Copper Toxicity Syndrome
Jane, age 25, has many classic symptoms of copper toxicity. She has headaches, yeast infections, rashes, premenstrual tension, hair loss and acne. She often has little or no hunger. At times, she gets white spots on her fingernails. Other common symptoms of copper toxicity are difficulty sleeping, slow wound healing, cellulite, ovarian cysts, scoliosis and aches and pains.
Jane’s mind tends to race and she becomes spacy. (This condition now has a fancy name – depersonalization/derealization disorder). She also becomes anxious, fearful, depressed and has panic attacks.
Jane is a musician, a common occupation for a copper personality type. High copper people are creative and often work as artists, musicians, writers and engineers.
Physicians usually misdiagnose copper toxicity. Jane’s blood and urine tests were normal! A liver biopsy is a good test, but it is painful, invasive and costly, so medical and natural practitioners rarely do it.
Hair mineral testing is excellent to detect copper toxicity, provided you know what to look for. Jane’s hair mineral test revealed an extremely low copper level of 0.8 mg%. This is called a poor eliminator pattern. It means her body has difficulty eliminating copper.
Very low hair copper also indicates hidden copper toxicity. Her mineral test also revealed other indicators of hidden copper. These were elevated calcium and mercury levels and a low sodium/potassium ratio.
WHAT IS COPPER?
Copper is a soft, reddish-gold metal with extremely unusual properties. It is an essential mineral for all human, animal and plant life.
We call copper a “feminine” mineral because of its critical importance for women’s reproductive system.
History and industrial use. Copper has been known on earth for at least 10,000 years. It is an excellent electrical conductor and has other properties that make it a major industrial metal on earth.
Unappreciated. The vital importance of copper in the body is still largely unappreciated, mostly because medical schools and even naturopathic schools don’t teach much about it. Please remember this next time you visit a doctor.
We thank Dr. Paul Eck for much of the information in this article. Dr. Eck loved to read and study about copper. The author was fortunate to work with him for 14 years.
COPPER’S ROLES IN THE BODY
Copper has a number of important roles in the human body. The main ones are:
- Energy production. The right form of copper is needed to produce 30-40% of our energy. It is needed in the final part of the glycolysis or Krebs energy cycle called the electron transport system. Any problem here causes fatigue, depression and other low energy problems.
- Women’s and men’s reproductive system. Copper is needed for women’s fertility and to maintain pregnancy. Copper imbalance is associated with many reproductive disorders such as premenstrual syndrome, ovarian cysts, uterine fibroid tumors, infertility, miscarriages, and many others. It is also involved in some testicular problems, erectile dysfunction, prostate enlargement and other male reproductive health conditions.
- The nervous system. We call copper the emotional mineral because too much stimulates all the emotions. 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 deeply involved with many disorders of the central nervous system. These include memory loss, especially in young people, depression, anxiety, attention deficit, hyperactivity, autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, spaciness and others discussed later in this article.
- Immune Response. Too much copper makes you prone to infections of all kinds.
The right copper compounds are the body’s natural yeast fighters! With a copper imbalance, it is difficult to avoid yeast and fungus infections. Common ones are sinus problems, ear problems, vaginal yeast and intestinal yeast that causes gas, bloating, stomach pain and other digestive problems.
Some antibiotics work by mobilizing copper. The trouble is they are also toxic. We find most often they are not needed if one eats correctly. There are natural germ killers that often work just as well.
- The thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is extremely sensitive to copper. Common conditions associated with copper imbalance include hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease.
These go away fairly easily on a properly designed healing program. We find that taking thyroid hormones is not required, even though most doctors, even natural ones, will want to give you replacement thyroid hormones for these conditions.
Copper is also associated with some cases of Grave’s disease or hyperthyroidism. This also goes away with a properly designed program. Drugs may be needed temporarily to control the symptoms. Surgery or radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) are drastic, barbaric, and rarely, if ever needed, in our experience.
- The adrenal glands. Copper imbalance can be due to adrenal gland weakness.
- Bones and connective tissue. Copper is required to fix calcium in the bones and to build and repair all bones and all connective tissue. Connective tissue means tendons, ligaments, skin, hair, nails, arteries, veins and a few other tissues.
Copper imbalance contributes to tooth decay, gum disease, bone spurs, weak bones, 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 (curved or weak back), and other skeletal and structural imbalances as well.
