Copper Toxicity

coppertoxicity

Copper is an essential trace mineral that is vitally important for both physical and mental health. It has been studied for years, including at government laboratories. However, its importance for health is still largely unappreciated. The following article is an introduction to the large subject of copper imbalance.

COPPER'S ROLE IN THE BODY

Copper has a number of important functions in the human body. The problem usually occurs when there is too much of it in the soft tissues of the body. Here are some of the important roles of copper:

1. Bones and connective tissue. Copper is required to fix calcium in the bones and to build and repair all connective tissue. This includes the tendons, ligaments, skin, hair, nails, arteries, veins and a few other tissues.

Imbalances can contribute to osteoporosis, bone spurs, and almost all conditions of the skin, hair and nails. Others symptoms related to connective tissue include most cardiovascular problems, tendon and ligament conditions, scoliosis, and other skeletal and structural imbalances as well.

2. Energy production in the cells. Copper is needed in the final steps of the Krebs energy cycle called the electron transport system. This is where most of our cellular energy is produced. Any problem here causes fatigue, depression and other imbalances related to low energy.

3. Immune Response. Copper must remain in balance with zinc. When imbalances occur, one is more prone to all infections, in particular fungal and yeast infections that are so common today. For example, most people have some intestinal yeast if they eat sugars and most people have chronic sinus infections if they have common symptoms such as post-nasal drip and others.

4. The glandular system, particularly the thyroid and adrenal glands. The thyroid gland is extremely sensitive to copper. In part this is due to its nature and how easily it is influenced by the sympathetic nervous system. Common conditions seen with copper imbalance include hypothyroidism and even hyperthyroidism of a particular type that is very common that I all secondary hyperthyroidism. Grave's disease usually due to stress, copper imbalance and often mercury as well. Anyone with a diagnosis of Grave's disease or hyperthyroidism should have a hair analysis performed at a lab that does not wash the hair and properly interpreted.

Most often, the problem goes away with a properly designed nutritional balancing program. Reducing all stress and balancing the body chemistry are both required to resolve the condition naturally in our experience. Drugs may be needed temporarily to control the symptoms. Surgery or radioactive iodine treatment and too drastic and not needed, in our experience so far.

5. Reproductive system. Copper is closely related to estrogen metabolism, and is required for women's fertility and to maintain pregnancy. Imbalance can cause every conceivable female organ-related difficulty such as premenstrual syndrome, ovarian cysts, infertility, miscarriages, sexual dysfunctions and more. It affects men less than women in this area, but it may affect men's potency and sexual drive as well as that of women.

6. Nervous system. Copper stimulates production of the neurotransmitters epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. It is also required for monoamine oxidase, an enzyme related to serotonin production. As a result, copper is involved deeply with all aspects of the central nervous system. Copper imbalances are highly associated with most psychological, emotional and often neurological conditions. These include memory loss, especially in young people, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and others discussed below.

THREE COPPER IMBALANCES

It is possible for a person to become copper-toxic, copper-deficient or to have a condition called biounavailable copper. The first two of these are fairly easy to understand. Copper is found in certain foods in greater quantity such as meats, eggs, poultry, nuts, seeds and grains.  Other foods are quite low in copper such as fruits, in particular. Others that tend to be low are vegetables and some nuts and grains.

Refined food diets are low in copper in many cases. Also, some, especially children, need much more copper than others. This has to do mainly with their metabolic type or body chemistry. Fast oxidizers need more copper while slow oxidizers often have too much. Those who we find are fast oxidizers require a lot more copper. This is a technical area, but it is an observation that holds true in most all cases.

Slow oxidizers often have excessive copper in their bodies. Thus they are far more prone to copper imbalance of this nature.

What is biounavailable copper? In this very common situation, copper is present in excess in the body, but it cannot be utilized well. The reason it occurs is that minerals such as copper must be bound and transported within the body.

Biounavailability often occurs due to a deficiency of the copper-binding proteins, ceruloplasmin or metallothionein. Without sufficient binding proteins, unbound copper may circulate freely in the body, where it may accumulate primarily in the liver, brain and female organs.

