by Lawrence Wilson, MD
© Revised, July 2014, The Center For Development
Do you know anyone who suffers from headaches, fatigue, insomnia, depression, anxiety, sinus issues, insomnia, skin rashes, spaciness or detachment, learning disorders or premenstrual syndrome? These can be symptoms of a copper imbalance. It is an extremely common nutritional imbalance. It is often overlooked, in part because it is not always simple to detect.
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. The author is deeply indebted to Dr. Paul C. Eck, an avid copper researcher.
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. Common conditions associated with copper imbalance include hypothyroidism and often Hashimoto’s disease. These go away fairly easily on a properly designed nutritional balancing program. Taking thyroid hormones is not required.
Copper is also associated with some cases of Grave’s disease or hyperthyroidism. This also his goes away with a properly designed nutritional balancing program. Drugs may be needed temporarily to control the symptoms. Surgery or radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) are drastic and rarely, if ever needed, in my 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
Dr. Paul Eck called copper 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. Dr. Eck felt that 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 20 or 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 re-spond 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, nerv-ousness, 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.
America is actually better in this regard because we can afford more beef and other meats. These foods are among the highest foods in zinc that balances copper in the body. Nations that cannot afford much meat may have worse copper imbalance, though this is not necessarily the case.
COPPER AND THE BLOOD
One of the most common symptoms of biounavailable 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.
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. At times, however, the cause of PMS is more complex.
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.
Secondary sex characteristics and copper. Secondary sex characteristics are aspects of sexuality that are more mental and emotional than they are physical or anatomical. For example, while their sexual organs are similar, some men just love sex and women, while others are less sexual. The differences have to do with hormone levels, and often with the copper imbalance. Birth control pills and copper IUDs (intra-uterine devices for birth control) . These two birth control methods definitely affect copper metabolism in the body. While some women can handle them, others experience depression, anxiety, personality shifts and many horrible side effects from them, either acute or chronic.
This aspect of women’s “sexual revolution” has probably caused more disasters in women’s health than any other. Developing cancer, for example, can take years so women do not understand the dangers. The truth is, even if a woman quits taking the pill, for example, her risk of cancer remains high her entire lifetime.
Excessive sexual desire or sexual dysfunctions in women. Another curious effect of copper excess in women can be excessive sexual interest. This has something to do with the estrogen levels and liver toxicity due to the copper imbalance. Other sexual difficulties in both men and women such as pain on intercourse, vaginal dryness and others may have to do with copper imbalance as well.
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.
OTHER IMPORTANT COPPER RELATED CONDITIONS
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.
Relation of cadmium to copper. Dr. Paul C. Eck stated that cadmium found in marijuana and cigarettes drives copper back into storage. Therefore, these drugs may also make a person feel better temporarily by affecting the copper balance.
THE HIGH COPPER PERSONALITY
There exists a high copper personality. Positive traits include a warm, caring, sensitive, emotional nature, often with artistic orientation and a child-like quality. Often high-copper people are young-looking. Many traditionally feminine traits are associated with copper such as softness, gentleness and intuitiveness. This may relate to the qualities of metallic copper, which include softness, malleability and an excellent conductor of electricity.
When the personality is not fully integrated or the copper becomes too high, negative traits show up. These include spaciness, racing thoughts, and, living in a dream world. Other qualities include childishness, excessive emotions, sentimentality, a tendency to depression, fearfulness, hidden anger and resentments, phobias, psychosis and violence. Artists, inventors and other high-copper types often “live on the edge”, in part due to their high copper level.
The copper personality tends to accumulate copper easily. Copper can function as a psychological defense mechanism. It causes one to detach slightly from reality. This provides relief from stress for the sensitive individual. It works well as long as the copper does not become too high. Very high copper can cause a psychotic break from reality, a type of schizophrenia.
Case History of schizophrenia. An 18-year old schizophrenic patient had a hair copper level of 41 mg% (normal is 2.5 mg%). She hallucinated and attempted suicide twice while in the Scottsdale Camelback Mental Hospital. When her copper was brought back into the normal range with a nutritional balancing program, her symptoms disappeared and she has remained well ever since.
