, according to the PubChem Open Chemistry Database, may also go by the name copper (II) sulfate. It has a molecular formula of CuSO4 or CuO4S. Copper (II) sulfate is not to be confused with copper (I) sulfate, which has a molecular formula of Cu2O4S,5 or with copper (II) sulfate pentahydrate, which has a molecular formula of CuSO4.5H2O.6 Usually, copper sulfate may appear as grayish-white to greenish-white crystals that have a rhombic shape.7
A person may be exposed to copper sulfate when it gets on your skin or when you breathe it in or accidentally eat or drink a product containing this substance. One way this type of exposure to copper sulfate can occur is if you come into contact with it on your hands, and subsequently eat or smoke without washing them first. Once copper sulfate is inhaled or taken internally, it rapidly enters the bloodstream, moves throughout the body, binds to proteins and enters different organs.8
As mentioned above, some copper supplements contain copper sulfate. Beware of these, however, since the inorganic copper they use is similar to the more toxic type of copper from corroding pipes, which eventually end up in your water. Supplements containing inorganic forms of copper like this won't do your body any good and must be avoided.
Copper Sulfate's Uses
Copper sulfate can be utilized as a pesticide for the following, either in agricultural and nonagricultural settings:
- Algaecide (prevents the growth of algae)
- Molluscicide (substances that kill mollusks9)
- Root killer
Copper sulfate is also used in industrial applications, particularly for textiles, leather, wood, batteries, ink, petroleum, paint and metal, among others. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, copper sulfate can serve as a drying agent particularly in the anhydrous form, as an additive for fertilizers and foods, and as an animal nutrition supplement. Copper sulfate may also act as an emetic that triggers nausea and vomiting10 and serve as an antidote for poisoning caused by phosphorus.11,12
Studies on Copper Sulfate
Studies have been conducted on the effects of copper sulfate, but they mostly involve animal subjects. Research that tackles copper sulfate's effects on human participants is quite rare. Unfortunately, the following animal studies didn't yield any favorable results:
- Biotechnic & Histochemistry (January 2014)13 — According to this study, exposure of Hubbard broiler chicks to toxic levels of copper sulfate led to developmental and oxidative brain damage.
- Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology (October 2016)14 — This study highlighted that copper sulfate and nanoparticle copper damaged the liver and the kidney of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), with the former causing more severe damages.
- Topics in Companion Animal Medicine (March 2017)15 — In this case, a 2-year-old mongrel dog experienced acute respiratory failure and respiratory tree damage after inhaling copper sulfate powder, leading to pulmonary hemorrhage. Although the dog survived, this is a clear indication of how copper sulfate can be toxic to companion animals.
- Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety (February 2018)16 — Researchers pointed out that unrestricted contamination of the soil with both copper oxide and copper sulfate can result in an unwanted shift in the immunological status of an earthworm, potentially leading to an immunocompromised condition and/or a shrinkage in the earthworms’ population density in the natural habitat.
Always remember that copper can lead to adverse effects if taken in higher quantities. Before taking any copper supplement, talk to your doctor about the proper dosage. Avoid taking any copper supplements in excess of between 50 and 100 micrograms without the proper guidance of a physician.
Copper Sulfate Side Effects to Watch Out For
Copper sulfate may trigger skin and eye irritation, since the substance may be corrosive in these areas. The compound can be readily absorbed through the skin as well, leading to a burning pain. Other possible effects of copper sulfate in the skin include allergic reactions, as it's considered a skin sensitizer, and itching or eczema. On the other hand, if copper sulfate comes into contact with the eyes , it may lead to the following effects:
- Inflammation of the eyelid lining
- Excess fluid build-up in the eyelid
- Cornea tissue deterioration due to breaks or ulceration in the eye's mucous membrane
- Clouding of the cornea
Ingesting large amounts of copper sulfate may cause nausea, vomiting and damage to body tissues, blood cells, liver and kidneys. The substance can also lead to side effects like:
A metallic taste in the mouth
Burning pain in the chest and abdomen
Discontinued urination that causes a yellowing of the skin
Copper sulfate poisoning may cause injury to the brain, liver, kidneys and stomach and intestinal linings. Shock and even death can occur with extreme exposures. Copper sulfate may also affect animals, causing poisoning and triggering adverse side effects such as a lack of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, shock and death. In some cases, diarrhea and vomit may have a green or blue color.17,18
Copper Sulfate Is Useful, but Not for Improving Health
Copper sulfate's main purpose as a pesticide against various agents is an alarming red flag, and the little research surrounding it (at least on human subjects) should warrant extreme concern, especially if marketed as a supplement.
If you're concerned about regulating the amount of copper inside your body and want to optimize your levels of this mineral, it would be wise to maintain a proper balance between copper and zinc. You can eat zinc-rich foods or take high-quality zinc supplements, provided that you consult a doctor about it, to achieve the right balance between these two minerals.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Copper Sulfate
Q: What is copper sulfate used for?
A: Copper sulfate is mainly used as an algaecide, bactericide, fungicide, molluscicide and root killer. However, industrial applications may call for the use of copper sulfate as well, in areas involving textiles, leather, wood, batteries, ink, petroleum, pain and metal.
Q: Is copper sulfate soluble in water?
A: Yes. The PubChem Open Chemistry Database notes that copper sulfate is water-soluble.
Q: Where can you buy copper sulfate?
A: The substance itself can be bought from various chemical companies. As for copper sulfate supplements, it's not advisable to take these supplements so it's best to avoid purchasing them.