When copper is biounavailable, one may have symptoms of both copper toxicity and copper deficiency. Copper toxicity and biounavailability are seen most often. These occur almost always in people who are in the state called slow oxidation. As stated earlier, copper deficiency occurs most often in people who are in the state called fast oxidation. This article uses the words copper imbalance when more than one of the three types of copper problems are possible.

SYMPTOMS OF COPPER IMBALANCE

Each mineral has "target organs" where it tends to build up. The places where copper accumulates are the liver first, then the brain and the reproductive organs. Copper may affect any organ or system of the body. However, it usually affects about four or five major systems of the body. These are the nervous system, the female and male reproductive system, connective tissues such as hair, skin and nails and organs like the liver. Let us discuss each of these in detail.

COPPER AND THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

Copper is called the "emotional mineral". The reason for this is that copper and imbalances related to it have such a profound impact on the central nervous system. The psychiatric implications of copper imbalance are tremendous, even if copper did not affect other body systems. We regularly work with every known psychological and psychiatric condition and most of these individuals improve when copper is balanced in the body.

The overall effect of copper appears to be to enhance all emotional states in a human being. copper stimulates the diencephalons or old brain. Zinc is needed for the new brain or cortex. This brain is associated with the "higher emotions" such as reasoning, compassion and love. When an imbalance between these exists, the person tends to revert to the use of the old brain, also called the animal brain or emotional brain. This can lead to a tendency for every possible emotional condition affecting human beings.

Nervous system dysfunctions. We have seen improvement in 30 different mental and emotional conditions ranging from moderate to suicidal depression and anxiety to violence, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, phobias, Tourette's syndrome and schizophrenia. Others that respond amazingly well to balancing copper include epilepsy, ADD, ADHD, autism, delayed mental or emotional development and many others. Panic attacks, migraines, spaciness, brain fog, mind racing, insomnia, nervousness, irritability and others also often involve copper. On this website are numerous articles that explore these conditions and often the relation to copper in greater detail.

Copper and world violence. Copper tends to enhance all the emotions, so violence can occur far more in those with copper excess – a common problem today in many parts of the world.

COPPER AND THE BLOOD

One of the most common symptoms of biounavailabe copper or a frank copper deficiency is an anemia that appears identical to iron deficiency anemia. Those most affected are young adult women, and sometimes children. Vegetarians also tend to have too much and biounavailable copper and may be affected.

Signs. It is usually a mild, microcytic, microchromic anemia on blood exams.

Mechanism. Copper is required to change the form of iron from ferric to ferrous and back again, and is required to incorporate iron into hemoglobin. When copper is not available in sufficient amounts, usually due to adrenal insufficiency, iron is not incorporated into the hemoglobin well enough, resulting in a mild anemia.

Correction. Few doctors are aware of this cause for anemia. As a result, most physicians make the mistake of giving supplemental iron for this condition, which may work a little, but makes the patient much worse in terms of overall health. Iron can boost the adrenals and make copper a little more available, reducing the anemia. However, iron is irritating to the intestines and iron overload is very common today. For more on this, read Iron Overload on this website.

The correct treatment is to balance copper metabolism, which requires a hair mineral analysis in most cases and a complete nutritional balancing program. Then the anemia goes away by itself.

COPPER AND INFECTIONS

Infections, especially sinus and other fungal infections. Copper imbalance is also very much related to all fungal infections, in particular. These often include common sinus conditions that give few symptoms such as a stuffy nose or post-nasal drip in millions of people. Copper is also involved in acute and chronic candida albicans in the intestines and elsewhere.

Copper is critical for aerobic metabolism, so a copper imbalances allows fungal organisms to thrive in the body and must be corrected to reduce these infections, in most cases. This is why some people simply cannot get rid of candida albicans or chronic yeast, parasitic infections, sinus infections and others.

Copper is also linked to many other types of infections because zinc is needed for the proper immune response. Elevated or biounavailable copper often goes along with a low tissue zinc level, even though blood tests may be normal. Even a hair analysis is often normal.