Copper and other food cravings. Copper-toxic individuals may also be drawn to sweets or salty foods due to adrenal insufficiency. Some sea salt is often beneficial. Sweets, including fruit juices, provide a temporary lift but may worsen the condition.
Anorexia and copper. Another common symptom is a lack of appetite or some degree of anorexia. Excessive copper tends to shut off the appetite, whereas zinc is required for the appestat mechanism in the brain. Zinc is also needed for an acute sense of taste and smell. The anorexia situation ends to be the worst in teenagers. For one thing, they are under more stress than younger children in many cases. Also, their diets are often low in quality proteins such as meats that are rich in zinc. Instead, they eat a lot of carbohydrates such as pizza that actually interfere with zinc uptake in the intestines. This combination can be lethal for some teenage girls, in particular.
Anemia. Copper is needed for iron metabolism. Therefore, an important cause of anemia, especially in women, is a copper imbalance. On a blood test, it looks exactly like an iron-deficient anemia but it will not respond very well to the administration of supplemental iron. The copper imbalance must be corrected and then the anemia vanishes quickly.
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. The important topic of cancer and natural approaches to it, is discussed in other articles on this website. 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 help-ing 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.
Beware of fast oxidizing young children. Do not restrict their copper. Most of them absolutely require extra copper. This is because they are fast oxidizers. This body type must have extra copper or they will exhibit violence, sleep problems or anti-social behavior such as ADD or ADHD. So beware, since avoiding copper will make these children decidedly worse.
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.
COPPER AND SOCIETY
Is it possible that our mineral balance affects our attitudes? Copper is called the ‘love’ mineral, the ‘intuitive’ mineral, and a ‘feminine’ mineral because it is so important for the female reproductive system. Its level generally parallels that of estrogen. While many factors influence our attitudes and values, the rise in tissue copper levels in both men and women in the past fifty years parallels renewed interest in women’s issues, in religious and intuitive knowledge, and other “new age” and other movements.
Copper may promote or encourage these interests and activities by causing mild tissue catabolism that breaks down old tissues in the body, thus making way for the development of other types of tissues in the body. This sounds very vague, but apparently copper has this type of effect.
VEGETARIAN DIETS AND THE COPPER BALANCE
Zinc is found mainly in meats. For this reason, vegetarian diets are higher in copper and lower in zinc. Those who follow vegetarian diets tend to accumulate too much copper in the body, which often shortens their lives, even if they feel very well during their entire lives. Obligatory vegetarians. Dr. Eck discussed the idea that sometimes people become vegetarian due to the buildup of excess copper in the body. 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. The taste for meat often returns when copper is brought into better balance with a nutritional balancing program.
Other reasons for following a vegetarian diet include one’s philosophy about eating animals, dislike for how animals are slaughtered, or other reasons. Some are born with a distaste for meat. No matter what the outward reason, however, at times a hidden buildup of copper, even at birth is, in fact, part or all of the reason a person takes an interest in a vegetarian diet.
Symptoms. At times, the vegetarian orientation is health-producing, temporarily. Many people associate vegetarianism with eliminating refined flour and refined sugar, and this aspect is positive. However, in most people, however, meat-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!
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, and their symptoms will eventually disappear as their health improves.
ADRENAL 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.
SOURCES OF COPPER
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. High-copper diets. Copper is found in many foods, particularly vegetarian proteins such as nuts, beans, seeds and grains. Meats contain copper, but it is balanced by zinc which competes for its absorption. Chocolate is high in copper. A desire for copper may help explain chocolate cravings.
4. 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.
5. Mineral deficiencies. Deficiencies of manganese, iron, selenium, chromium and other minerals can contribute to copper accumulation.
6.Vitamin deficiencies. These include deficiencies in the diet of B-vitamins and vitamin C.
7. Adrenal weakness. According to Dr. Eck’s research, the adrenal hormones help stimulate the liver to produce ceruloplasmin, a major copper binding protein in the body.
8. 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.
9. Metallothionein or other copper transport imbalances. These may also contribute to copper toxicity or biounavailability.
