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Hypercupremia: Copper Toxicity

Zinc and copper levels are a common evaluations in our practice, as when out of balance, these two minerals can have quite the impact on your health, both mentally and physically. Just this week, we've identified yet again, another client with elevated copper but insufficient copper is also cause for concern. The potential also exists that the issue is more about bio-unavailability rather than simply just too much or too little.


Bio-unavailability occurs when copper-binding proteins called ceruloplasmin and metallothionein are deficient. These proteins bind to and transport the copper to where it is needed. In this situation, an individual may experience both copper insufficiency and toxicity simultaneously, as there are high levels of copper circulating through the body, but the body is not able to utilize it.


Copper toxicity occurs more often than insufficiency, but all these presentations can impair both mental and physical health. There is a narrow range of copper required for optimal function. Some also have an actual copper disorder called Wilson's Disease. These individuals are not able to properly excrete copper, which results in accumulation, and potentially brain and liver damage. These individuals are typically identified by their teens, even as young as three years of age. This scenario is a bit more specialized than this post will dive, but let's talk about why #copper is important and symptoms you may recognize when it is out of the optimal range. You may be surprised by its impact - high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, #depression, heart disease, miscarriages, loss of sex drive, chronic fungal infections, food cravings such as chocolate, compulsive overeating, addiction, and even cancer.



Copper is an essential mineral needed for the production of ATP in the #Krebscycle; we need this for energy. It is vital for the production and repair of connective tissue, for our immune function, for collagen formation, for our reproductive system and iron metabolism. We also need it to have a healthy nervous system and optimal cardiovascular function. Copper is important for neurotransmitter production and function, and for NMDA receptors (glutamate). When there is an insufficient level of copper in the body, we can suffer significant dis-ease. Excess copper is also associated with an array of psychological and physiological symptoms, including Tourette's, schizophrenia, bipolar, mania, autism, Asperger's, anemia, hair loss, insomnia, and a number of other significant conditions, including Alzheimer's disease. Extremely high copper levels can result in a psychotic break. Hence, all those with mental health concerns should have their copper levels evaluated and arguably, should be a part of every wellness evaluation.


The key then is balance. We don't want levels too high or levels too low. This is true for most all things in life, certainly so with all the minerals in the body. Normal blood levels of copper range from about 70 to 140 micrograms per deciliter. Copper toxicity occurs when levels exceed 140 micrograms per deciliter.


How Does One Aquire Copper Toxicity?


Many times copper is picked up in our environment. Consider your pipes. Are they made of copper? Your water supply may even be the culprit; copper sulfate may be added to your tap water in effort to control its algae growth. Cooking with copper pans may also raise their copper levels a bit excessively for some, or swimming in the local pool. Dental materials, hot tubs, jewelry, cigarette smoke, and even some prescription medications can increase your copper levels.


Zinc deficiency is an important evaluation, as zinc and copper have an intimate relationship with one another. They balance one another. Zinc is needed to form ceruloplasmin and metallothionein, which are needed to bind to copper so it can be carried into the mitochondria. These are produced by the adrenal glands so optimal function here is important too. If the adrenals are a bit fatigued, copper may accumulate in the blood and not be utilized by the body. Unfortunately, high copper is a bit stimulating for the nervous system, so this further depletes the adrenal glands and perpetuates the problem. Don't overlook the health of the liver though, because the liver signals for the production of ceruloplasm and metallothionein so dis-ease here may also impact liver utilization.


Diet plays a role. Zinc is found in the highest concentrations within red meat, so a diet that leans more towards vegetarianism may create a zinc insufficiency. Diets high in refined foods do the same. Our soil use to be a source of copper, but because of overfarming this is no longer the case. If you are supplementing with #zinc, as many do, be mindful of your copper needs to prevent imbalance.


Other vitamin or mineral deficiencies can also lead to copper imbalance, such as deficiencies in vitamin C or niacin. Minerals like iron, selenium, chromium, and especially #manganese and molybdenum can also result in elevated copper in the body. Heavy metal toxicity though, can cause the metallothionein to be used up because it attaches to many metals like mercury and cadmium. Copper will then be available, but not properly transported as the other metals have stolen its ride.


Oral contraceptives elevate copper levels. The Paraguard IUD is entirely copper for which some become sensitive. Estrogen increases the retention of copper in the kidneys. Other estrogenic compounds in the environment, called endocrine disruptors, also increase the retention of copper in the kidneys. These are commonly found in pesticides, plastics, petrochemicals, growth hormones, cosmetics, various personal care products, and so much more. We live in a very contaminated world and our body burden is higher than ever before. Our clients are encouraged to work through our Detoxification & Wellness program to help clean up their environment, and ultimately optimize their health.


Other times though, copper toxicity can be inherited. If your mother had higher copper levels when you were in her womb, this can be carried through the placenta to you. Pyroluria is also a genetic disorder that results in a zinc and B6 deficiency. When zinc levels are low, copper builds up in excess. Still others have impaired methylation which is our body's way of #detoxing ourselves from heavy metals. If you aren't methylating properly, then metals of all kinds, including copper will build up in the body. Methylation may be especially impaired if you have deficiencies in nutrients such as B6, B12, folic acid, or magnesium. We can identify many of these through evaluating your #epigenetics, which again, our clients are guided into doing themselves within our educational programs, exclusive to our active clients.


What Might Symptoms of Copper Toxicity Look Like?


