Copper toxicity is becoming a widespread concern in the modern world
It is one of the key underlying drivers of anxiety, oestrogen dominance, dysmenorrhoea (painful periods), menorrhagia (heavy periods), irregular periods, mental health issues and overall hormonal imbalances – in both men and women
The clients I meet in Sydney and online typically experience anxiety, hormonal imbalances, heavy and painful periods, PMS, digestive issues, adrenal fatigue and insomnia, and despite taking supplements, herbal medicine, making dietary & lifestyle changes and doing ‘all the right things,’ nothing seems to be shifting
If this sounds like you, there is a high chance that copper toxicity may be one of the key underlying causes driving your symptoms that you are missing in your treatment
It’s one of the key things that must be addressed because if you are trying to uncover the root cause of your symptoms. Copper toxicity is one of these underlying, organic biochemical processes in the body that is driving an imbalanced biochemistry which won’t resolve until copper levels are brought down
This is important to understand because although herbal medicine is an important and powerful intervention for regulating hormones and neurotransmitter production that I use frequently with my clients, if you haven’t addressed copper toxicity the herbs are essentially still a band-aid and you’re not getting to one of the core underlying causes. Nutritional medicine and supplementation interventions are more important for bringing copper levels down.
Typical symptoms of copper toxicity include:
Anxiety & Depression
Ringing In Ears
Early Hair Loss/Greying Of Hair
Joint Pain & Inflammation
Behavioural Disorders (ADHD, Autism Spectrum)
Copper toxicity is something I screen all of my female clients seeking help with anxiety, especially if they also struggle with hormonal imbalances and have heavy periods. 90-95% of the time, these women have copper toxicity as viewed on blood tests, Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis and their clinical symptom picture
I also screen most of my male clients for copper toxicity, especially if they are also experiencing symptoms of hormonal imbalances, anxiety and depression
The Importance Of Balanced Copper & Zinc Levels
Copper is a heavy metal that we do actually need in the body in minuscule amounts, but it needs to be in a delicate balance with a mineral that’s very important for our health called Zinc.
Zinc is an extremely important mineral that is calming and relaxing to our nervous system. It helps to make neurotransmitters such as GABA and serotonin which are calming to the brain, it’s important for our immune system and fighting off infections, it’s important for our digestive function and healing the gut, and it’s also a very important antioxidant in the body.
Having excess copper levels drives a zinc deficiency in the body. Copper toxicity then fires up the brain because as opposed to zinc being an antioxidant, copper is a ‘pro-oxidant’ or a ‘free radical’ and acts as a neurotoxin, affecting your neurotransmitter production and ultimately driving anxiety symptoms and hormonal imbalances. Having copper toxicity also causes individuals to have very poor stress tolerance, which is why they are so sensitive to anxiety and panic attacks
Copper & Oestrogen
Copper & oestrogen are intricately related. Copper toxicity and excess copper levels causes the body to hold onto oestrogen in the body and prevent its detoxification, and having excess oestrogen levels and poor oestrogen detoxification causes the body to hold onto copper. They tend to feed one another, creating a vicious cycle.
The most common symptoms associated with having copper toxicity & oestrogen dominance include:
Digestive Issues – Bloating, Cramping, Altered Bowels
On top of all these symptoms that many women suffer, having excess copper levels drives iron deficiency
Iron is another very important mineral in the body which has a variety of functions including oxygen transport around the body, formation of red blood cells, energy production and reducing brain fog & fatigue. Women are highly susceptible to iron deficiency because of their monthly bleed, even more-so if their periods are heavy. Many women self-prescribe iron supplements and even though it may improve their fatigue temporarily, iron supplements block the absorption and utilisation of zinc in the body.
There are many women out there self-prescribing with iron, not realising that it is potentially keeping their zinc levels down, which is keeping their copper levels up, and this vicious cycle continues on. This is a very common scenario I see in my clinical practise in Sydney…
A woman presents with anxiety, heavy and painful periods, they are iron deficient due to the excess copper so their iron levels never seem to be able to increase, they may also have gut issues that don’t seem to get any better even with natural treatment…and the key driver of all this mess is copper toxicity which is not being addressed
What Is Causing Copper Toxicity?
