What’s Copper got to do with it?
by Dr. Bill Comiskey
All information in this article is for education purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
One of the most interesting and prevalent findings on a hair tissue mineral analysis, particularly in women, is an elevated copper level or copper imbalance. Copper imbalance is usually not considered by traditional medicine as a possible cause of many health conditions today and yet copper affects virtually every bodily system to some degree.
Diminished adrenal activity is probably the single most physiological reason for copper dis-regulation today. Stress, toxic metal accumulation and nutrient deficiencies are at the forefront of common causes of adrenal exhaustion. Insufficient adrenal activity inhibits the production of ceruloplasmin and metallothionine in the liver which is the primary copper-binding proteins in the body. Without the ceruloplasmin, copper is in an unbound form and accumulates in various tissues and organs such as the liver, kidneys and the brain to name a few. Zinc, also required for the production of ceruloplasmin and metallothionine, is antagonistic to copper and helps to keep copper in balance. Copper in an unbound form is corrosive and destructive to the tissues and acts as free a radical. If not removed from the blood unbound toxic copper begins to build up in the soft tissues of the liver, brain, kidneys, thyroid, ovaries, skin, joints nerves and all other soft tissues. The slower the metabolic rate, the higher the copper retention.
The function of copper in the body
Copper has many important functions in the body including energy production in the cells, immune response particularly with regards to how the body controls the proliferation of yeasts, fungus and bacteria. A deficiency in copper sets the stage for more frequent infections. People who suffer from candida overgrowth generally have a copper imbalance, when corrected the candida symptoms subside.
The glandular system is very sensitive to copper. As the adrenal glands slow copper tends to rise in the body. Proper function of the adrenal glands is required for the production of proteins that keep copper in a bio-available form. Bio-unavailable copper is detrimental to the thyroid and is responsible for many problems.
Copper is involved in many aspects of the central nervous system. Copper stimulates the production of neurotransmitters and imbalances are associated with most psychological, emotional and neurological conditions.
Estrogen and copper
Copper is often referred to as a female element which produces personality traits like gentleness, caring and sensitive and typically would exhibit more artistic or creative tendencies. Estrogen is closely associated with copper, when one raises so too does the other. Zinc which is antagonistic to copper is also associated to progesterone. Many women who use birth control pills or copper IUD’s experience either elevated copper levels or if weak adrenal activity is present may accumulate bio-unavailable copper in the tissues. It is not uncommon to find women who suffer with symptoms of PMS (headaches, fatigue, depression, weight gain food cravings) to have elevated copper levels.
Sources of excess copper
Impaired adrenal gland activity
High copper foods
Chocolate (especially dark)
Types of copper imbalances
Deficiency – fast oxidizers require more copper. A deficiency can lead to aneurysms, hair loss, stretch marks, high or low blood pressure, muscle cramps…
Excess – Most slow oxidizers have an excess of copper probably due to poor adrenal function, zinc deficiency or poor elimination. Copper tends to accumulate in the liver, brain, female reproductive organs and then joints and other soft tissues in the body.
Bio-unavailability – weak adrenal system impairs the production of ceruloplasmin a transport protein that transform copper into a form usable by the body.
Copper, I think I am losing my mind
Stress has a significant effect on copper balance in the body. When the body is faced with a stressful event it automatically switches the autonomic nervous system into a sympathetic mode also referred to as “fight or flight”. When the body transitions into this mode there is a requirement for quick energy to provide the body with adequate mental alertness to cope with the presenting danger. The adrenal glands release adrenaline, cortisol and aldosterone which increase sodium and copper levels while sequestering calming elements of zinc and magnesium. Typically the rise in sodium and copper is balanced quickly after the presenting danger has passed. If the stress, whether it be physical or mental persists for an extended period of time a chronic pattern emerges. This stress pattern maintains an elevated level of copper and sodium and depletion of zinc and magnesium. Zinc is required for the elimination of all toxic metals including excess copper while magnesium is part of over 300 metabolic processes in the body. The excess copper creates a chronic state of agitation and now lacks the required calming elements.