One must always look for hidden copper signs on the hair mineral analysis for this reason. This is a great key to identifying copper imbalance today, as there are few other tests that may show evidence of it.

COPPER AND YEAST INFECTIONS

Our bodies use copper to help control the growth of yeast. This may be because copper favors aerobic metabolism, the type of cellular metabolism that human beings should have. More specifically, copper, along with iron, is required for the electron transport system, where most of our cellular energy is produced.

In contrast, yeasts and fungi are anaerobic. This means they ferment sugars for their energy production. Thus, when copper is not available to the body in sufficient quantity, aerobic or normal oxygen-using  metabolism is crippled to some degree, while anaerobic metabolism or the fermentation of sugars flourishes in such an environment.

For this reason, for example, copper sulfate is often sprayed on crops to kill yeast and fungus. Copper is also used in some swimming pools and hot tubs to control yeast and bacterial growth.

COPPER AND THE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM

Women tend to have higher levels of copper than men. Women also have more symptoms related to copper imbalance.

Premenstrual syndrome. The symptoms of PMS mimic the symptoms of copper imbalance. This occurs because estrogen levels and copper levels correlate well and both increase before the menstrual period. For this reason, taking extra zinc and vitamin B6 before the menstrual period can often lower copper enough to reduce the symptoms of premenstrual tension for this reason.

Other symptoms related to the sexual organs include amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, fibroid tumors, ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibrocystic breast disease, endometriosis and possibly pelvic inflammatory disease.

Miscarriages and infertility. Copper required to hold onto a pregnancy. Studies indicate that women with low estrogen and often low copper have more miscarriages. This is important for some women to know. Correcting the copper imbalance can help immensely with normal pregnancy. Infertility, on the other hand, is more common among women with elevated or biounavailable copper. This may be due, in part, to weak adrenals that, in turn, give rise to copper imbalance. Fertility problems, however, can be due to many factors.

Low libido in women and men. This is also linked to copper imbalance. Since copper raises the hair and tissue calcium level, women, in particular, with very high copper levels or hidden copper on their hair analyses, often lose interest in sex. Their energy declines and the body can become a bit "numb" because excessive tissue calcium tends to render the nervous system less sensitive.

Low sexual interest in men is also related to copper, which interferes with zinc metabolism in many instances. Men's sperm and fluids are very rich in zinc. If they become depleted, male fertility and male sexual performance will always suffer. Most of the time, these problems are easy to overcome by correcting the levels of zinc and copper in the body using nutritional balancing methods.

Estrogen dominance and copper. Copper-toxic women are often estrogen dominant. This means they have more estrogen in their bodies, proportionately, than they have progesterone. However, we rarely use progesterone therapy. In fact, even natural or bio-identical progesterone therapy may be poorly tolerated in copper-toxic women and even men.

It also tends to be a little toxic, so we avoid it if at all possible. Instead, if we balance the copper, the symptoms of estrogen dominance such as premenstrual tension, vanish quickly and completely. Biounavailable copper and progesterone and body shape. Other women, usually those with biounavailable copper are low in estrogen. Their bodies are often more linear in shape and less "curvy". Of course, copper is not the only factor affecting hormones. Some pesticides, for example, mimic the effects of estrogen and can affect the hormone balance.

Men and copper imbalance. Boys and men are far more affected when copper is out of balance than are women in many cases. Men should be zinc dominance. While most women have more copper in their bodies, men, by contrast, should be zinc-dominant.  Zinc, a 'masculine' element, balances copper in the body and is essential for male reproductive activity.

Among the boys, symptoms that are most prominent are growth and developmental delay, ADD, ADHD, autism and related brain disorders.  Among men, symptoms of copper toxicity, usually, include prostate enlargement, prostate infections and to some degree prostate cancer. Others include ED or erectile dysfunction that used to be called impotence, depression, anxiety and even violence. Others are testicular pain and testicular cancer in some cases.

COPPER AND CONNECTIVE TISSUE

Copper is required for collagen formation. Copper deficiency is association with atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular conditions. Excess copper or biounavailable copper often causes connective tissue problems, interfering with the disulfide bonds in connective tissue.

