Are You Suffering From Copper Overload?

By Samantha Gilbert, FNC, CHNP, CNC     Last updated on February 13th, 2022

Of all the things that can be most debilitating to women, copper tops the list. Born with copper overload and a lifetime of research into the root cause of my suffering, I’ve become quite intimate with this trace element. Copper has the ability to profoundly affect every system in the body — especially the reproductive, nervous, and glandular systems.

Copper Overload in Women

Copper overload is quite common in women because estrogen increases copper retention in the body. This is also another reason why hypothyroidism and autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s are much more common in women than men; copper (along with toxic heavy metals such as mercury) gets sequestered into the thyroid gland and can block the conversion of T4 into T3, the active form of thyroid hormone. Estrogen is similar in structure to T3, and thus has a powerful effect on the bioavailability of thyroid hormone by blocking thyroid receptors on cell membranes throughout the body.

Copper is often inherited and is brought on during hormonal events such as puberty, pregnancy, menopause; as well as the use of birth control and hormone replacement therapy. [1]

The use of copper IUDs for birth control as well as synthetic hormone replacement therapy and xenoestrogens (endocrine disrupter toxins that mimic estrogen in the body) also explain why copper overload is quite common today. Xenoextrogens come from pesticides, plastics, fuels, dry cleaning chemicals, industrial waste, growth hormones from conventional feedlot animals, and many household and personal care products. Exposure to copper pipes as well as adherence to vegetarian/vegan diets also contributes to copper toxicity.

To learn more about copper overload, check out my podcast episode 10 below with Dr. Judith Bowman, Co-founder of Mensah Medical. You can also find the Eat For Life podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts!

Symptoms of Copper Toxicity

Copper is especially disruptive to the adrenal glands, which produce the stress hormone cortisol. This constant agitation leads to dysregulation of cortisol production, causing many copper toxicity symptoms, such as:

Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)
Blood sugar dysregulation
Chronic infections
Food and chemical sensitivities
Hair loss
High anxiety
High blood pressure
Low blood pressure
Panic disorder
Premature greying of the hair
Racing thoughts
Sensitive skin
Skin rashes
Weight gain
Weight loss
Yeast overgrowth

Copper Toxicity and the Brain

Copper lowers dopamine (a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s pleasure and reward centers) and increases norepinephrine (another neurotransmitter that also functions as a stress hormone) in the brain. Imbalances in these important neurotransmitters are related to anxiety and panic disorders, depression (especially postpartum), bipolar disorder, ADHD, autism, violence, and paranoid schizophrenia. [2]

Copper Imbalance in the Cells

Copper requires special binding proteins (ceruloplasmin and metallothionine) to be able to get into cells where it can be used by the mitochondria to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate/cellular energy). Metallothionine (MT) is composed of cysteine-rich proteins that are especially important because of their antioxidant properties and ability to bind to toxic heavy metals to transport them out of the body. MT proteins also perform a wide variety of vital functions including but not limited to:

  • Detoxification of mercury and other toxic heavy metals
  • Development and functioning of the immune system
  • Delivery of zinc to cells throughout the body
  • Prevention of yeast overgrowth
  • Regulation of stomach acid pH
  • Taste discrimination by the tongue
  • Protection of enzymes that break down casein and gluten
  • Enhanced efficiency of the intestinal and blood-brain barriers
  • Reduction of inflammation after injury or illness

When copper is not bound to these special proteins, it and other heavy metals are free to roam the blood in unbound form, leading to systemic oxidative stress. With the sympathetic branch of the nervous system under attack, the body goes into a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, so calming down becomes extremely difficult.

Chronic fatigue, anorexia, fibromyalgia, postpartum depression, ADHD, autism, and Alzheimer’s disease are all forms of oxidative stress.

Elevated Copper Levels Cause Chronic Infection

With copper levels high, zinc becomes imbalanced. Zinc is essential to all forms of life and is a component of more than 300 enzymes; it enhances resistance to stress, maintains intellectual function, memory, and mood levels.[3] Zinc also enhances gene expression of metallothionine and is an essential part of the treatment process.[4]

Copper and zinc work in tandem with each other to control the overgrowth of fungal, yeast, and parasitic infections. Without the proper ratio, these types of infections can become chronic and difficult to eliminate.