SUMMARY OF THE THREE COPPER IMBALANCES
It is possible to be copper-deficient, copper-toxic and/or to have a condition called biounavailable copper.
Copper deficiency. 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. Others that tend to be low are vegetables and some nuts and grains.
Refined food diets are often low in copper. 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.
Copper excess. Zinc deficiency from any cause tends to cause a relative copper excess. Most people have a zinc deficiency due to low zinc in our food today, even organically grown food.
Other causes are vegetarian diets and the use of copper intrauterine devices and birth control pills. Cortisone therapy also can raise the tissue copper level.
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 copper must be bound and transported within the body.
One type of biounavailability occurs due to a deficiency of the copper-binding proteins, ceruloplasmin or metallothionein. Without sufficient binding proteins, unbound copper circulates freely in the body, and it tends to accumulate primarily in the liver, brain and female organs.
Also, the forms or compounds of copper in the body may be incorrect. This is usually due to dietary problems.
When copper is biounavailable, one may have symptoms of both copper toxicity and copper deficiency.
Biounavailable copper is common 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.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF COPPER IMBALANCE
Each mineral has “target organs” where it tends to accumulate. Copper accumulates in 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 including 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, depersonalization-derealization and schizophrenia. Others that respond 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, nervousness, irritability and others also often involve copper.
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.
COPPER AND THE BLOOD
One of the most common symptoms of biounavailabe copper or a frank copper deficiency is an anemia that looks identical to iron deficiency anemia on standard blood tests. Those most affected are young adult women, and sometimes children. Vegetarians also tend to have too much biounavailable copper and may be affected.
Signs. It is usually a mild, microcytic, microchromic anemia.
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. Iron may help a little, but it 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.
COPPER, INFECTIONS AND LOW ZINC
Copper imbalance is associated with viral, bacterial, fungal, parasitic and yeast infections. Prion disease also involves a copper imbalance. One reason for this is that copper antagonizes zinc, which is needed for the proper immune response.
Note: We find everyone is low in zinc today because the soils on earth are low in zinc, causing all food to be low in zinc. This is true even when the serum, urine and hair zinc levels are within a normal range.
COPPER, PARASITES AND YEAST INFECTIONS
Parasites are impeded and sometimes killed in the body by bioavailable copper. Copper is used in agriculture and some medications to kill parasites. When copper is out of balance, as it is in most people, parasitic infections are much more common. Until copper is brought into better balance using a development program, one may “cure” parasites with drugs or herbs, but they often come back, or are not completely eliminated.
Yeasts. 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
Most reproductive system conditions have involve a copper imbalance. Women are often affected more than men because women generally have higher levels of copper in their bodies than men.
Common reproductive organ symptoms that usually involve a copper imbalance include premenstrual syndrome, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, infertility, miscarriages, uterine fibroid tumors, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, polycystic ovaries, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibrocystic breast disease, and post-orgasmic illness. Here is more detail about a few of these conditions.
Premenstrual syndrome. The symptoms of PMS mimic the symptoms of copper imbalance. This occurs because estrogen and copper levels in the body usually increase and decrease together. Both increase before the menstrual period. This is a key to correcting this condition.
Miscarriages and infertility. Adequate available copper is required to become pregnant and to hold onto a pregnancy. Studies indicate that women with low estrogen and often low copper have more miscarriages.
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 rich in zinc. If they become depleted, male fertility and male sexual performance will suffer.
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. We do not need or ever recommend hormone replacement or bi-identical hormone therapy. We find it increases cancer in the body, even if one is unaware of it.
Biounavailable copper, progesterone and body shape. Some women have a lower estrogen level. Their bodies are often more linear in shape and less “curvy”. Estrogen tends to produce a more curvy body.
Copper, however, 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. We call zinc a ‘masculine’ element because it is required for the prostate gland and men’s bodies generally higher than women’s bodies in zinc, while women are higher in copper.
Among boys and men, symptoms related to excessive copper are growth and developmental delay, ADD, ADHD, autism, gender dysphoria and homosexuality. Others are prostate enlargement, prostate infections and prostate cancer. Others are erectile dysfunction or impotence, depression, anxiety, testicular pain and testicular cancer. Excessive copper is also associated with more violence in men and women.
