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.

SHARE THIS POST

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

  1. Besides considering foods high in copper what beauty oils should we stay away from due to copper? Is aargon oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil & Shea butter safe to use?

  2. Hi Sami,

    I am about to undergo testing for copper overload with a Walsh trained doctor. I suffered from postpartum psychosis 2 months postpartum with my first and only child after going back on birth control. I was put on an antipsychotic. 5 months later I came off of the antipsychotic and everything is fine except I have insomnia. I think my body is trying to eliminate the copper on its own as I have had several symptoms of copper elimination. I read in one book that the copper level will regulate on its own over several months providing full relief of symptoms for women who suffered from pp psychosis. I’ve read various studies that have different recovery timelines. In your experience on average how long does it take to regulate copper with a nutritional balancing program? Do symptoms like insomnia get better during the detox as the levels lower?

    Thanks,
    Darcie

    1. Hi Darcie,
      Every individual responds differently and since you are already working with a Walsh trained practitioner, I encourage you to check in with him/her about this.

  3. My husband is being treated and supplementing for Pyroluria with copper overload. His symptoms were OCD, Anxiety and Depression. I am happy to say that with consistent supplementation, he is a tremendous amount better.

    So happy to find your site and this article is excellent. I have hypothyroid and your article resonates with me too!

  4. “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”

    I thought that dopamine is upstream from norephinephrine, and that they’re both based on the COMT enzymes, and that the quantity of norepinephrine (noradrenalin) is a product of the dopamine quantity (dopamine turns into adrenalin, which the COMT enzyme is supposed to degrade both, but if COMT isn’t working right, then you have too much dopamine/adrenalin sitting around).

    So, my question is please, how does copper decrease dopamine, but yet still increase adrenalin? I have COMT +/+ (V158M and H262), and everyone tells me that I have too much dopamine (because my adrenalin is always high and the slightest thing sets my shoulder/neck/arm muscles into locking up and I spend the whole day in pain), because of the COMT, but yet all I ever feel is the adrenalin being high (no stress tolerance), but I never get the good dopamine feelings.

    So my practitioners are focused on getting my dopamine down, but to me it doesn’t feel like dopamine is high in the first place, just the adrenalin. I have really high copper (18) and high unbound copper (50%, as CP is 0.20). zinc is 14 now I think. It was lower before.

    Thank you.

    1. Copper and vitamin C in combination are what cause dopamine to turn into norepinephrine (which is one step away from epinephrine, i.e. “adrenaline”
      High copper levels are the issue. (raising Vit C actually helps eliminate the excess copper, and Vit C can’t usually build up to toxic levels in the body, since it is quickly used, and quickly eliminated)
      (I have the some of same issues.)

  5. Are you suggesting that a Reverse Osmosis water filtration system would not remove copper? My total dissolved solids are pretty close to zero.
    Thanks

    1. I didn’t mention water in this post so I’m a little confused by the question. RO is the best way to filter water, but it does require remineralization. I don’t recommend drinking it without remineralization.

      1. Thanks, I do remineralize, I was pretty sure cooper would be captured since nearly everything is but it was a response you gave a while ago to filtering copper out with water filtration.

        Sami G says
        April 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm

        You are most welcome Suzie. No, unfortunately those filters are useless.

      2. I understand now, thanks for the clarification. The previous commenter was using a snap on faucet filter that does nothing to remove copper or other chemicals/metals. Same holds true for Britta pitchers, and alkaline water machines (Kangen, etc.). RO with remineralization is best.

      3. Because nothing is as effective as reverse osmosis and Berkey units do not provide the level of filtration needed for good health.

  6. Thank you for the informative article. I have a question in regards to low copper. My 13 year old daughter has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and we are working with a Nathupathic doctor. We had the SpectraCell micronutrient testing done and her zinc is in the normal range at 44 but her copper is low at 41. She wants us to supplement with copper for one month. After reading this it makes me a little nervous to supplement with copper. Is this okay? We also know that her MTHFR is homozygous for c677. We are waiting for results from genetic testing to learn more about her methylation. All of this is a little overwhelming and confusing, to say the least!

    1. Hi Jody,
      Keep in mind that genetic testing has no way of determining methylation status and SpectraCell is not an accurate marker for zinc or copper levels. Click here to schedule a complimentary consultation with me to see how I can help.

  7. Hello, Sami
    Great information. Once your clients are properly diagnosed through testing do you focus solely on proper nutrition or do you offer supplemental advice/therapy as well? Thank you

  8. How do you know if you were born with copper overload? I would like to know if that might possibly have been the case for me too. Thanks.

      1. Thanks. I don’t have close family so that’s not really an option. Is there anything in my own genetic reports or testing that could show it?

  9. Dear Sami,
    What would be the typical higher copper foods you would suggest one eliminating?
    Would legumes and lentils in particular also fall into that category?
    Kind regards,
    Dora

  10. Hi Sami,

    My copper and homocysteine are finally coming down. I was 144 in copper and I am now at 118. My homo was 11.9 and now it is 9.5. I can really feel a difference and look forward to everything balancing out even more over time. I am an undermeth person and needed to use TMG (3g) to bring down my homo. L-serine made me moody and sick. My Walsh Dr did not know about TMG and I am glad I researched it and figured it out. I love reading your column. It got me thru some dark days. Glad you are out there for us!!

    1. Thank you for sharing your story Jill! I am so glad you are feeling better! Keep up the great work! 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Schedule a Free One-on-One Consultation

If you’re ready to start your healing journey, schedule your free one-on-one consultation to discuss your current mental and/or physical health challenges, history, and desired health goals. Take the first step on your healing journey today.

Scroll to Top