Dealing with Too Much Copper in the Body

Copper overload can have a variety of outcomes for different people based on genetic variations, environment, and stress. If this post resonates with you, please share your experience in the comments below. It is through sharing your story that we create community, eliminate guilt and shame, and bring about healing.


[1] Walsh, William J. (2014). Depression Powerpoint. Retrieved from URL.
[2] Walsh, William J. (2012). Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. (19). New York, NY: Skyhorse.
[3] Mensah, Albert. Bowman, Judith. Retrieved from personal treatment protocol.
[4] Walsh, William J. (2012). Nutrient Power: Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. (43). New York, NY: Skyhorse.
Walsh, William J. Elevated Blood Copper/Zinc Ratios in Assaultive Young Males. Psychology and Behavior, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 327-329, 1997.
Walsh, William J., Crayton, John W. Elevated serum copper levels in women with a history of postpartum depression. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, Volume 21, Issue 1, March 14, 2007, Pages 17-21.
Mzhel’skaya TI. Biological functions of ceruloplasmin and their deficiency caused by mutation in genes regulating copper and iron metabolism. Bull Exp Biol Med. 2000; 130(8):719-27.
Chauhan, Abha, Chauhan, Ved, Brown, Ted W., Cohen, Ira. Oxidative stress in autism: Increased lipid peroxidation and reduced serum levels of ceruloplasmin and transferrin – the antioxidant proteins. Life Sciences, Volume 75, Issue 21, 8 October 2004, Pages 2539–2549.
Faber S, Zinn GM, Kern JC, Kingston HM. The plasma zinc/serum copper ratio as a biomarker in children with autism spectrum disorders. Biomarkers. 2009; 14(3):171-80.
Pfeiffer, Carl C. (1975). Mental and Elemental Nutrients. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing. Lontie, Rene. (1984). Copper Proteins and Copper Enzymes. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


211 thoughts on “Are You Suffering From Copper Overload?”

  1. My step daughter has copper and manganese toxicity. Do SS RIs contribute to tha? Can’t find anyone to help treat her. Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Nancy,
      SSRI’s don’t contribute to it, but they are not effective either unless she is also undermethylated. I’m happy to offer you a complimentary consultation to see how I can help. You can email my assistant here and she’ll get you scheduled.

  2. Are you looking for high copper serum levels, bad copper to zinc ratio? Could you share how we can know if there is an issue? For example, I have a serum copper at 1134 mcg/L and a serum zinc at 93 ug/dL. Thank you!

      1. Hi Shelley,
        I’m sorry, but this is impossible to answer without a thorough assessment because every individual with copper overload is different. There are many other factors to take into consideration, especially methylation and pyrrole status.

      2. Hi Sami,

        I have just seen your reply to this lady and you have mentioned 2 issues my daughter has and I believe copper toxicity is starting. Do you work with people in Australia? And are you able to help us? She is suffers anxiety and has constant panic attacks. I would appreciate if you could send a reply to my email so I don’t loose contact. 🙂 Thank you

      3. Hi Louise,
        I have many patients in AU and would love to help your daughter. Click here to book a complimentary consult to see how I can help.

  3. Can a copper IUD contribute to copper overload? I have been feeling extremely fatigued since having one put in 7 mos. ago.

  4. Quick testimonial here: I did Sami’s testing for copper (and other things), and it’s been life-altering. Before, I was having tremendous anxiety around work. It was so bad that I couldn’t think, which meant I wasn’t doing great work, which created more anxiety. 🙁 I have been blown away by the difference it has made to reduce the copper in my diet, and take the supplements that Sami recommended. If you have mood issues that haven’t been resolved, it’s really worth the investment to work with her.

      1. what type of test should i as for? can my ob/gyn do it? i started with horrible anxiety panic attacks insomnia. And i had the Copper iud, i just had it removed.