10. Other sources. These are less common, in my experience. 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.
Hot tubs and pools may increase hair copper levels. Copper is used to sanitize pools and some hot tubs, and can increase hair copper, at times. Hot tubs and pools are also breeding grounds for so many micro-organisms that are not killed by the chemicals that we don’t recommend either for optimum health. It is much better to avoid all public pools and hot tubs and/or use about 250 parts per million of hydrogen peroxide to sanitize your hot tub. The internet has information about how to do this.
When copper is out of balance, our bodies cannot control yeast overgrowth for these reasons. This often lead to chronic candida albicans infections that are resistant to treatment.
Case history. After Mrs. Robinson had her baby, her doctor told she could continue to take her pre-natal vitamin pill, which contained 4 mg of copper. Within 6-months, both she and her breast-fed baby began to experience hair loss. Loss of hair is a common symptom of copper toxicity, and many pre-natal vitamins have a lot of copper in them. This is done because taking copper during pregnancy may help maintain a pregnancy in some cases. As soon as Mrs. Robinson stopped taking the pre-natal vitamin, the hair loss in both her and her baby stopped.
Most pre-natal vitamins are extremely inadequate, and are missing many vital nutrients needed by developing babies. In addition, most contain too much copper. Only with a nutritional balancing program, in my view, can a woman know what she needs during pregnancy and afterwards to raise a healthy child.
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.
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 my experience unnecessary. However, it is used rarely to assess Wilson’s disease (a rare inherited copper storage disease).
Hair testing, in my 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.
COPPER ASSESSMENT VIA HAIR MINERAL ANALYSIS
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.
Swimming in pools. Swimming in pools regularly or even regular use of a hot tub can increase the copper level in the hair. This is due to the use of copper compounds added to the water as disinfectants. These, of course, are best avoided if one has symptoms of elevated copper.
Note that the hair must not be washed at the laboratory for accurate results. Only two labs in the United States, Analytical Research Labs and Trace elements, Inc., do not wash the hair at the lab, as far as I know.
Indirect copper indicators. The copper level on a hair mineral analysis is NOT the best way to assess copper status. The reason is that copper does not often accumulate in the hair tissue and too many other factors can skew the reading. In fact, copper assessment is quite complex.
Assessing the need for copper supplementation. A need for copper supplementation does not mean the entire body is low in copper. It just means that some is needed to balance the chemistry at a particular time. This is confusing, but it works well. Dr. Paul Eck researched this subject thoroughly, and I find that his methods work beautifully. Following are hair tissue mineral analysis indicators for a need for copper supplementation:
1. A fast oxidation rate. This is identified for you on mineral tests from Analytical Research Laboratories. The criteria are a calcium/potassium ratio less than 4:1 and a sodium/magnesium ratio greater than 4.17:1.
2. A hair sodium/potassium ratio less than about 2.5:1.
3. A hair calcium/magnesium that is less than about 3:1 is a secondary indicator and it only applies if the hair sodium/potassium ratio is less than 2.5:1.
These indicators apply no matter what the hair copper level may be. This is difficult to understand, but it works in practice and is very important to assist some patients.
Assessing Biounavailable Copper. Most or perhaps all the time when copper is high in the hair or when hidden copper indicators are present, copper is at least somewhat biologically unavailable as well. This may give rise to a combination of symptoms of toxicity and deficiency. In addition to all the indicators below for hidden copper toxicity, other indicators of the biounavailability of copper are:
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. Dr. Eck found that a hair mineral analysis, however, offers indirect indicators that are very accurate. They include:
Most slow oxidizers and all very slow oxidizers.
Most slow oxidizers and all very slow oxidizers.
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.
Copper level less than 1.5 mg% if usually an excellent indicator.
Mercury level greater than 0.03 mg%. (In an older book I co-authored with Dr. Paul Eck, entitled Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease (1989), we wrote that the mercury level needs to be 0.4 mg% for hidden copper to be present. I believe this is an error and the level is closer to 0.03.)
Slow oxidation with a copper level less than 1.0 mg%
Calcium /potassium ratio greater than 10:1.