Without zinc, the liver cannot produce ceruloplasmin and metallothionine to bind copper which makes the copper bio-unavailable and toxic which then builds up in soft tissues of the body including the brain. The excess un-bound copper over stimulates the adrenal system producing cortisol and aldosterone causing manic behavior, anxiety, depression, autism, ADD, ADHD, brain fog, insomnia, aggression, violence, obsessive compulsive behavior and bipolar disorder.
Unfortunately, most of the hair tissue mineral analysis reviewed, particularly in women, exhibit a copper imbalance with depression indicated as one of the presenting symptoms. According to Dr. William Walsh approximately 17% of depression patients exhibit hypercupremia or elevated copper as their dominant chemical imbalance, 96% with this condition are women. Most women will experience their first episode of depression during a hormonal event i.e. puberty, childbirth or menopause. Remember that with an elevation of estrogen so to is an elevation of copper. Some of the other symptoms associated with these events are anxiety, sleep disorders, tinnitus and intolerance to shellfish and chocolate. Abnormal levels of copper can alter levels of neurotransmitters dopamine (feel good) and norepinephrine in the brain.
Copper toxicity symptoms
Relationship of viral and bacterial infections to copper
The tissue level of copper has a primary function relative to bacterial and viral infections. Generally speaking low levels of copper are experienced when bacterial infections are present. The reason is when elevated bacteria are present iron is sequestered from the blood because bacteria require it for proliferation. Copper is then released from tissues to mount an attack against the invading bacteria. If the infection becomes chronic there is a depletion of copper levels causing a deficiency and an elevation of iron in the tissues. The excess iron may also deposit in the joints contributing to rheumatoid arthritis. This is why rheumatoid arthritis can develop following an infection allowing iron accumulation in the joints.
High tissue copper is often seen in people who have had severe viral infections such as mononucleosis. Copper levels may remain elevated for years and if not balanced can result in chronic fatigue syndrome. Nutrients such as zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C are all antagonistic to copper and therefore are considered anti-viral.
Hair tissue mineral Analysis indicators of Copper Imbalance:
- Copper level greater than 2.5 mg%
- Calcium level greater than 70 mg%
- Potassium level less than 4 mg%
- Zinc level less than 13 mg%
- Mercury level greater than .02 mg%
- Calcium/Potassium level greater than 10:1
- Sodium/Potassium level less than 2:1
- Phosphorus level less than 12 mg%
- Four low macronutrients
- Zinc level greater than 20 mg%
- Copper level less than 1 mg% or greater than 3 mg% in slow oxidizer
- Copper level greater than 2.5 mg% in a fast oxidizer
- Sodium/Potassium level less than 2.5:1 in either: fast, slow or mixed oxidizer
A need for copper supplementation:
- All cases when sodium/potassium level is less than 2.5 mg%
- All fast oxidizers
- Four lows pattern
- Fast oxidizers with a low sodium/potassium ratio
One of the most effective methods for balancing copper in the body is to get a Hair Tissue mineral Analysis (HTMA) and follow a nutritional program to balance mineral levels in the body. You should reduce exposure from obvious copper sources i.e. tap water, birth control pills and copper IUD’s. A WellvilleSpa Nutritional Program will help to balance copper in the body in a number of ways: Improve adrenal gland activity, addition of supplements that are antagonistic to copper such as zinc, manganese and iron along with vitamin C to strengthen and increase vitality of the body.
Balancing copper is not easy and typically comes with some unpleasant healing reactions. As copper is mobilized from soft tissues storage sites in the body it enters the bloodstream on its way to the liver and kidneys for elimination. You may experience headaches, skin rashes, mood swings or energy loss during a copper elimination. If symptoms become overwhelming discontinue or reduce the supplements for a couple of days to allow symptoms to pass. Drink plenty of water and you may want to utilize infrared sauna therapy to enhance copper elimination. A slow steady program is recommended in copper elimination.
Eck, PC, Introduction to Copper Toxicity, Anal Res Labs.
Malter, Rick, The Strands of Health, Education & Health Resources, Cottonwood Arizona 2003
Pfeiffer, C. & Mailloux, R. Excess Copper as a Factor in Human Disease. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, 1987, 2, no. 3, 171-182.
Watts, D.L. Trace Elements and Other Essential Nutrients: Clinical Application of Tissue Mineral Analysis. Trace Elements Inc., Dallas, Texas, 1997.
Walsh, William J PhD, Nutrient Power: Heal Your biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. 2012