Secondary sex characteristics and copper. Copper also plays an important role in secondary sex characteristics. These are aspects of sexuality that are more mental and emotional than they are physical or anatomical.
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 higher her entire lifetime.
Excessive sexual desire in women. Another curious effect of copper excess in women can be excessive sexual interest. This has something to do with the estrogen level and liver toxicity due to the copper imbalance.
COPPER AND CONNECTIVE TISSUE
Copper is required for collagen formation. Excess copper or biounavailable copper causes connective tissue problems because excessive copper interferes 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 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. Connective tissue symptoms associated with copper imbalance 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 of the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Still others are hair loss, especially in women, tendonitis, back problems due to muscle weakness, and others.
Copper imbalance is associated with artery and vein problems such as varicose veins, hemorrhoids, arteriosclerosis and atherosclerosis.
Copper imbalance is usually missed by all types of doctors. The reasons for this are:
- Most doctors – even holistic and natural doctors – are not familiar with copper imbalance.
- It is not easy to detect. Blood and urine tests are usually not helpful to identify copper imbalance. Identifying it on a hair analysis is also tricky because you cannot judge by the copper level on the test. One must look for indicators of hidden copper imbalance. This topic is discussed later in this article under hair mineral testing for copper.
- If a doctor finds copper imbalance, very few doctors know how to correct it properly. This again applies to natural and holistic doctors as well as conventional ones.
OTHER COPPER-RELATED CONDITIONS
COPPER AND ADDICTION
Addiction can 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, living in a dream world and naiveté. 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 in Arizona. 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Copper in excess often interferes with zinc metabolism. Zinc is required for the immune response and for over 100 enzymes in the body from helping 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. It is not directly associated with high blood pressure, but may be secondarily due to the reasons for arteriosclerosis explained above.
COPPER AND SOCIETY
Elevated copper in the body can affect one’s attitudes. Copper is called the ’emotional’ 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.
Copper imbalance also impairs one’s ability to think clearly, and this affects people’s attitudes. Copper imbalance is associated with brain fog, spaciness or derealization-depersonalization.
COPPER AND VEGETARIAN DIETS
Zinc compounds the body requires are found almost exclusively in meats. Vegetarian diets tend to be much higher in copper and lower in zinc.
For this reason, those who follow vegetarian diets tend to accumulate too much copper in the body. This tends to shorten their lives, even if they feel well. The longest living people in a developed nation, the Japanese, are not vegetarians.
Obligatory vegetarians. At times, 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.
As these imbalances become worse, some people cannot digest meat very well, and they may dislike its taste and/or smell. Switching to a vegetarian diet makes them feel better. Dr. Eck called these people obligatory vegetarians.
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.
Other reasons for following a vegetarian diet. These include not wanting to 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, 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.
Vegetarian symptoms. Fatigue, spaciness and other symptoms of copper toxicity begin to appear sooner or later. 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.
COPPER AND 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.
PART IV. SOURCES OF COPPER
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Mineral deficiencies. Deficiencies of manganese, iron, selenium, chromium and other minerals can contribute to copper accumulation.
- Vitamin deficiencies. These include deficiencies in the diet of B-vitamins and vitamin C.
- 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.
- 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.
- Metallothionein or other copper transport imbalances. These may also contribute to copper toxicity or biounavailability.
- 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.
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.
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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:
Ø Most slow oxidizers and all very slow oxidizers.
Ø A calcium level greater than about 70 mg%.
Ø Magnesium greater than about 10 mg%.
Ø A potassium level less than about 4 mg%.
Ø Zinc less than about 13 mg%.
Ø Zinc greater than about 20 mg% is often, but not always is a hidden copper indicator.
Ø A copper level less than 1.5 mg% is usually an excellent indicator.
Ø A 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.)
Ø Slow oxidation with a copper level less than 1.0 mg%
Ø A calcium /potassium ratio greater than 10:1.
Ø A sodium/potassium ratio less than about 2.5:1.
Ø A phosphorus level less than about 13 mg%.
Ø Four lows pattern.
Ø Four highs pattern.
Ø Sympathetic dominance pattern.
Ø Calcium shell pattern.
Ø Step down pattern.
Ø Double low ratio pattern.
Ø Bowl pattern.
Ø Passive-aggressive pattern.