Copper and vitamin C. Copper and vitamin C are direct antagonists. This means that they oppose each other in the body. This is one reason many people feel better taking a lot of vitamin C. Copper tends to oxidize and destroy vitamin C in the body. Meanwhile, vitamin C chelates or removes copper from the body.  This requires a dose of vitamin C of at least about 500 mg daily, far higher than the minimum daily requirement of about 60 mg. Many readers know that vitamin C is critical for connective tissues. One of the prominent symptoms of scurvy, or vitamin C deficiency, is bleeding, such as bleeding gums. This is due to connective tissue weakness.

Thus, a copper excess can easily lead to a deficiency of vitamin C in the body and with it many symptoms of vitamin C deficiency. Oddly, however, a copper deficiency also causes connective tissue problems, especially in the heart and cardiovascular system where it is associated with a tendency for aneurisms and atherosclerosis.

Symptoms. Symptoms associated with connective tissue and joints include arthritis, osteoporosis, stretch marks and joint problems of other kinds. Others include scoliosis, kyphosis (bad posture) and many of the conditions of the skin, hair and fingernails and toenails. Others are some diseases the muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Among the most common, for example, are hair loss, especially in women, tendonitis, back problems due to muscle weakness and others.

COPPER AND ADDICTION

Addiction may be related to copper and the adrenals. The use of stimulant drugs, loud music, sex and even just exercise stimulates the adrenals. This helps keep copper available and makes one feel better. Without this stimulation, unbound copper builds up quickly in the body and one may feel fatigued, moody or depressed. These are common copper imbalance symptoms.

This can easily result in a compulsive or addictive need for some kind of adrenal stimulant such as more exercise, more caffeine or even cocaine. In other words, part of the appeal of cocaine, caffeine, amphetamines or other stimulants may be their ability to help lower copper temporarily by stimulating the adrenals.

COPPER AND CANCER

Copper imbalance impairs the immune system. Research is underway investigating the role of excess copper in tumor angiogenesis. Elevated copper on a hair mineral analysis, when the level is above about 12 mg% and persists at this level, is often related to a tendency for infections and even cancer.

Cancer is associated with all three copper imbalances – deficiency, excess and biounavailable copper, which is a combination of the other two. This is one reason for the cancer epidemic we experience today. Here are just a few ways cancer is linked to copper imbalance:

1. The levels of estrogen and copper have a direct relationships. This means that as copper rises, often estrogen rises, too. This is one reason many women and even men are so-called "estrogen dominant" today. Really, they have too much copper and cannot detoxify estrogen well enough. This imbalance is tied to cancer because estrogen is a potent carcinogen. It is the reason we never recommend supplementing even natural estrogen unless it is done with extreme caution. It is rarely needed if the body chemistry can be balanced using nutritional balancing science.

2. Copper causes liver toxicity when it is in excess or when it biounavailable. The liver is important to protect to avoid and to control cancer in every case, according to Dr. Max Gerson, MD, a pioneer in non-toxic cancer therapies.

3. Copper alters thyroid gland activity in most cases. This can also contribute to cancer and many other illnesses such as Grave's disease, for example.

4. Copper imbalance is associated with fungal and other infections. These can often be at the root of a cancer situation. For example, it is known that root canal-filled teeth can give off bacterial toxins that help predispose the body to cancers of certain kinds.

5. Copper blocks anaerobic metabolism when it is in balance. This can help prevent cancer when copper is in balance, but not when it is too high or too low in the body.

6. Copper in excess often interferes with zinc metabolism. Zinc is required for the immune response and for over 100 enzymes in the body from  helping digestion to protecting the skin from invasion from infections and even some skin cancers.

COPPER AND CHILDREN

Copper has an incredible impact on children, particularly young ones. Common conditions such as ear infections, skin rashes and dandruff usually involve an imbalance between copper and zinc in children. Others in which we commonly find copper imbalance, along with other metal imbalances are learning and developmental disorders, colic, ADD and ADHD, sleep problems and childhood cancers.