  5. Thank you for this!! I think I am finally getting to the bottom of my issues!!! What is the best functional test for copper and zinc? Can it just be a normal blood test or does it have to be something like SpectraCell?

    Thank you again!

  6. I have noticed many of my supplements contain
    papain and bromelain. Are those forms okay for
    a person who has high copper?
    Also, many of my doctors recommend Dim for
    hormone balancing. I just realized the source is
    a concentration of broccoli. Not a good choice for
    someone with copper overload, right?
    Thank you!

  7. Hi Sami,
    Thank you so much for all the information.
    Last night, I poured over your website for hours.
    I learned so much!

    I am suspicious I have a copper load issue.
    I have so many mystery health issues at
    a fairly young age.

    What do you advise people to do that have
    copper water pipes?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Suzie,
      I’m glad you are enjoying my articles. If you have copper pipes, do not drink the water from them and get a shower filter that removes copper. Get home delivery of spring drinking water from a reliable source. Tap and well water are high in copper.

      1. Thank you for the information. We do have copper pipes. We have
        a water purifier on our kitchen facet. Do you feel they do
        a sufficient job filtering copper out of tap water?

  8. Hi, a question… Foods high in copper are also high in zinc- which supposedly counteracts the copper. Oysters, cashews, etc. Do you know the answer as to why they would not “cancel the problem out” – if you know what I mean? Thanks!

    1. Hi Janet,
      That’s a great question. While it’s true some foods contain both copper and zinc, this does not automatically cancel the problem out because the ratio is often imbalanced. We are currently living in a high copper world with rampant zinc deficiency so if copper overload is present, it’s best to steer clear of high copper foods in the beginning stages of treatment. These foods also tend to be problematic in other areas – high histamine/histamine liberation, salicylates, fungi and mold infestations, rancidity, etc.

      1. Thanks for your reply! My mother has had horrible skin rashes, and I started her on zinc as well… after 10 years and many doctors/medicines/attempts to isolate the offender, I think the zinc is making a difference! Thanks again. Will get your book and tell others.

      2. You are most welcome Janet! Glad to know the zinc is making a difference in the condition of your mother’s skin! 🙂

      3. Hello!
        What kind of dr is best to see if you think you have a copper-zinc imbalance (wholistic? Primary? Endocrinologist?) and what kind of test – would it be bloodwork?

        Also – would a symptom of pink/blue/purple like “stretch” marks on the back of calves and back of thighs In a non-overweight teenager indicate high cortisol and be linked to a copper-zinc imbalance?


      4. Hi Lisa – in our clinic here we work with copper/zinc imbalances. We use serum copper testing, among others. Stretch marks on a child are indicative of pyrrole disorder

  9. I have been to more than a dozen doctors in the past 3 years. I lost half my hair, fatigued, always tired. Trouble sleeping all night, can’t lose weight, chin broke out, no energy or stamina. No one can figure it out. All my tests come back normal, so frustrating.

    1. Hi Augusta,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I experienced the same thing with regard to my labs. It wasn’t until I tested my copper and zinc levels that I really got clear cut answers.

      1. What are the desired levels/ratio? I head this done I think years ago by great plains lab -and it was ok at the time. Can regular labs i.e quest do these tests/payed for by insurance ?

      2. I was told the accepted scale for Copper is between 50 and 150. I am now starting tests, as I came back 165.

      3. Copper becomes toxic when other
        Minerals are low and the body can’t use copper. One of the missing minerals can be sulfur. I took that and within 2 weeks my high copper became normal. Now I can both of the together and it working for the many years now. Thanks

      4. A doctor friend and my dietician both say that the ratio is what is important. Your levels may be ‘within the desired range’, as mine were, but not in the correct ratio. They should be roughly equal levels. If your copper is higher than your zinc then there is an imbalance, which could be problematic.

