If you’ve been feeling fatigued, fuzzy-headed and your mind is racing, it could be worth checking your copper levels.
You've been eating healthy, taking your supplements, yet you're feeling anxious, depressed, having difficulty sleeping and trouble losing weight. Maybe its more extreme? Violent tempers in your children? Extreme mood changes? Why is this? It could be that you or a loved on is suffering from copper overload.
It's a rarely diagnosed condition because research into this area is limited. In severe emotional diagnoses, like bipolar, mania, schizoaffective and many more disorders, it is important to look into this important mineral as a way to better understand and manage symptoms or degree of episodes of irrational behaviors. Increasing safety and behavior challenges in loved ones should be an important goal for any medical treatment and should be discussed with your doctor and functional medicine practitioner.
Maybe your loved one doesn't want to take medications or has trouble understanding why they need medications. This is where functional behavioral health through nutrition can be very powerful. It may not be a cure but can help decrease the amount of flares or episodes.
What is Copper?
Copper is an essential mineral for your body, like iron and zinc, but what does it do, exactly? It affects your energy levels, mood, reproductive system - particularly in women - libido, immunity, and thyroid and adrenal glands.
Copper is needed for 30 to 40 per cent of your energy production in the brain, so it's a vital part of your body. Copper also helps form collagen, aids in wound healing, supports your nervous system and neurodevelopment. Copper, along with zinc, helps the body with a lot of chemical processes related to brain health and healing.
Why copper overloads happen
There are many factors (including genetic conditions) that can bring about copper overload. The main lifestyle cause thats been observed is consuming a lot of copper through food and supplements, while not getting enough zinc. Along with elevated levels of copper being more preavelent in our soil and water due to industrial waste, on top of zinc deficiencies is leading to higher accumulation of copper in the body. This is because zinc intake competes with copper in our bodies for absorption.
Zinc intake is lower than in past generations due to changing soil composition, diets high in processed food, and the trend towards vegetarianism, as red meat is the best common dietary source of zinc (after oysters).
Deficiencies in minerals like magnesium can also elevate copper levels, as can drinking water from copper pipes. Some research suggests taking the contraceptive pill or using the copper intrauterine device (IUD) may also play a role, but is pretty unlikely.
We can also be poor processors of copper, regardless of how much we consume. Our bodies normally excrete excess minerals, such as copper, through the liver and gall bladder, but if the body isn't working at an optimal level, this may not happen, and the body will store the copper, resulting in an overload. Issues like an unhealthy liver, sluggish metabolism and poor adrenal function can all impair copper processing. A condition called pyrloia also causes increased loss by increased excretion of zinc and Vitamin B6. This is often a cause found in children and the autistic population with extreme mood wings and violent tempers.
Copper Overload Symptoms
Mood swings/Emotional Instability
High copper may also affect estrogen metabolism, contributing to menstrual symptoms like heavy periods. One US study found that those with the highest levels of copper, who also consumed a diet high in saturated and trans fat (a proven risk factor for dementia), lost cognition three times faster than adults with normal copper levels.
Research has also found that an imbalance of copper may prevent your body from burning fat. And early studies have found that copper appears to be one of the main environmental factors that trigger the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There are two medical significant diseases associated with copper and zinc levels. Wilson disease is a genetic problem with accumulation of copper in brain and liver. Pyroluria is a condition where you over excrete zinc and B6, thus loosing too much zinc and ruining the balance of zinc and copper. There are varying degrees of severity so getting diagnosed appropriately is key. You may not have the actual disease but may be low normal or high normal which is still functionally significant.
A simple blood work up can look at copper and zinc levels. Most functional medicine doctors are trained on the specific tests and only a trained doctors in behavioral /psychiatric help knows what to look out for. All testing is not created equal. Most patients find that their copper and zinc come back in the normal range but are not in the correct ratios, meaning their should be high levels of zinc than copper.
Often levels are normal but can also be bound up or stored away in the body. That is why there are a variety of tests that can really look at the overall availibilty or decreased uptake of your nutrients.
Blood Test - zinc and copper testing, cerruloplasmin, B6, MTHFR Genetic testing, and homocysteine levels
Urine - Pyroluria diagnosis testing along with heavy metal testing for copper and other metal levels. Can easily be collected from children. Additional testing like yeast, B-vitamins, mold, and other tests can be done through a simple urine collection to give a bigger picture into overall physical and neurological deficiencies or infections.
When excess copper is being removed from tissues and cleared from the body, some people may experience 'copper dumping. Initially, this may lead to an exacerbation of symptoms, but with the right supplement dosage, dietary and lifestyle strategies, this effect can be minimized, and nutritional balance can return within several months.
Other great ways to support copper removal, is increasing zinc intake, drinking filtered water and eating foods which can give you a good balance of copper and zinc, such as lamb, pork, poultry, soy milk, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and wheat germ.
A note about copper deficiency
Too little copper is also bad news for your body - signs of copper deficiency include fatigue and anemia.
An important warning: taking a high-dose zinc supplement without medical consultation may put you at risk because both copper and zinc compete with each other to be absorbed, the high levels of zinc from the supplement means zinc wins. If you have a high intake of zinc, it will get absorbed and the copper will be excreted, and you could end up with a copper deficiency. There also be other deficiencies or underying imbalances that are causing these imbalances. When it comes to supplementing minerals, they can be very difficult to absorb. There are correct forms and wrong forms of these minerals that affect the bio-availability or absorption of each mineral. Consult a medical or health professional to find out what form of zinc you need with appropriate dosing.
Dr. Preston, ND