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:

Acne
Allergies
Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)
Anemia
Arthritis
Asthma
Blood sugar dysregulation
Chronic infections
Depression
Endometriosis
Food and chemical sensitivities
Hair loss
Headaches
High anxiety
High blood pressure
Infertility
Insomnia
Low blood pressure
Panic disorder
PCOS
PMDD
PMS
Premature greying of the hair
Racing thoughts
Sensitive skin
SIBO
Skin rashes
Spaciness
Tinnitus
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.

References

[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.

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

  1. Hi Sami G,

    I live in Canada, and I am finding that most MD’s don’t seem to know anything about copper overload, they are only tipped off by conditions with more extreme presentation, like Wilson’s disease or copper poisoning.

    I recently discovered through hair element testing that I may have a copper overload (levels were off the chart). I am trying to find other methods of testing that might back up what was found on the hair test. My ceruloplasm and serum copper were checked through a standard lab, and appear to be within the normal range (but in the low end). Zinc is at the low end of normal.

    I understand from a number of other sources that copper tends to store in the tissues, so it may not necessarily be reflected in the bloodwork. Is this true? Do you think that hair mineral analysis is a reliable way to measure copper levels?

    Also, I am very curious about the connection between elevated copper and rheumatoid arthritis. I found a good number of studies on PubMed which describe the elevated levels of copper and low zinc in rheumatoid patients. I wonder if this is why D-Penicillamine seems to be and effective treatment for some people, because it chelates out the excess copper?? (It is classed as a Disease Modifying Anti-rheumatic drug, but used less frequently because of toxic side effects)

    Do you know of any good sources for further reading which discuss the RA – copper connection? Have you ever heard of anyone experiencing long term remission of their RA or other chronic conditions (like CFS or fibromyalgia) after treating copper imbalance?

    I have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, so I am trying to find answers for myself that conventional medicine does not seem to provide.

    Thanks for publishing all of these helpful articles Sami G!

    1. Hi Vanessa,
      Unfortunately, most doctors don’t know about copper overload, even those that specialize in women’s health. It’s a phenomenon that really shocks me and one of the reasons I do what I do. HTMA is a great tool, but must be used in conjunction with other lab work. Copper definitely is connected to RA and many other autoimmune disorders, especially CFS and Fibromyalgia. Yes, I have seen remission of these conditions with proper treatment. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any resources that make the copper/RA connection.

      1. Hi this interests me
        I have had ‘low copper ‘ according to blood tests between 5 and 8
        Reference range is 10 to 30 (Australia)
        I have consistently taken copper supplements and I am still below reference range . However recently at night I have started getting numb in hands and feet and a recent hair analysis says I have too much copper
        People are giving me apposing opinions and I wonder if it is connected to the numbness ?

      2. I watched an excellent video by Dr Purser today and he says we store copper predominately in our tissue, muscles etc, so serum copper won’t necessarily show an accurate level and often is low in comparison to the real picture of someone who is toxic. Sounds like you need to get off those copper tablets…we live in a copper rich world and more are toxic than deficient.

      3. Actually, it’s important to look at both serum and unbound copper (copper that is not bound to proteins), something we’ve known for almost 3 decades now.

  2. Hi SamiG,

    As someone who has been HTMA testing for a while now under the Nutritional Balancing program, I was wondering how the serum copper test works when most copper is stored in the tissues and organs? Can it not look normal in the blood, and yet you still have hidden copper? The part of your protocol that really intrigues me is the undermethylation/overmethylation. How are the treatments different for each?

    Thanks!
    Cheri

    1. Hi Cheri,
      It’s the relationship of serum copper to ceruloplasmin and zinc. HTMA is a great tool, but it must be used in conjunction with other testing methods. Over and undermethylators are polar opposites in that overmethylators thrive on folates, and undermethylators get worse on them (from food and supplements). Keep in mind that every under and overmethylator is different due to a wide variety of other variables, so treatments plans will always be custom tailored to the individual.

    2. I would also like to know what effects it has on blood results if once has the copper in the tissues. I do not know if I have a copper overload but could imagine it. I always feel much worse when loosing weight. I feel kind of toxic. My copper in blood was almost normal. Not a good copper/zinc ratio but the copper in the serum was still in the normal range. But I am overweight and I think I could have stored a lot of copper there.

  3. Currently trying to raise my ceruloplasmin by eating carrots for Vit A. Is beta carotene a good form of Vit A? I’ve read that retinol is better. Will Vit A help with ceruloplasmin?

    Thank you!
    Anne

  4. Hi Sami G, thanks so much for this info. I have been on NDT and ACE for about 2 years and finding my sensitivity, anxiety, depression and just generally feeling so overwhelmed, I am finding it too hard sometimes to keep going. I have had my copper/zinc bloods done and I can’t get to them at the moment to let you know the results. I am considering going back onto the Aropax just to give myself a break from all the negatives, even though after being on them for 16 years and off for 3 months, they didn’t do much for me. I take 50mg of zinc picolinate daily and if I reduce the amount I end up with watery pimples around my mouth and when I squeeze them they just bleed heaps. I have lost a lot of weight, muscle tone and my bladder is getting weaker by the day. My skin is so dry I’m a fire danger. I take olive oil, coconut oil and calamari oil along with heaps of moisturiser but still doesn’t help. After reading about the 5 elements, I’m sure I have a mix of all of them. I have crazy cravings for salt, sugar, fruit and meat. I suffered trichotilomania at a very young age and post natal depression and if any such thing…regular depression…..any advice would be greatly appreciated…..
    Debra