    2. Hi there, I will try and make my story short; found these little red spots coming from under my skin (found out I have Petechia); I went to the dermatologist to make sure (confirmed); went to my primary care physician and ran all the normal tests (urinalysis, blood, etc). The doctor found an infection based on my urinalysis (normal scale is 1-5; I was at 6), but couldn’t tell me where it was stemming from. I had an autoimmune test taken (slightly over the normal range count). I don’t feel like I have lupus, etc. Since my doctor couldn’t tell me what was wrong, I decided to have a hair analysis done! Tadah! My results came back – I have high levels of copper in my system. It explains the fatigue, the taste for sweet/salty things; Calcium is high; my thyroid is on the verge of a burnout; adrenal is 18% functioning. Based on everything I found out, the infection is stemming from the copper and all the other imbalances in my body. I lost 9 pounds in the last 2 months (needed to, but not this way). The person who did my hair analysis suggested supplements that I need to purchase in order to bring my body back to it’s normal range.

      1. Look Dr Dan Pursed on the web and youtube. Big researcher in high copper. I am taking his supplements and am starting to feel better. I have copper and hair test came back allergic to a lot of high copper foods. Fibromyalgia, hasimotes, hypothryoid, psoriatic arthritis, high cortisol, the list is endless. Starting on low copper diet

      2. Hi Jackie, I also do hair analyses and have been told that I am eliminating copper at this point. I have had the petechiae that you mentioned as well. However, they appear to go away after a little while, much like any lesion would heal. At the same time, I’ve experienced headache with visual disturbance (first time ever), as well as heart palpitations that appear to be benign. The elimination of copper can apparently cause a myriad of symptoms. Just my 2 cents worth!

      3. Could you please tell who did your hair analysis? My daughter suffers greatly from most of the symptoms!

    3. I feel your stress and pain. In order to get to the root of my issues with severe allergies (food and environmental) stress, fatigue, anaphylaxis shock (when I knew I had not been around or ingested anything on my allergy list), you name it…I had it….after 7 years of general doctors and a few specialist in their data base…just regurgitating the same information and taking the same tests…I finally researched and found someone that specialized in a more natural approach and that would take in depth testing of my blood, urine, and stools. Come to find out I have a severe deficiency in several of my chemicals, high levels of inflammation, mold, tick bite issues, vitamin deficiencies and more (grant you all of my now detected issues could have caused death or severe organs issues beyond repair if not treated), all was contributing to every symptom that I had been dealing with as my health continued to decline through those 5 years. The general doctors did drastically improve my asthma and get my food and environmental allergies under control; however, I had another host of major issues that also was mimicking some of those same symptoms that I was still having a problem and more health issues started climbing. Sad to say that after 4 near death and actually died twice and went into cardiac arrest several times, my general doctors were confused but wouldn’t get out of their box to dig deeper with testing. With my Natural Specialist in allergies and vitamin/chemical deficiencies, I am finally on my way to recovery, however, I will never be completely cured due to undetection for so long and lack of treatment. It is a trial and error cause my system is so touchy but at least I am getting some answers and help. If I continued as I was with my general physicians, my health would be in a grave situation for the unresolved issues were on their way to shut down organs etc. Doctors are needed but sometimes you must research (online) how you feel, what the doctors are saying and wanting to prescribe to you. affects, and constantly ask questions and you will find out more of your problems than the doctors are telling you. I am now on my way to better health. If you would like to talk text 910-459-3648 (give me heads up that you are not a telemarketer and what your topic is), DO NOT EMAIL. I will then call you or continue to text. I can give you more of my story in hopes to help you. I am not a doctor but I am a strong individual that feels that you can have a better health if you take more control of your body by listening, searching, disagreeing, and combinding pharmaceuticals with natural supplements and finding out what foods you need to put in your diet or take out of your diet that best works with your individual health issues and yes change the environment (not saying locations) and people that is not contributing to your health. . Good luck.

    4. You need to get a Consult or two:
      #1) Rheumatologist,
      #2)) Endocrinologist.
      No other doctor will diagnose you with what these docs trreat, Especially Rrheumy. It took me nearly 20 years too get diagnosed with my Autoimmune disease, until I learned that.

      1. I went to specialists for 13 years. I was diagnosed in 30 minutes of seeing a functional medicine dr, which was confirmed by bloodwork as copper toxicity. I can’t say I would ever trust a “specialist” again.

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