One particular pattern I saw in my patients with chronic fatigue was a high copper level on a hair mineral analysis (HMA). HMA – hair mineral analysis – is like looking at the rings in a tree trunk and reflect what a person has BEEN EXPOSED TO in their systems and or is “turning over” or struggling to deal with.
This observation lead me to a whole new understanding of how a metal such as a copper could go from being a “good guy” – it’s used as a cofactor in a number of cell reactions – to being the “bad” guy. It can help or harm.
It acts as an excellent conductor for electrical wiring and is used as a COFACTOR in many crucial pathways. Including cell energy production, neurotransmitter or brain hormone synthesis, myelin sheath production, etc.
It is needed for cardiovascular health, immune function (erythropoiesis), a balanced neuronal signaling system and mood balancing, connective tissue integrity (cross-linking collagen and elastin), skin maintenance and reproduction.
HOW IS A HIGH COPPER LEVEL A PROBLEM?
Copper is primarily processed in the liver, and can accumulate there when in excessive levels. We have a copper storage protein called caeruloplasmin, as well as albumin and metallothionein (also called copper chaperones) to buffer copper within the blood compartment as it is carried around the body.
This occurs with iron as its storage protein is ferritin, as these metals have the ability to absorb or donate electrons. In chemical terms it is able to oxidize and reduce other substances. This in turn can cause reactions where they are not wanted (or HARM). So these molecules or “chaperones” buffer these metals to contain this reactivity.
It’s a finely tuned system that generally works well at keeping copper under control. There are situations that can lead to a relative imbalance and dysfunction can occur.
Excess copper in it’s extreme form is known as Wilson’s Disease which is an inherited condition where these individuals accumulate copper in their liver and sustain damage to other body systems such as their liver and brain. They can’t balance copper properly causing it to accumulate inside cells. E.g. causing lipid peroxidation or breaking down of fats in the mitochondria of the liver cells (hepatocytes).
Mitochondria are the energy producing “battery packs” of the cells and determine cell energy. WE ALL NEED ENERGY TO LIVE. Direct damage to mitochondria leads to increasing cell dysfunction.
This type of damage leads to cirrhosis of the liver – basically the liver is being damaged to the point of no return.
HOW DOES THIS CAUSE FATIGUE?
By causing mitochondrial dysfunction – that is the battery packs in the cells don’t work properly. There is no blood test for this.
In the clinic, people tell me they are tired and often have “brain fog”.
HOW CAN I HAVE TOO MUCH COPPER?
Adrenal hormones stimulate the liver to produce caeruloplasmin – a copper chaperone. Dysregulation of the adrenals leads to a decrease in caeruloplasmin production.
We need Zinc and a trace element Molybdenum to help regulate copper. Lack of this in our soils and food chain often contribute to individuals walking through my Klinik doors complaining that “I’m tired Doc and my tests are normal”.
It’s degrees of dysfunction.
We can develop an ACQUIRED EXCESS OF COPPER. There are occasions where our finely tuned mechanisms don’t work. Examples of this are:
EXCESSIVE ENVIRONMENTAL exposure. E.g. Copper water pipes, high soil levels.
EXCESSIVE RETENTION. E.g. Combined oral contraceptive pill (“the pill”) can elevate copper via a mitochondrial haeme metabolism defect. It is thought to be the due to the estrogen in the pill.
LACK of other minerals to balance it. E.g. Soil deficiencies of Zinc and Molybdenum.
MINERAL DEFICIENCIES in ones diet
INEFFICIENT or DEFECTIVE production / activity of CAERULOPLASMIN – due to inadequate adrenal hormone production, or METALLOTHIONEIN – due to inadequate Zinc (both are copper chaperones).
METABOLIC – such as a lowered plasma Zinc level due to a **pyrrole disorder.
SEQUENTIAL PREGNANCIES – copper increase 20 fold during pregnancy. Without appropriate Zinc to counteract this accumulation can occur.
Copper promotes blood vessel growth and is beneficial for the foetus to create optimal growth conditions.
The copper can start to accumulate and typically by the 3rd pregnancy the added load can be a trigger for post-natal depression +/- a type “burnout”.
OTHER CONDITIONS that may be associated with EXCESS COPPER:
MOOD SWINGS – that can be extreme, they can range from weepy / tears to irritability / snappy, even rage. The temper outbursts are like a “valve” releasing pressure.
MOOD DISORDERS – anxiety / depression, sleep disorders, paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder.
FATIGUE – debilitating fatigue. There a number of possibilities for this. Often match drill dysfunction and decreased cell energy production.
ESTROGEN DOMINANCE – they often will have low progesterone cycles or anovulatory cycles. Progesterone offers a “protective” effect on copper balancing.
MIGRAINE – cyclical migraines.
Violent young offenders – a part of work and studies by Dr William Walsh (Walsh Institute, Chicago).
HOW CAN I HAVE TOO MUCH COPPER?
See a trained professional in this area.
This can identified in a Hair Mineral Analysis as a “high” copper bar. This indicates a high copper body burden.
Serum copper will detect grossly elevated copper levels, it does not reflect stored copper or body burden. I.e. This is the copper stored in body tissues such as liver, muscle and brain.
There is a way to calculate free copper – this refers to the percentage of unbound copper found in the blood compartment.
Once again – please see a trained professional.
Note: the issue with copper does not originate from food sources. These are readily dealt with by one’s ability to allow the copper to simply pass through the gut.
**A Pyrrole Disorder is a biochemical imbalance, not a medical diagnosis.