Ø Wasting one’s time or biding one’s time pattern.
Ø Stress from within and without pattern.
Ø Extreme lifestyle stress pattern.
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CORRECTING A COPPER IMBALANCE
After 40 years of experience with over 60,000 clients, I find that the best way to reduce excess copper in the body, whether it is bioavailable or biounvailable, is a complete nutritional balancing program, and only those set up by one of the Approved Practitioners listed on this website. This is a much better solution than using just chelators, antagonists, adrenal support, homeopathy, drainage remedies, physical therapies or any other method I have seen.
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 mixed success, in my experience.
COMPONENTS TO HEAL
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. Here are the important things to do in order to balance copper.
- Reduce exposure to sources of copper. Common sources include copper intra-uterine devices or IUDs, swimming in pools, vegetarian diets and high copper foods such as nuts, seeds, and avocado.
- Diet is critical. The diet must contain seventy to eighty percent cooked vegetables, not raw ones. Also needed is healthful animal protein daily, and some whole grain rice and corn, if these can be tolerated well.
This diet is appropriate for most of those with copper imbalance, though not all. A small number of people are fast oxidizers. They must have much more fat and oil in their diets, and less protein at times.
Equally important, the diet must be as low as possible in sweets, fruits and sugars as possible. These foods, along with all stimulants, stress the adrenal glands and tend to make copper imbalance worse. Stimulants include sugars, caffeine and food additives such as MSG, aspartame and other excitotoxins in the diet. Many other food chemicals and additives, however, also stress the body and are not helpful for copper imbalance. Vegetarian diets tend to aggravate copper imbalance badly. Wheat and refined flour products are also not helpful at all. These are some of the most important dietary considerations, especially for slow oxidizers.
- Lifestyle modification. Most people with copper imbalance are very sensitive emotionally. Many also need to slow down, relax more and let go of anger and resentments. Some also need to make changes in their relationships, location, work and other important aspects of their lives so that they “live their truth” to a greater degree. Living a lie can be an important problem, in fact, with copper imbalance.
Reducing fear and stress. This is often very helpful and necessary to balance copper. Methods range from a change in location or work to meditation, more rest, counseling and other changes.
- Carefully chosen nutritional supplements are extremely important for adrenal gland restoration and to balance copper. These must be determined by the use of a hair mineral analysis, in our view. They must always include a powerful digestive aid, a multiple nutrient product for one’s oxidation type, supplementary vitamins and minerals as indicated by the test, kelp and perhaps a few other simple supplements to support the body properly. Supplementation is a complex subject that is discussed in other articles.
- Detoxification procedures. These are not always needed, but can be most helpful. Copper imbalance responds beautifully to the use of coffee enemas and the use of a near infrared lamp sauna. These may be absolutely essential for those with emotional problems connected to their copper imbalance.
Other methods of detoxification are less effective, in our experience. These include cleansing diets, foot baths, clay packs and other methods which can make the copper problem worse.
- Molybdenum supplementation. Dr. Eck used this for copper toxicity, and some doctors recommend it. However, I find that molybdenum is 1) somewhat toxic, and 2) very rarely needed or helpful. So I do not recommend it much.
HEALING MECHANISMS INTEGRATED INTO ALL OUR NUTRITIONAL BALANCING PROGRAMS
- 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.
- 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.
- Enhance the eliminative organs, such as the liver, skin and colon. Digestive enzymes, especially pancreatin, are very important. Also excellent is sauna therapy, especially with a near infrared electric light sauna. Other methods of enhancing the eliminative organs are coffee enemas, colonic irrigation and skin brushing.
- 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.
- 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.
- What about copper chelators? Some doctors use these. However, I find we don’t ever need them today with our improved programs. Here is more on this subject.
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 is far preferable.
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 other metals besides copper and because it is extremely yin in Chinese medical terminology. This is quite harmful for some people.
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 detach 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.
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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 fairly common. Women’s periods may be affected as healing occurs. Then the periods normalize.
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 supplements for a few days may also help slow the reactions and reduce symptoms if they are severe.
- 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, (2010, 2014, 2016). The newest version of this book is titled Development Science and Development Programs (2019 edition).
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.
- Articles by William Walsh, PhD. We don’t use the same methods as Dr. Walsh and we much prefer our methods. However, he has done some good research on the subject of copper toxicity: