Copper is essential for good health. I will explain my personal experience dealing with too much copper and not enough zinc while living with pyroluria.
But what happens when we have too much of it in our body?
High copper levels can cause all sorts of chaos…
Disclaimer: The writer has chosen to share her experience in hopes that it will help another. She is not a medically trained professional so any suggestions you choose to take based on this article is solely be at your own risk.
Too much copper and not enough zinc
Knowing what is pyrrole disorder twelve months ago has seen me re-visiting all that I previously believed about my health, my diet and the supplements I need to take to be well.
Something happened at the beginning of this year, that made me really realise that due to chronic zinc deficiency caused by untreated pyroluria, my body was overloaded with pyrrole disorder copper toxicity.
While researching copper overload, I stumbled across Ann Gittleman’s book “Why am I always so tired”. I bought the book and read it, and it really opened up my eyes to what’s been going on in my body.
This book finally explains the bizarre list of symptoms that I’ve been doing my best to ‘manage’ for all these years and it really gives me hope that I can gradually repair the damage that high copper levels have been causing in my body.
So what does copper do in the body?
Copper plays a role in many functions of the body including:
- Energy production
- Skin & hair pigment formation
- Collage production (skin, bones, connective tissue)
- Hemoglobin and red cell production
- Synthesis of neurotransmitters
- Reproduction & pregnancy
- Thyroid & Adrenal function
As you can see, copper is an essential nutrient. Without it, we’d be in big trouble.
But what happens when there’s too much copper?
Copper overload & copper toxicity
First let me explain that in traditional medicine, only two types of copper toxicity are generally recognised.
The first is acute copper poisoning whereby food or drink is contaminated with high copper levels. Generally the body reacts with vomiting and diarrhea to get rid of the copper quickly and prevent it doing more damage. However, if this doesn’t happen quickly enough, the excess copper can cause red blood cells to rupture en masse and cause death so I have written how to calculate ratios of zinc copper ceruloplasmin. Thankfully, this is apparently a rare occurrence.
The other is Wilsons Disease, a genetic and chronic condition that causes copper to accumulate in the body. This accumulation is due to a genetic defect that prevents the liver from processing copper normally. Instead, copper builds up, damaging the liver and then eventually spilling out and damaging other organs. Wilsons disease requires life long management and monitoring.
Both of these scenarios make it quite clear that copper toxicity is real and copper overload can be a dangerous situation.
Symptoms of copper overload
Similar to other ‘overload’ situations in the body – eg insulin resistance – when the body is overloaded with copper, even though the body has stored excess copper in the tissues, blood levels of ‘bio-available’ copper may be low, and the body may be indicating symptoms of copper deficiency.
Anne Gittleman discusses this scenario and alternative ways to test for copper overload in her book.
It seems that the symptoms of copper overload are many, varied and confusing because copper can have an impact on pretty much every body system. For example, copper can play a role in many so-called ‘mental illnesses’ as well as other neurological disorders. Common neurological symptoms and disorders where the reduction of copper levels has shown improvement are:
- Emotionality (copper seems to enhance emotional states)
- Suicidal tendencies
- ADD, ADHD
- Bipolar disorder
- Panic attacks
- Brain fog
- and many others.
Physical symptoms of copper overload can include:
- Fungal infections
- Chronic sinus infections
- Hormonal issues
- Miscarriages and infertility
- Low libido
- Estrogen dominance
- Connective tissue weakness
- Diseases of the muscles, tendons and ligaments
- Addictions (drugs, food, alcohol, exercise, sex, caffeine, cigarettes)
- Thyroid disease
- Adrenal fatigue
- Eczema, psoriasis and other skin problems
- Chronic fatigue
- and more.
Sources of copper
Common sources of copper include many foods (of course), contraceptive pills, IUD’s, copper water pipes and the copper based fungal sprays that are commonly used on fruits and vegetables.
The common and long term use of contraceptive pills and IUD’s makes women particularly at risk of copper overload even if there is no underlying genetic risk such as Wilsons disease or Pyrrole disorder.
Women also tend to naturally have higher levels of copper in their bodies than men because copper levels are affected by estrogen levels.
The potential increase in copper levels caused by the use of contraceptive pills and IUD’s may explain the problems that many women experience when taking the pill with weight gain and other health issues, and the residual problems that remain or eventuate once the pill is stopped such as infertility.
How to reduce copper levels
Reducing copper levels can apparently take a long time and I guess for someone like myself, who suspects from her history that copper has been an issue for most of her life, it’s going to be a long slow process, but it can be done and I’m happy to say that after only a couple of months I’m noticing subtle differences already.
The first step is to follow a low copper diet, or, depending on how much of an issue this is, at least remove high copper foods from your diet for a period of time. These foods (unfortunately) include chocolate, nuts and shellfish.
The other step when it comes to diet is to include plenty of high zinc foods which include red meats and eggs and remove or reduce the things that reduce zinc levels in the body such as coffee and alcohol…
The second part of removing excess copper and gaining balance is supplements.
Supplements that may help reduce copper overload
Anne Gittleman recommends the use of Alpha Lipoic Acid to reduce copper levels in her book. This supplement chelates heavy metals, including copper, and helps to remove them from the body.
Of course, the other essential supplement is zinc as zinc balances copper.
I currently take my Pyrrole supplements which include high-dose zinc along with B6 and other companion nutrients. They are prescribed by my doctor and made up for me by a compounding pharmacy.
But now that I’ve realised that copper is an issue, along with those I’m taking 900mg per day of Alpha Lipoic Acid as recommended by Anne Gittleman.
My Pyrrole supplement contain a little magnesium, but because Boron works with magnesium, I also use a topical magnesium oil every day as well just to help it along. To finish up, I just wanted to say that this is a big subject that I plan to write more about. Copper overload needs to be discussed and researched more and it needs to be recognized by traditional medicine, because from all that I’ve read and from my personal experiences, I believe that this may be a bit of a modern-day epidemic with many people suffering and looking for answers in all the wrong places.
So please share with anyone you think this may be relevant to.
If you even suspect that excess copper may be a problem for yourself or someone you love, Anne Gittleman’s book will answer many of your questions and how to calculate ratios of zinc, copper and ceruloplasmin is just one of them.
- Susie Wilson is a Mum, a writer, a health buff and a bit of a self confessed food-a-holic! Susie has a passion for learning about, creating and of course eating healthy foods. She enjoys sharing recipes, ideas and information about the foods she loves and the things she's discovered about healthy eating and living. (Contact Author)