      1. Hi Debra. One thing that had helped me greatly is eating a low carbohydrate diet. I’ve suffered from major depression for decades and although copper toxic (working on it) I am much much better. I’m off SNRI and lots of auto immune issues have almost gone. If you’re interested, look up these people on youtube: Gary Taubes, Professor Tim Noakes, Dr Stephen Phinney, Dr Zoe Harcombe, Nina Teicholz … just to get you started. There is a way out. X

    1. I also get watery tiny pimples on face (like perioral dermatitis) have extremely dehydrated skin, extreme fatigue, vaginal issues, anxiety etc etc.. I’m not on NDT but has borderline low Thyroid because of only having half of my Thyroid left.
      Do you experience any sideeffects of the zinc? Or does it only help you?

  5. Hello Sami – so happy to have found your page – great article!! So helpful!! I have my first appt with Mensah Medical today at an outreach clinic in my hometown. Am so hoping these tests and supplements will be the answers I’ve been looking for. Been waiting to have these specific tests done for a long time. I so fit the profile. Have tried the pyroluria protocol and have not gotten results. Have since had lots of functional medicine testing done (and put on lots of supps) which has helped with malabsorption issues. Maybe I’ll get help with the correct targeted compounded cocktail? Testing revealed deficiencies in Zinc, Vitamin K, D, C, and others, and elevated homocysteine, and MTHFR issues. Also discovered raging candida, which in hindsight, I’ve had for decades. Fascinating to read the connection you made between zinc to copper ratio and yeast / fungal overgrowth and parasitic issues. Was tested for possible parasites for chronic insomnia ( heard that parasites were very active at night) but to no avail. But I’ve heard they don’t always show up and that sometimes it may be helpful to treat “as if”? Thank you for the awesome work you are doing!! Praying I will finally get my answers to a lifetime struggle with pyroluria and insomnia.

    1. Hi Jane,
      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m happy you’ve found me too and that my articles have been helpful to you. I’m confident you are on the right track. Drs. Mensah and Bowman are amazing physicians. I’m blessed to have them as my doctors, and I believe we all have the ability to heal. Dysbiosis is very common with copper zinc imbalances that effect histamine, as well as pyroluria. My impression is that your previous protocol did not work because you didn’t have all the information you needed for successful treatment. I’ll be praying for you too. 🙂

  6. I’ve just done a Dr wilson hair tissue mineral analysis test – which shows mineral levels and ratios. The in-depth reading indicates exactly what the body needs supplement wise to gently and gradually detox heavy metals and toxins. If you Google Dr Wilson hair analysis test you can find a trained practitioner to mail order a hair test and they will recommend a custom made diet and supplements for what your body needs to detox and regain Health. I’d had anxiety for so long I got adrenal burnout, simply exhausted all the time and following Dr Wilson’s protocol is helping so much.

    1. Hi Lucy,
      Thank you for your comment, I’m so happy you are feeling better. Keep in mind that HTMA alone will not give you the whole picture. I also use ARL for my HTMA tests and they are very helpful, but are just one piece. Additional functional testing is also important for proper treatment.

  7. Hello Sami,
    I have been supplementing with 30 mg of zinc daily for the last 2 years because of Hashimoto’s. Then my doctor told me, that you should be careful, because long-term zinc might supress my copper levels. So I ordered a blood test, and voila: my zinc levels are in the normal range, while copper is elevated! I have never consciously taken a copper supplement in my life, ever. So now I am wondering, how do I get those copper levels down? And why is it too high in the first place?

    1. Hi Doris,
      Unfortunately, your doctor is misinformed about how copper works in the body. When zinc is within healthy functional ranges, if copper is high, the ratio is still imbalanced. Please don’t try zinc supplementation on your own, as caution must be taken with it. Most of us with copper overload have a genetic predisposition to it (and we are environmentally a copper toxic/estrogen dominate culture), so it’s something that requires proper lifetime nutrients. Bringing levels within healthy, functional ranges requires proper lab testing to determine biotype status with appropriate corresponding nutrients.

  8. Can high levels of copper (as seen in serum copper labs) cause your liver to not use B6 properly, dump it (B6) into the bloodstream (high levels in lab results) and cause numbness in your extremities? Confused as to why the B6 issue has been problematic for almost a year and now have confirmation of high copper levels. Wondering if there is a connection? Thanks!

  9. Hi Sami!
    Mi recently ordered my own blood work to check for copper, zinc, ceruloplasmin and histamine levels, oh and RBC mag. It showed that I have a pretty high level of unbound copper (about 42-43% if I’m remembering correctly) and I would like to find a good resource that shows exactly what problems are associated with that level of unbound copper. Also, how long to people usually take to get back to ‘normal’ copper levels? Thanks so much!

  10. My daughter was diagnosed to have ADD when she was 8 years old. She was tested by Dr Mensah this summer and was diagnosed to have high copper; needs to stay away from copper and consume foods high in folate. What foods would you recommend? I have a list of some foods but unfortunately she has been consuming some high copper foods, thinking they are non-copper foods. She has been getting discouraged because of this. Please help!

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