This has to do with the extreme importance of copper in childhood development, especially of the developing nervous and immune systems. Children are born with high copper levels. Young children are very sensitive and intuitive. They often lose some of their sensitivity as their copper levels diminish around age four. Today, however, persistently elevated copper levels in children are commonly seen. At times, the copper is hidden.

Why children have copper imbalances. Copper imbalance problems for a child often begin when still in the womb. High-copper mothers pass on excessive copper (and often low zinc) to the fetus through the placenta. This is called congenital, rather than genetic high copper. It can be prevented by correcting one's copper metabolism before becoming pregnant. It can also be corrected after a baby is born, though this takes much more effort in most cases.

Once a baby is born, copper imbalance can develop as well. Inadequate zinc or high copper in the breast milk, in fact, is one reason children stop breastfeeding. Children's diets are usually not great and often atrocious. Stress in the home or at school is another critical factor in sensitive children that can literally push them over the edge. Stress of any kind can lower zinc and raise the copper level.

Vaccination and the use of prescription drugs can aggravate a child's copper imbalance, usually by depleting the zinc level. Copper imbalance in children is associated with delayed development, attention deficit disorder, anti-social and hyperactive behavior, autism, learning difficulties and infections such as ear infections.

COPPER AND THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM

Low or biounavailable copper is associated with atherosclerosis and a tendency for aneurisms as well. The arteriosclerosis or atherosclerosis is secondary, usually, to weakened arterial walls. The body tries to reinforce inflamed or weakened arteries by coating them on the inside with calcium or fatty plaques. High or biounavailable copper is associated with mitral valve prolapse and other cardiovascular problems as well. It is not directly associated with high blood pressure, but may be secondarily due to the reasons for arteriosclerosis explained above.

VEGETARIAN DIETS AND THE COPPER BALANCE

Excess copper interferes with zinc, a mineral needed to make digestive enzymes. Too much copper also impairs thyroid activity and the functioning of the liver. If severe enough, a person will become an obligatory vegetarian. This means they are no longer able to digest meat very well. Conversely, if one becomes a vegetarian for other reasons, most likely one's copper level will increase. Vegetarian proteins are higher in copper, and lower in zinc.

At times, the vegetarian orientation is health-producing. In many people, however, restricted diets do not work well. Fatigue, spaciness and other symptoms begin to appear. Many people, including the author, felt they were becoming more "spiritual" on a vegetarian diet, when in fact it was just copper poisoning! The taste for meat often returns when copper is brought into better balance.

Some people with high copper dislike all protein. They crave high-carbohydrate diets. Protein feels heavy or causes other symptoms. Eating protein stimulates glandular activity. This releases stored copper, which causes the symptoms.  However, these individuals usually need to eat protein. The symptoms will eventually disappear.

ADRENAL (FATIGUE) BURNOUT, INSUFFICIENCY OR HYPOFUNCTION

Adrenal burnout, characterized by chronic fatigue and other symptoms, is often related to copper imbalance. Although correcting emotional and other factors are necessary, improving the copper imbalance, supporting the adrenals and releasing fearful thoughts go hand in hand to restore optimum health.  Click here for more information about adrenal fatigue syndrome.

SOURCES OF COPPER

Congenital high copper (children born with high copper or low zinc). Today, many children are born with excessive tissue copper. It is passed from high-copper mothers to their children through the placenta. Stress from any cause contributes to copper imbalance. Stress depletes the adrenal glands and lowers the zinc level in the body.

Zinc deficiency. Whenever zinc becomes deficient, copper tends to accumulate.  Our soil is low in zinc. Refined sugar, white rice and white flour have been stripped of their zinc. The trend toward vegetarianism reduces zinc in the diet, since red meat is the best dietary source of zinc.

High-copper diets. Copper is found in many foods, particularly vegetarian proteins such as nuts, beans, seeds and grains. Red meats, soya, cocoa and chocolate are high in copper.

Copper pipes. Another source of copper is drinking water that remained in copper water pipes, or copper added to your water supply. During a recent dry summer, several Oregon cities added copper sulfate to their reservoirs to reduce algae growth. Accident and disease rates increased.