Excess copper in the body has a real stimulating effect on the nervous system, similar to amphetamines or caffeine. This impacts all your organs, but it does tend to accumulate in your liver, brain, and the reproductive organs. Higher serum copper levels is associated with increased mortality from cardiovascular disease, but potentially more ominous is its impact on your neurotransmitters and autonomic nervous system. Copper ramps up your nervous system into a state of overdrive. Consider that copper is often used in electrical wires because it conducts electricity as well, and likewise increases nerve transmission, which is an electrical chemical process.


Copper in excess can inhibit the brain's ability to break down dopamine, increase norepinephrine, and decrease histamine, which can result in a wide range of psychological symptoms like mind racing or racing thoughts, uncontrollable speech, anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia, restlessness, irritability, agitation, hyperactivity, insomnia, trembling, shaking, nervousness, inability to relax, paranoia, mania, dyslexia, or other learning disorders, Tourette's, autism, ADHD, violence, panic attacks, excessive sex drive, hallucinations, or feeling like you're going to lose your mind. Even the little tags in your shirts or rough fabrics can irritate you more so because your copper is out of balance. Copper can also accumulate in the thyroid and lead to Hashimoto's or #hypothyroidism. It is central to cellular energy production, and thus many individuals with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue conditions related to mitochondrial dysfunction have disorders of copper metabolism.


Violence and excess copper have long been theorized as having significant correlation, as diets in many parts of the world are high in grains and legumes, but void of meat, which would not provide the necessary zinc to keep copper in balance. The disruption of dopamine and norepinephrine that occurs with excess of copper, can drive one to self-medicate because psychotropic substances mimic our natural neurotransmitters. Addiction can result, but also, a sufficient supply is necessary in the synthesis of many neurotransmitters which regulate mood, thoughts, and behavior, so there is a fine line we must walk to attain balance.


Copper is used for breaking down the neurotransmitter histamine, therefore, if copper is in excess, it can result in excessive degradation of histamine, which leads to levels of histamine that are too low. This is important for regulating sleep, pain sensitivity, sex drive, digestion, immune response, mood, even producing our tears. Low histamine, also known as #histapenia, can result in a plethora of symptoms in itself: irritability, grandiose plans, visual or auditory hallucinations, and paranoia.


The list really does go on though, as copper toxicity can cause hair loss, anemia, arthritis, acne, neuralgia, headaches, PMS, anorexia, fibromyalgia, allergies, kidney damage, white spots on your fingernails, Candida overgrowth, skin intolerance to cheap metals, emotional meltdowns and frequent anger, ringing in ears, sensitivity to food dyes and shellfish, sleep problems, poor concentration and focus, low dopamine activity, elevated activity of norepinephrine and adrenaline, even brain and liver damage. There are other conditions that can cause these symptoms too, but the impact is significant enough that we have made copper and zinc a routine evaluation for our wellness exams. Copper is vital for proper functioning of the immune system, the endocrine system and the nervous system.


Copper also promotes the formation of blood vessels, called angiogenesis, so when copper levels are elevated, this can predispose an individual to endometriosis and fibroid tumors, as well as increase the blood supply to other types of tumors all worsened by a congested liver that can't adequately detoxify. Chemical sensitivities often results.


There are a number of ways to evaluate copper, so potentially one method wasn't sufficient to identify your excess or deficiency. We are happy to offer a consult, or if you'd like to schedule an appointment to become a primary care client within our practice, schedule here for your initial health history.


What Do I Do If High Levels of Copper are Found in My Body?


Detoxing copper from the body also requires a knowledgeable guide, as many are given advice that may be more detrimental than helpful. Keep in mind though, when detoxing copper, you may feel worse before you feel better. If really uncomfortable, slow down the process.


First, identify and eliminate the source. Next, think zinc. As we mentioned, zinc and copper have an intimate, symbiotic relationship so supplementation of zinc alone can often bring copper levels into balance. Zinc monomethionine is the more potent form of #zinc. This is the most natural and efficient way of optimizing your zinc levels.


Other copper antagonists are molybdenum, sulfur, manganese, selenium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and E. Assure these are in proper balance, particularly if you have a methylation polymorphism. A vitamin C infusion may assist as well. Glutathione is a chelator as well as an antioxidant, and an easy add on to the vitamin C infusion, so consider this in your regimen as well.


Drink lots of water, as always to assist in the detox process. Utilize saunas, steam baths, Epsoms, or anything that increases sweating. Support elimination through the skin, liver, kidneys, and the colon. Higher levels of copper can be found in chocolate, shrimp, lobster, wheat, coffee, soybeans, cashews, garbanzo beans, avocados, coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and organ meats like liver so maybe reduce some of these. However, beef, buffalo, lamb, chicken, venison, eggs, and pumpkin seeds can help reduce copper and offer zinc. Of course, choose clean meats. Growth hormones fed to animals can exacerbate these symptoms, as can copper fungicides and widespread zinc deficiency secondary to malabsorption related to compromised gut health.


Address adrenal health. Sleep. Women need eight to ten hours, and men seven to eight to support the adrenals. Practice pranayama. Try Qigong or yoga to turn off an overstimulated sympathetic nervous system and enhance your body's effort to detox. Move, mild and gently though, not in excess. Evaluate for mold. Optimize vitamin D3 levels.


Identify whether you have issues with methylation by evaluating your epigenetics. Dig in here if your practitioner isn't so knowledgeable. If an active client of Eden though, you have a plethora of information at your fingertips, and broken down into bite size bits of information within the Detoxification & Wellness program.


An important note that while copper toxicity can be debilitating, bringing levels down too quickly or raising zinc too rapidly may also be detrimental to your emotional and physical health. Remember balance is key. Normalizing copper can take about two months, but clear improvement often starts as early as three-to-four weeks.

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