Why too much cop­per could be mak­ing you anx­ious

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

You’ve been eat­ing healthily, tak­ing your sup­ple­ments, yet you’re feel­ing anx­ious, de­pressed, hav­ing dif­fi­culty sleep­ing and trou­ble los­ing weight. Why? It could be that you’re suf­fer­ing from cop­per over­load.

It’s a rarely di­ag­nosed con­di­tion, and re­search into this area is lim­ited, but some ex­perts ar­gue that it’s a real is­sue – a “loom­ing public health prob­lem” was how one re­searcher de­scribed it in the jour­nal Chem­i­cal Re­search in Tox­i­col­ogy.

Cop­per is an es­sen­tial min­eral for your body, like iron and zinc, but what does it do, ex­actly? Dr Lawrence Wil­son is a US-based nu­tri­tion­ist who’s been treat­ing and writ­ing about cop­per im­bal­ances for more than 30 years. He says, “Cop­per is known as the ‘emo­tional min­eral. It af­fects your en­ergy lev­els, mood, re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem – par­tic­u­larly in women – li­bido, im­mu­nity, and thy­roid and adrenal glands. Cop­per is needed for 30 to 40 per cent of your en­ergy pro­duc­tion, so it’s a vi­tal part of your body.”

Cop­per also helps form col­la­gen, aids in wound heal­ing, sup­ports your ner­vous sys­tem and neu­rode­vel­op­ment. “Cop­per, along with zinc, helps the body with a lot of chem­i­cal pro­cesses,” Clare Collins, a pro­fes­sor in nu­tri­tion and di­etet­ics at the Univer­sity of New­cas­tle, says. “The body only needs a tiny amount of these min­er­als, so it does not store a lot and needs a small, reg­u­lar sup­ply from food.”


There are many fac­tors (in­clud­ing ge­netic con­di­tions) that can bring about cop­per over­load. Wil­son says the main life­style cause he’s ob­served is con­sum­ing a lot of cop­per through food and sup­ple­ments, while not get­ting enough zinc. On the other hand, Collins dis­agrees, say­ing, “It’s more likely to be due to tak­ing sup­ple­ments”, which may con­tain too much cop­per or may not con­tain the cor­rect zinc-to-cop­per ra­tio.

While the ex­perts have dif­fer­ing views on the cause, they do agree that zinc in­take mat­ters as it com­petes with cop­per in our bod­ies for ab­sorp­tion. “When­ever zinc be­comes de­fi­cient in our bod­ies, cop­per tends to ac­cu­mu­late,” Wil­son says. He sug­gests that our zinc in­take is lower than in past gen­er­a­tions due to chang­ing soil com­po­si­tion, di­ets high in pro­cessed food, and the trend to­wards veg­e­tar­i­an­ism, as red meat is the best com­mon di­etary source of zinc (af­ter oys­ters).

De­fi­cien­cies in min­er­als like mag­ne­sium can also el­e­vate cop­per lev­els, as can drink­ing wa­ter from cop­per pipes. Some re­search sug­gests tak­ing the con­tra­cep­tive pill or us­ing the cop­per in­trauter­ine de­vice ( IUD) may also play a role.

We can also be poor pro­ces­sors of cop­per, re­gard­less of how much we con­sume, says Queens­land-based in­te­gra­tive GP Dr Karen Coates, who has di­ag­nosed sev­eral pa­tients with cop­per over­load in the past six months. “Our bod­ies nor­mally ex­crete ex­cess min­er­als, such as cop­per, through the liver and gall blad­der, but if the body isn’t work­ing at an op­ti­mal level, this may not hap­pen, and the body will store the cop­per, re­sult­ing in an over­load.” Is­sues like an un­healthy liver, slug­gish me­tab­o­lism and poor adrenal func­tion can all im­pair cop­per pro­cess­ing, Coates says.

Ac­cord­ing to Wil­son, cop­per over­load symp­toms can in­clude de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety or mood swings, as well as

fa­tigue, sleep prob­lems, headaches and dif­fi­culty con­cen­trat­ing. High cop­per may also af­fect oe­stro­gen me­tab­o­lism, con­tribut­ing to men­strual symp­toms like heavy pe­ri­ods. One US study found that those with the high­est lev­els of cop­per, who also con­sumed a diet high in sat­u­rated and trans fat (a proven risk fac­tor for de­men­tia), lost cog­ni­tion three times faster than adults with nor­mal cop­per lev­els.

Re­search has also found that an im­bal­ance of cop­per may prevent your body from burn­ing fat. And early stud­ies have found that cop­per ap­pears to be one of the main en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that trig­ger the on­set and pro­gres­sion of Alzheimer’s dis­ease.


If you’re con­cerned about your cop­per lev­els, talk to your GP or health care provider. They’ll ex­am­ine your symp­toms and diet and may or­der a blood or urine test, or a hair min­eral anal­y­sis to mea­sure cop­per lev­els. “Choosing a doc­tor with an in­ter­est in nu­tri­tional medicine will speed up di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment, and they will be open to test­ing you for it,” Coates says.

Your prac­ti­tioner may then rec­om­mend cer­tain foods or a sup­ple­ment – and things might get worse before get­ting bet­ter.

“When ex­cess cop­per is be­ing re­moved from tis­sues and cleared from the body, some peo­ple may ex­pe­ri­ence ‘cop­per dump­ing’,” Coates says. “Ini­tially, this may lead to an ex­ac­er­ba­tion of symp­toms, but with the right sup­ple­ment dosage, di­etary and life­style strate­gies, this ef­fect can be min­imised, and nu­tri­tional bal­ance can re­turn within sev­eral months.”

Other great ways to sup­port cop­per re­moval, ac­cord­ing to Coates, in­clude drink­ing fil­tered wa­ter and eat­ing foods which can give you a good bal­ance of cop­per and zinc, such as lamb, pork, poul­try, soy milk, nuts, seeds, dried beans, and wheat germ.

While treat­ments vary ac­cord­ing to the cause, a bal­anced diet is im­por­tant for every­one. Collins says, “Put a new veg­etable into your shop­ping trol­ley every week, to try some­thing new. Over time, you and your fam­ily will be eat­ing a good range to help boost your nu­tri­tional lev­els.”

“Cop­per is known as the ‘emo­tional min­eral’. It af­fects en­ergy, mood, li­bido, im­mu­nity and adrenal glands”

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