- The Oral Contraceptive Pill – The OCP increases copper levels in the body because it raises oestrogen levels. The OCP also causes zinc deficiency, B-vitamin deficiencies and negatively effects our beneficial gut flora
- Copper piping – used extensively in plumbing systems, drinking water can be a source of copper. Drinking unfiltered tap water is also a source of other heavy metals which cause significant damage in the body and the brain, e.g. lead
- Plant Based Diets – tend to be deficient in zinc, due to zinc being absorbed poorly in plants, compared to animal foods. Plants also tend to be a significant source of copper, e.g. avocado, chocolate, nuts. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue if you have a well-rounded diet, strong digestion, hormonal balance and practise stress-management, but many people following a plant-base diet struggle with having adequate overall zinc intake
- Vitamin C Deficiency – Vitamin C is a key antioxidant for reducing copper absorption in the intestinal tract upon digestion. A high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh juices, are key for maintaining adequate vitamin C levels in the body. Many people choose to take Vitamin C supplements, which I do not recommend because at just 600mg/day, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can affect the copper transport protein Caeruloplasmin, which is needed to transport copper around the body.If we are taking synthetic vitamin C to reduce copper levels, but is also reducing caeruloplasmin, we are kind of missing the point. Wholefood Vitamin C supplements are therefore recommended
- Xeno-oestrogens – environmental sources of oestrogen-like compounds that act as ‘endocrine disruptors,’ which cause hormonal imbalances and drive copper toxicity. Xeno-oestrogens are found in synthetic cosmetics, insecticides, plastics, BPA, pthalates, unfiltered drinking water and many other chemicals
- Organic farming – whilst organic food is important, they are also a source of ‘natural’ pesticides made from copper sulphate
- Poor digestive function & detoxification capacity – at the end of the day, the state of your overall health comes down to being able to digest and break down, absorb, assimilate and detoxify food, chemicals and toxins. The gut must be strong. If you have digestive issues and a combination of some of the factors above, this is the recipe for a copper storm
Fertility & Children
In today’s modern world, babies are being born who already have copper/zinc imbalances, and who are exposed to a significant source of heavy metals due to a lifetime of maternal exposure to heavy metals being passed on. Kids are growing up with heavy metal toxicities which have serious effects on their neurological development. A minimum of 6 months (preferably 12 months) should be given for preconception care with appropriate testing, to allow for gut health restoration and detoxification. This is to ensure mums are in the best state of health possible before falling pregnant
If women go into pregnancy having with copper toxicity and heavy metal issues, this predisposes them to post-natal depression. Pre-natal care is so important!
Plasma Zinc, Serum Copper, Caeruloplasmin – These 3 blood tests are essential for evaluating your zinc:copper ratio, and how much of your copper is ‘bound’ vs ‘unbound’ – unbound copper is toxic. Plasma zinc and serum copper levels on their own can not guide treatment – you must have Caeruloplasmin levels tested to properly evaluate and monitor your treatment program
Think of caeruloplasmin as a transporter ‘taxi’ protein that is responsible for taking copper around in the bloodstream. If these levels are low relative to zinc and copper levels in the body, we have a high amount of copper that is not bound to caeruloplasmin, which is the ‘unbound copper.’
Using blood tests of zinc and copper on their own are not sufficient to determine whether or not you have adequate zinc and copper levels. We need caeruloplasmin to determine determine the percentage of copper that is floating around in the bloodstream unbound. This is important to understand as this is what acts in the body as a neurotoxin and drives alot of symptoms. Without caeruloplasmin, you are flying blind
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) – a more accurate test for assessing the storage amount of minerals and heavy metals in the body. It also allows us to assess mineral status based on ratios compared to other minerals in the body
These two testing strategies are absolutely essential to combine together to assess nutritional status and copper status effectively
Work with a practitioner who has experience in and understands how to order and evaluate these tests int the context of your entire health presentation and symptoms
It will save you alot of time and money spent on unnecessary supplements through guessing and trying to treat symptoms without treating the underlying cause
Like any naturopathic treatments, it never comes down to just one reason as to why someone is ill – there is always a complex interplay of many factors that are causing symptoms. An individual approach needs to be tailored, and since we’re dealing with the body needing to excrete heavy metals effectively and have optimum levels of other minerals in the body, there is generally a need for some digestive & microbiome support, especially the liver and the bowels, to ensure that your digestion is strong, the bowels are eliminating and liver detoxification is optimal.
Digestive support is for many people a starting point of treatment because if you go in with high-doses of minerals or binders to deal with copper toxicity and bring other heavy metals down, but your liver and bowels are not functioning optimally and you are not excreting properly, then this is when people usually get sick trying to go hard and fast and doing extreme ‘detox’ regimes. Heavy metals are mobilised into the bloodstream and reabsorbed, which often makes people much worse.
It is a very delicate process that needs to be treated with caution under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. There is no one-set protocol, even if you have been diagnosed with Pyroluria (Pyrroles Disorder”)
Resolving Copper Toxicity
From personal experience, uncovering that I had issues with copper & heavy metals and then treating them accordingly completely shifted my health. I had tried for years with other approaches and supplements, diets, herbs etc. but it wasn’t until I got to the core underlying cause that I was able to restore my health properly.
Lesson of the story = Test, Don’t Guess!
I have seen incredible shifts in my client’s health when we have uncovered copper toxicity and heavy metals. If this is your issue, it is seriously life-changing
It’s important to address because as important as the mind-body connection is, and the role of spiritual practises and belief-systems, these things won’t be effective while there is something in the physical body that has not been addressed. It is one very important piece of the puzzle. Once you deal with copper toxicity, you will most probably find you will be much more motivated to work with emotional, psychological and spiritual tools for healing