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All about Copper Imbalance: Looking Beyond Copper Toxicity
In the world of mineral balancing you’ll come across the term “copper toxicity” often. While it’s true that many people suffer with a toxic excess of copper, the reality is that many people also suffer from copper deficiency. People end up in the state because of a deficiency in the copper binding protein ceruloplasmin. Whether you call it copper dysregulation, copper toxicity, a copper imbalance, or anything else- the root issues tend to be the same. I personally think viewing copper as toxic is a bit allopathic as there is so much more to it than that.
What is Copper Toxicity?
Copper toxicity refers to the issue that happens when excess, unbound copper starts building up in the body. When we cannot use copper correctly it can become “toxic” or unusable, and it can start to build up in the liver, joints, brain, and other areas of the body. This can create many symptoms such as inflammation, anxiety, brain fog, feeling “wired but tired”, insomnia, hormonal imbalances, and so much more (check the list below for all of the most common symptoms of excess copper).
Now while this copper is considered to be toxic, the more correct term would be “unusable”. When excess copper builds up like this, it means that we have no good, bio-available copper to use either. It is very common to have both high unbound copper and low bio-available copper. Just getting rid of the excess copper is not enough to fix the copper deficiency too. This is where things have gone wrong for so long. For some reason in the quest to attack copper they’ve forgotten about the GOOD copper that is so crucial for our health and wellness. It has always seemed strange to me that the mineral balancing science clearly states this, and yet they continue to promote ways to detox copper without supporting its bio-availability.
Copper is a bit trickier than other minerals and working on absorption requires focusing on the body as a whole. We need a healthy gut in order to utilize nutrients that help balance copper (like zinc, molybdenum, and manganese). We need a healthy liver to create the copper binding protein ceruloplasmin, which is absolutely essential for copper balance. And we need healthy adrenals to signal to our healthy liver to make that copper binding protein. Copper is often one of the last things to fully balance because it requires so much energy, time, and effort to heal it.
What is Ceruloplasmin?
Ceruloplasmin is the main copper binding protein, and its production depends on a few things. Sufficient adrenal and liver function is required to help make this protein. Ceruloplasmin is also dependent on animal-based retinol (source), whole food vitamin C, and copper itself.
There are many things that can lead to a copper imbalance of any kind. It usually has to do with how our bodies are making ceruloplasmin and how our livers are processing any excess, unbound copper. Obviously the biggest problem with both of these issues is that our livers are overloaded from environmental toxins, and we are depleted of crucial nutrients needed to function. Preventing the liver from becoming sluggish is key to making ceruloplasmin available. Loving your liver is one of the KEY things to do to heal from a copper imbalance, as well as healing your adrenals.
Ceruloplasmin in is the key to regulating copper and iron. Ceruloplasmin is also needed for neurotransmitter health, management of yeast, parasites, and other nasty stuff, and it is important for ATP regulation (aka energy production!). Also, ceruloplasmin as a blood marker is actually used in some liver function panels- so if your number is not in a good range it can give us decent insight on how well your liver is working. Want to read more about ceruloplasmin? Check out this 100 page study that has nearly everything you’d ever want to know about it.
Healing from a Copper Imbalance
So when it comes to healing, I like the idea of rebuilding and nourishing as opposed to flushing, ripping, and fasting. You can still experience detox this way- but you are also trying to support the whole body in the process as well as prevent adrenal crashes that are extremely common with detox programs. This means that our goal should be to strengthen the adrenals, support the liver, and focus on ceruloplasmin production instead of trying to eliminate copper (or any other metals/toxins) with harsh methods that eventually weaken the body. These methods make little sense because in the end, you are going to have to rebuild anyway!
For most people, the dreaded copper dumping is inevitable though. It’s hard to say if it could be prevented or at least lessened in intensity. I would love to think that one day we will figure out how to avoid it completely. But when we have excess unbound copper stores in our livers and brains, it has to come out. I haven’t found information that says this copper can be made bioavailable as it comes out- I personally don’t believe it can, especially when it could have been building up for years. The key is to go low and slow with anything new that you are adding to your plan.