Mineral deficiencies. Deficiencies of manganese, iron, selenium, chromium and other minerals can contribute to copper accumulation.

Vitamin deficiencies. These include deficiencies in the diet of B-vitamins and vitamin C.

Adrenal weakness. The adrenal hormones help stimulate the liver to produce ceruloplasmin, a major copper binding protein in the body.

Liver sluggishness or toxicity. A sluggish liver due to toxicity, slow metabolism or a chronic infection such as hepatitis C, can predispose one to copper imbalance.
Metallothionein or other copper transport imbalances. These may also contribute to copper toxicity or biounavailability.

Other sources. They include using copper cookware, and copper exposure from dental materials, vitamin pills, jewelry, drinking water, fungicide and pesticide residues on food, copper intra-uterine devices and birth control pills. Plumbers and a few other occupations such as electricians may be exposed to copper.

DETECTING COPPER IMBALANCE

Blood, urine, feces and hair testing are used to detect copper imbalance. Liver biopsy is also used on rare occasions. Let us examine each method from my experience. Blood serum or feces copper levels are not considered a reliable way to detect copper imbalance because copper may not accumulate in the blood or the feces. Serum ceruloplasmin is not much more accurate, and still often misses copper imbalance. Urine testing is also inaccurate because copper is stored deep in organs such as the brain and the liver.

Urine challenge testing. With this procedure, one first gives a dose of penicillamine and then collects the urine for 24 hours. However, this still will miss much copper that is stored deep within body organs and tissues. Chelating agents primarily remove minerals from the blood and arterial walls. A liver biopsy for copper can be very accurate. However, it is costly, invasive and in our experience unnecessary. However, it is used rarely to assess Wilson's disease (a rare inherited copper storage disease).

Hair testing, in our experience, is far and away the best method to detect copper imbalances. It can detect not only copper excess and copper deficiency, but copper biounavailability, too. Hair is not a primary site of copper deposition. However, if one knows how to interpret the hair analysis, one can often rapidly and non-invasively assess copper status.

An ideal range of copper in the hair is about 1.5-2.5 mg% or about 15-25 ppm. Any number higher than this tends to indicate excessive copper in the hair tissue and, by extension, in other tissues of the body. A hair copper level of less than about 1.5 mg% usually indicates hidden copper toxicity.

Hidden Copper Toxicity Indicators. The hair copper level is a very unreliable indicator for copper toxicity. So is serum copper, serum ceruloplasmin, and many other tests because the copper can hide deep in the brain and the liver. A liver biopsy is a good indicator, but is a painful and somewhat invasive procedure. Hair mineral analysis, however, offers indirect indicators that are very accurate. They include:

Most slow oxidizers and all very slow oxidizers.

Calcium level greater than about 70 mg%.

Magnesium greater than about 10 mg%.

Potassium level less than about 4 mg%.

Zinc less than about 13 mg%.

Zinc greater than about 20 mg% is often, but not always is a hidden copper indicator

Calcium /potassium ratio greater than 10:1.

Sodium/potassium ratio less than about 2.5:1.

zinc/copper ratio less than 6:1

copper level less than 1.0 mg%

Phosphorus less than about 13 mg%.

Four lows pattern.

Four highs pattern.

Resources

1. Eck, P. and Wilson, L., Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease, Eck Institute of Applied Nutrition and Bioenergetics, Ltd., Phoenix, AZ, 1989.
2. Gittleman, A.L., Why Am I Always So Tired?, Harper San Francisco, 1999.
3. Nolan, K., "Copper Toxicity Syndrome", J. Orthomolecular Psychiatry, 12:4, p.270-282.
4. Pfeiffer, C., Mental and Elemental Nutrients, Keats Publishing, New Canaan, CT., 1975.
5. Wilson, L., Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, L.D. Wilson Consultants, 2005, 2010.
6. Hundreds of technical articles on the sources, symptoms and correction of copper imbalance are available on the worldwide web.  They are too numerous to list here.  The books and articles mentioned above contain more complete references.

Copper Toxicity copper imbalance hair loss adrenal burnout adrenal fatigue