Sodium/potassium ratio less than about 2.5:1.
Phosphorus less than about 13 mg%. This is a newer indicator with less research behind it.
Four lows pattern.
Four highs pattern.
Sympathetic dominance pattern.
Calcium shell pattern.
Step down pattern.
Double low ratio pattern.
Passive aggressive pattern.
Wasting one’s time or biding one’s time pattern.
Stress from within and without pattern.
Extreme lifestyle stress pattern.
REDUCING EXCESS COPPER
After 30 years of experience, I can say unequivocally that the best way to reduce excess copper in the body, whether it is bioavailable or biounvailable, is a complete nutritional balancing program. This is much better than using chelators, antagonists, adrenal support, homeopathy, drainage remedies, physical therapies or any other method.
This is very important, as many people ask me for remedies to reduce copper. Also, many naturopaths and holistic doctors use one or another of the remedy methods, but with very poor overall success, in my experience.
HOW NUTRITIONAL BALANCING REDUCES EXCESS COPPER AND BALANCES COPPER METABOLISM IN ALL CASES
The key is to use a number of methods simultaneously. This does not mean taking piles of pills or strange diets, however. It can be done easily and rather inexpensively and without a lot of fuss. METHODS OF HEALING THAT ARE BUILT INTO ALL NUTRITIONAL BALANCING PROGRAMS
1. Enhance energy production and improve adrenal gland activity. This is part of the program design. Restoring the adrenal glands is often absolutely necessary to prevent copper from accumulating over and over again in the body. This is because the adrenal glands signal the liver to produce ceruloplasmin, the principal copper binding agent in the body, along with metallothionein. However, be sure to avoid stimulating herbs such as ginseng and licorice root. These eventually cause more severe problems, though they may offer quick results in some cases.
Replacement adrenal hormones. These are not ever needed, even in cases of Addison’s disease, in my experience, and they are horrible, in a word. I never recommend any hormones such as DHEA, pregnenolone, testosterone, progesterone or cortisol. These may give quick relief of some symptoms, but upset the delicate hormone balance and eventually always worsen copper imbalance.
2. Inhibit the excessive activity of the sympathetic nervous system and balance the autonomic nervous system. This is easier said than done. Copper toxic individuals often complain of their mind racing. Turning off the sympathetic or fight-or-flight nervous system can be a challenge. Methods that are helpful include electric light sauna therapy, meditation, relaxation techniques, deep breathing, targeted supplements, and coffee enemas.
3. Enhance the eliminative organs, such as the liver, skin and colon. Digestive enzymes, especially pancreatin, are very important. Other methods of enhancing the eliminative organs are coffee enemas, colonic irrigation and skin brushing.
4. Very judicious use of copper antagonists such as zinc, sulfur compounds, manganese, selenium, vitamins B-complex, C and E, and perhaps one or two others. These are chemicals that compete with copper for absorption and utilization. Research indicates copper may be excreted by binding with glutathione and metallothionine which require these nutrients.
5. Making the body much more yang in Chinese medical terms. This is often essential to reduce excess copper and make copper bioavailable.
6. Restoring zinc and selenium levels. This is also needed in almost all cases, and takes a while. Meats are among the best food sources of zinc and selenium, and this is one reason why vegetarian diets simply do not work well in the long run. A diet of mostly cooked vegetables is also needed to obtain the correct forms of zinc and selenium, which are not common in the diets of most people.
7. Very rare use of copper chelators. Chelators are substances that bind directly to copper and help remove it from the body. These are very rarely needed or helpful in most cases.
Synthetic copper chelators. The most common synthetic chelator for copper is penicillamine, sold under the names Cupramine or Depen. This toxic method has been around for years. It can have severe side effects that can include kidney damage, blurred vision, B6 deficiency, ringing in the ears, ulcers, jaundice and other liver damage, abdominal pain, bloody urine and more. Rarely, I have seen it work when all else fails, but this is only in about two cases out of 20-30,000 people in 30 years. DMPS and other mercury chelators are also used by some doctors. All of them have significant side effects in my experience. They may lower copper, but the patient is made worse by their use.