Why don’t I recommend supplementing with B6 or Zinc to balance copper? You will see these nutrients recommended a lot when it comes to copper toxicity treatments. However, those protocols aim to lower copper at all costs and are not focused on balancing copper. Zinc and B6 (as well as synthetic vitamin C, aka ascorbic acid) are all copper antagonists. They will push copper out of storage of course, but this means that you will likely deal with very severe copper dumping reactions.
Too much isolated zinc can actually create a copper deficiency over just the span of a few weeks. Too much zinc inhibits the production of a copper-binding protein called metallothionein. Metallothionein traps copper and prevents it from being absorbed. Also, the longer you supplement with zinc, the less zinc you actually absorb.
From TEI Labs: “High vitamin C intake should be approached with caution until copper status is evaluated since vitamin C is known to affect copper antagonistically.”
I have unfortunately seen many clients over the years that came to me from other practitioners that had them use synthetic supplements like zinc, vitamin C and B6 to detox copper and their health got a lot worse due to these items. Seeing all of this first hand reinforced the need for change when it comes to copper balancing.
Common Symptoms of Copper Dumping
Copper dumping happens when the body gets rid of old, stored, unbound copper from storage. It gets dumped into the blood stream which can create many uncomfortable symptoms. Anxiety, rashes, liver pain or a feeling of it being swollen, insomnia, depression, paranoia, panic attacks, loose stool or an increase in frequency (many claim it is a copper color), changes in appetite, anger, crying, hopelessness, feeling wired and tired, joint pain, and any exaggeration of current symptoms are all common with copper dumping.
Dr Rick Malter says that during a copper dump we waste potassium which in turn makes our Na/k imbalanced and increases our fight or flight response. Copper dumping can be intense and many people might try to seek the help of an emergency room or conventional Doctor- however they will not understand the process of copper elimination. Having support while going through this process is extremely important. It is a very uncomfortable experience but after each copper dumping episode, you will start to feel much better, especially if you are supporting ceruloplasmin in the process.
After many years helping people get through copper issues, I highly recommend going very low and slow with this type of healing. Work on strengthening your adrenals and supporting your liver as much as you can. Do not push your body too much. You will not heal faster by pushing too much, I promise you. You have to trust your body, trust the process, and understand that real healing takes time.
How to get through Copper Dumping
There are many ways to help decrease the intensity of copper dumping. Keeping your liver working well is key, as well as reducing the stress and anxiety that comes along. To help get through copper dumping you can try some of the following ideas: Castor oil packs, red raspberry leaf tea, nettle infusions, full-fat dairy (calcium helps slow the effects but doesn’t stop it), salt water (1/4 tsp in a glass once or twice a day), dandelion root tea, milk thistle, EFT (tapping), legs on the wall yoga pose, and Butekyo breathing (seriously, works wonders, check YouTube!), and rebounding on trampoline or yoga ball.
Overall, bile and fiber are both incredibly important for detoxing of any kind. Potassium especially is also helpful as dumping copper can “waste” this mineral- but be cautious as overdoing it when we’re potassium deficient can actually create more copper dumping (frustrating, I know! Low and slow, easy does it is the key). There are many ways that a copper dump can be induced, so be cautious: exercise, hot shower, consumption of a food or supplement high in molybdenum, manganese, or sulfur, and even anxiety itself can initiate copper dumping.
If things are way too intense to handle, then do NOT push. I cannot say this enough. If you are struggling with very intense copper dumping symptoms, then this is usually a huge sign that you need to work more on adrenal health and overall support FIRST before jumping into detox of any kind.
My favorite supports to help get out of a copper dump are dandelion root tea (the bile boost will help to get the circulating copper out more quickly), staying hydrated, using red raspberry leaf tea, and making sure your fiber intake is sufficient. With any kind of detoxing, you really need to keep your bowels moving- copper gets excreted with bile through the bowel the best so this is crucial to work on.
How to Test for A Copper Imbalance
The best first step is to figure out your personal copper balance. Getting an HTMA will show the state of your adrenals as well as overall vitality, and getting the Copper serum/zinc plasma or serum/ceruloplasmin blood panel will show the other side of the copper story. You can request that blood panel from a trusted doc or use a service like Walk-in Lab.
