A friend recently approached me for some advice related to her copper levels. She had a copper level outside the Australian standard of 11-23 micromol/L. She was rather helpless as to what she could do to lower her copper level and was worried as her local GP explained to her that she needed to lower her levels quickly or suffer the consequences. In light of this, I would like to share the advice that I gave her in the hope that you are able to take action with conviction if you are faced with a similar situation:
What is copper?
Copper is a trace element that our body needs to generate energy/ATP through the Krebs cycle, it assists in boosting your immune system, it aids in iron production (it does so by oxidising and reducing iron in addition to incorporating iron into haemoglobin. As such, low iron levels (anaemia) might be a direct result of low copper levels) and modulates the breakdown of neurotransmitters (dopamine, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine). Studies have shown that copper imbalances can effect the neurotransmitters mentioned; leading to ADHD, sleep issues and even Tourettes syndrome.
The 3 types of copper imbalances
- Low copper levels
- Excess copper levels
- Copper biounavailable. This occurs when your body has a high copper serum level but insufficient copper for healthy cellular processes such as energy production and immune system modulation.
Origins of copper toxicity
- Zinc deficiency- This is probably the most obvious sign you might have a copper imbalance. Zinc and copper have a symbiotic relationship. Zinc is used to produce Ceruoplasmin and Metallothionein. These are proteins that transport copper into the Mitochondria in order to produce your bodies energy/ATP. When Zinc levels are low, these proteins are also low. Less copper is bound and transported into Mitochondria resulting in higher copper levels in your blood.
- Vitamin deficiencies- Vitamin C is a copper antagonist meaning that copper depletes vitamin C levels. High copper levels typically (but not always) results in low vitamin C levels. Vitamin B deficiencies can also pre-expose you to copper toxicity as the B vitamins are powerful methylating agents that help eliminate copper from the body.
- Adrenal fatigue- Your adrenal glands (lodged in your brain) typically send signals to your liver to generate Ceruoplasmin and Metallothionein. These then bind the free copper in the blood and deliver it to the end destination (the bodies Mitochondria). If you are always stressed or constantly fatiguing your adrenal glands through stimulants such as caffeine or high bouts of sugar, these signals become weaker resulting in less Ceruoplasmin and Metallothionein being produced. This leads to high copper levels in the blood which can cause issues with your nervous system and lodge in the brain/liver resulting in uncontrollable oxidative stress.
- High mercury and cadmium levels- These heavy metals compete with copper to bind to Ceruoplasmin and Metallothionein. The higher the mercury and cadmium levels in your body; the more toxic copper becomes.
- Genetic polymorphisms- Some people suffer from a genetic disorder which effects their livers ability to readily methylate and eliminate copper from the blood.
Tests to determine copper toxicity
- Red blood cell mineral test
- Blood Ceruoplasmin level
- Hair analysis (the quickest and easiest way to roughly determine your serum copper levels)
- Liver biopsy (this yields the best results but is painful and not very practical as an initial diagnosis)
It should be noted that the first three tests might not give an accurate representation of the copper levels in your body as copper tends to lodge in your organs. There is no true method to accurately detect copper levels except for a liver biopsy.
- Identify the root cause and eliminate the source. E.g. Does the source of your copper poisoning originate from drinking water from copper pipes or cooking in copper pots?
- Increase your zinc levels to the recommended 9-16 micromol/L
- Increase your vitamin B and vitamin C levels in addition to your manganese and selenium intake (ensure optimal levels are already met).
- Drink lots of purified water
- Lower your intake of foods that contain high amounts of copper such as wheat, lobster, avocados, sunflower and sesame seeds.
- Exercise regularly
Your last resort is to use a copper chelator!
Copper is a powerful and important trace metal that should be moderated. If you do have high levels of copper; it is best to follow the above detox and seek assistance from a medical professional.
Please contact Dr. Daniel Lombardo for more information or any questions about copper toxicity.