Natural copper chelators. Please avoid these as well. Metal Free, NDF, OSR, chlorella, cilantro, spirulina and other natural products that chelate metals always remove some essential minerals as well as removing toxic metals. They are also somewhat toxic, completely unnecessary and often costly.
Why else avoid chelation and antagonist therapies. These often do not work well because they do nothing to rebalance body chemistry. In fact, they can make the overall balance of the electrolytes worse. This is why a complete program of balancing body chemistry with nutritional balancing science is far preferable. I will assist any practitioner who wishes to learn about the nutritional balancing method of copper removal.
For example, zinc is often used to correct a high copper. However, it lowers the hair tissue sodium level, which is often dangerous if persisted in. Molybdenum, another copper antagonist and chelator, raises sodium and is somewhat toxic and best avoided in most cases. Vitamin C, when used in high doses, tends to cause other imbalances because it removes many other metals besides copper.
Each vitamin and mineral affects overall body chemistry. For best results, I strongly recommend an integrated nutrition, lifestyle and detoxification program based on a properly performed and interpreted hair mineral analysis. It is worth the extra time, cost and energy to get better results. It can also avoid the purchase of unnecessary and costly supplements and other problems that come from their use.
ATTITUDES AND SPIRITUALITY HELP BALANCE COPPER
Life is not easy for many copper-toxic people. Most are highly intelligent, very sensitive, angry and emotional, at times, and the copper may help de-tach them from the world. One must be aware of this fact and live appropriately, letting go of the world in a gentle and loving way.
A method I highly recommend is a meditation-observation exercise that we offer on a compact disc. This is a Judeo-Christian exercise that is tremendously grounding and centering. It was a great help for me with copper imbalance and has helped thousands of other clients as well. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is simple to do and will slowly reduce all causes of stress as it brings more truth and light into one’s life.
This particular Judeo-Christian exercise, which is a type of praying and bringing energy into the body, is extremely helpful to detach one emotionally, to reduce stress, to bring up hidden resentments, and for other reasons as well. In addition, prayer, reading the bible and any other true spiritual activity will often assist copper-toxic individuals. This is the case because it helps them to know they are all right, they are loved by their Creator, and God is present in their lives. This can be vital for a copper-toxic person, though it is helpful for everyone who cares about spiritual matters.
COPPER DETOXIFICATION SYMPTOMS
One of the difficulties in reducing excess copper are symptoms that arise during the process of elimination. As the body begins to mobilize excess copper from tissue storage sites, it enters the bloodstream on its way to the liver and kidneys for elimination. While in the bloodstream, the copper can cause headaches, skin rashes, racing thoughts, strange odors, digestive upset, mood swings and energy fluctuations. In men, testicular pain is not uncommon. Women’s periods may be affected.
Certain methods of lowering copper cause these symptoms more than others. Zinc, vitamin C and manganese tend to cause more symptoms, perhaps because zinc and manganese replace copper in the liver. Sulfur compounds such as Russian black radish tend not to produce copper elimination effects. If one knows what is occurring, it is possible to take measures to minimize these temporary elimination symptoms. Enemas, sweating, and drinking more water can help promote copper elimination. Reducing the nutrition program for a few days may also help slow the reactions and reduce symptoms if they are severe. Supplements of molybdenum, bile acids, laxative herbs and vitamin B6 may also mitigate elimination symptoms.
THE BLESSING OF COPPER TOXICITY
I suffered from copper toxicity for at least 10 years before I even knew why I felt so bad. I was always tired, depressed, achy and often anxious, too. However, today, some 30 years later, I know clearly it was a blessing in disguise. Copper toxicity led me into natural healing, into meditation and eventually into myself and my gifts. Copper imbalance, indeed, is often a sign that one is not living one’s gifts and truths. If it takes copper imbalance to move you in a different direction, then it is a wonderful thing, though the suffering may not seem worth it right now.
With enough compassion for yourself and a complete nutritional balancing program based on hair mineral analysis, almost all our clients become well and much happier, also. Then the creative, intuitive and loving qualities of the high-copper individual can shine through to the world.
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.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.