Overall you want to be looking at everything: how strong your adrenal function is, what your metabolic type is, how well your liver is working, and how severe your copper imbalance is. Many people cannot tolerate detox of any kind (including excess copper) when they are in very slow oxidation because their bodies are so depleted of nutrients and detox pathways are sluggish.
A hair tissue mineral analysis is a huge part of the healing process. This will not only show you the relationship between your zinc and copper, but it will give you an idea on the state of your adrenal glands. Strong adrenals are needed to balance copper. An HTMA will also show your magnesium and calcium levels, which both play a part in regulating copper.
If you are on any kind of birth control, have been diagnosed with estrogen dominance, or are in the post-partum period, it would be very crucial for you to test for a copper imbalance. Copper can triple while we are pregnant- if we are depleted during or after the birth, then it is common for us to hold onto this excess copper instead of excreting it like we are supposed to.
The Benefits of Bioavailable Copper
From Linus Pauling Institute: “Copper is an essential cofactor for oxidation-reduction reactions involving copper-containing oxidases. Copper enzymes regulate various physiologic pathways, such as energy production, iron metabolism, connective tissue maturation, and neurotransmission”
Even a slight copper imbalance can contribute to impaired immunity, bone issues, and neurological and cardiovascular diseases. Copper helps certain gene transcriptions, plays a part in the production of melanin (helps skin pigmentation), and also has a huge role in Superoxide Dismutase, an important antioxidant.
Copper is a necessary mineral for making ATP, aka cellular energy. Low bioavailable Copper is associated with chronic fatigue. It is very common to be both copper toxic and copper deficient because copper needs to be bound to certain proteins to work properly. But this doesn’t mean we should use the term copper toxicity- it’s just not what’s really going on.
Copper must be bound to special binding proteins, Ceruloplasmin and Metallothionine, in order to be able to get into the cells where it can be used by the mitochondria to make ATP energy in the Kreb’s cycle. Ceruloplasmin and Metallotionine are made in the liver when the adrenals signal to make them. However when the liver or adrenals are weak and sluggish, or if there is a zinc deficiency than these two proteins will be deficient which leads to unbound copper accumulating in the blood and tissues, especially the brain and liver.
One of copper’s biggest functions is as a fungicide. It is essential to have copper balanced in order to solve issues like candida, Epstein-Barr Virus, Lyme, parasites, and other similar issues. We do NOT want to get rid of or antagonize all of our copper- this is why it is so crucial to BALANCE it. We still need copper for overall health and wellness.
Copper Deficiency Symptoms:
Decrease in number of white blood cells
Nerve damage can cause tingling and loss of sensation in the feet and hands
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Low blood levels of fat-soluble vitamins, zinc, and folate
White, gray and silver hair
Copper Excess or Copper Toxicity Symptoms:
Feelings of doom
Fatigue and exhaustion
Hypothyroid (slow thyroid)
Mind is in a fog
Cold hands, and/or feet
Feeling of loss of control
Despair, suicidal feelings, hopelessness
Arthritis, calcium spurs
Racing heart, pounding heart
Adverse reaction to vitamins and minerals
Problems with concentration and memory
Short attention span, ‘spaciness’
Eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia, overeating
Panic attacks, high anxiety, free floating anxiety
Yeast infections (candida)
Aching muscles or muscle cramps
Mind races — insomnia, interrupted sleep
Low blood pressure
(These lists are from This Article on nutritional balancing)
The Best Supplements to Use to Balance Copper
The ideal place to start would be to work on an HTMA plan with us so you know exactly what you need to work on first- gut, liver, adrenals, etc. But these are common items we use that can help you to get started.
- Bioray Liver Life
- Dandelion root tea
- Vitamin C from whole food forms like Earthley’s or Perfect Supplements Acerola
- Cod liver Oil
- Earthley’s Oyster Min (once you are ready for a good food based zinc source)
My goal with this post is to help those that are suffering with a copper imbalance but can’t seem to find a definitive answer on how to test or treat it. A majority of the articles you will find only tell you about copper toxicity and how to reduce copper. We have to change our view on copper and realize that it’s not just toxic in excess- it’s also essential when it’s bio-available.
I am always here for support for those going through this process. It can be hard and scary but it does get better. Check out the Mineral Mavens group on Facebook for lots of support!