by Rick Fischer, C.H.H.C, h.T.M.A.P.
"Rick Fischer has made a major contribution with his copper toxicity research and through his www.coppertoxic.com website. This site should be required study for any health related program at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels of education and training." ~ Dr. Rick Malter, Ph.D.
Copper Toxicity. A silent epidemic that has devastated the health, lives, and relationships of countless people. After witnessing first-hand how copper toxicity affected my beloved fiancee, it has become my personal mission to bring much needed awareness to this topic; to educate medical professionals on the effects that copper dysregulation can cause and how to correctly test and treat it; to help women navigate their way through the often long-term healing process; and as much as possible prevent similar occurrences from happening to others. Working in this field I now hear the stories daily of how copper toxicity has wrecked someone's health, life, or relationship... or how some doctor ignorantly refuses to acknowledge the birth control connection... or telling a patient it's all in their head... or wrongly diagnosing or monitoring a patient through blood testing. I refuse to let the tragedy that happened to my family not serve a higher purpose, and this led to the creation of www.coppertoxic.com, the Internet's most comprehensive resource on the topic. While that site goes much more in depth, this article presents a broad overview of the copper toxicity condition.
WHAT IS COPPER TOXICITY?
Copper toxicity is a build-up of bio-unavailable copper in the body that gets stored primarily in the liver (initially) and then subsequently in secondary storage sites such as the brain and other organs. As copper accumulates initially in the liver, initial symptoms typically show up as slowly increasing fatigue and brain fog. As levels rise, the mind starts racing and the adrenals weaken, eventually leading to the possibility of full adrenal 'burn out'. Following adrenal burnout, the copper level then typically spikes even further due to the decline in ceruloplasmin production (a protein needed to make copper bioavailable). With the liver overloaded, copper then gets deposited in the brain and other organs, and this in turn leads to neurotransmitter imbalances causing brain function and perception to become altered, and schizophrenia, paranoia, depression, anxiety, and pseudo-bipolar conditions can all result. This is especially the case when a detox is attempted too quickly that mobilizes the copper without adequate detox pathways functioning well. Copper does not act alone however. As minerals are interconnected, the rise in copper lowers zinc and magnesium while raising sodium and calcium. One of the effects of significant copper toxicity is what's known as a "calcium shell" - a high build up of bio-unavailable calcium that, as the body's ultimate defence against overwhelming stress, effectively blocks a person's feelings and deadens emotions, making the individual become emotionally numb and even detached from the reality of what is happening. Meanwhile zinc also drops as a result of high copper. This drop in zinc weakens the neocortex (the part of the brain which allows humans to reason and express higher conscious feelings such as love, and compassion). At the same time, the sodium to potassium ratio increases as a result of the rise in copper, and this causes negative aspects of personality to come to the surface (including irritability, past fears, anxiety, and the fight or flight response). The psychological connection of copper toxicity is therefore just as important to understand as is the physical.
HOW DO YOU GET IT?
Why is copper toxicity so prevalent? People can have high copper levels for many reasons, including drinking water from copper pipes, adrenal insufficiency, and occupational exposure. However the incidences of copper toxicity in recent decades is growing rapidly due to 3 main factors: the advent of birth control (Pill and IUD), increasing adoption of vegetarian/vegan diet, and the in-utero passing down of copper from generation to generation. While a copper IUD directly feeds copper into the body, the birth control pill raises estrogen. Estrogen increases copper retention in the body. In both cases the body's copper level increases. This is one of the primary reasons why, in the past 5 decades, we have seen a dramatic spike in the prevalence of high copper individuals. Environmental estrogens also play a role. At the same time, vegetarian/vegan diets also lead to copper excess. Vegetarian diets (and even more so vegan) are high in copper and low in zinc. Zinc (primarily and most bio-availably found in meat sources) is needed to keep the copper level balanced. Without adequate zinc, copper is allowed to spiral out of control. Ironically, those with high levels of copper may have a harder time digesting meat protein. Liver and digestive function are affected as bio-unavailable copper increases, leading to declining bile function and subsequent difficulty digestion meat which can then feel unpalatable. This subconsciously can lead a lot of people to finding reasons to adopt vegetarian/vegan diets - the very thing that will make their health even worse. On top of that, a lot of organic crops (which we buy thinking we're making a healthy choice) are sprayed with copper sulfate (even though it's been shown to be toxic to humans, and further contributes to copper toxicity!). Furthermore, copper excess in the mother is passed down in-utero to her baby. This newborn then starts life with a higher than normal level of copper, and a greater tendency to later in life develop symptoms related to copper excess. This effect compounds with each successive generation, and without addressing this, we are putting the health of our children at risk.
Stress is an additional factor that must be mentioned. As bio-unavailable copper increases it weakens the adrenals which adds further stress to the body; this weakens the adrenals further and leads to even more bio-unavailable copper building up. Stress is also one of the biggest contributors to zinc loss. Zinc is needed to keep copper in balance. So not only do the weakening adrenals create a spiralling effect on copper, but so too does the loss of zinc, both of which are caused by stress, both of which further increase stress, and all of which increase copper further.
HOW DO YOU TEST FOR IT?
There exists an astonishing lack of understanding among practitioners on how to test for and measure copper toxicity. Most doctors still rely on blood testing, and patients and practitioners alike are indoctrinated to trust blood test results. What needs to be understand is that bio-unavailable copper accumulates in soft tissue and not the blood; not to mention blood is homeostatic by nature and will always work to regulate itself by removing excess toxins and metals. Removal from the blood doesn't mean it has left the body. If detox pathways are not functioning or adrenal function is low, much of the excess will get stored in the body's soft tissues. The blood level of copper is therefore a very poor indicator of the true copper status in the body. As a result many highly copper toxic individuals will be told they are fine based on blood test results showing "normal" - and the cost of such misdiagnosis can have devastating effects. My plea to practitioners who want to help copper toxic individuals is to STOP diagnosing based on blood testing - understand that excess copper is not stored in the blood! Such misdiagnoses can shift a person's entire life trajectory, and leads often to decades of additional healing work. People's lives are at stake, and we need to step away from out-dated and flawed medical ideas and adopt more effective and holistic testing (and healing) strategies. H.T.M.A. (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis) is currently by far the best way to test for copper toxicity, and yet, because most have not been trained in how to interpret the results of HTMA data, this powerful screening tool is still, by those too ignorant to study it properly, considered pseudo-science and largely dismissed. HTMA interpretation is complex, and extends far beyond just looking at individual mineral levels on a chart. Even the copper level in a copper toxic person may show normal (or even low) on an initial HTMA test (very common). This is because the toxicity can be hidden, sequestered in the organs until a certain stage of adrenal recovery is achieved at which point the copper then begins being released and shows up later. However, unlike blood testing, HTMA provides key mineral ratios which indirectly can indicate copper toxicity. Even more important than the copper level itself are these various ratios between other minerals, and only by understanding these various other mineral ratios and levels can proper diagnosis, mineral balancing / nutritional guidance, and healing be addressed.
WHAT CAN BE EXPECTED DURING DETOX?
People often run into difficulty when they begin to 'detox' copper, especially because the psychological effects are poorly understood by most practitioners, and because the detox process can temporarily make the person feel worse. More importantly though, most who attempt to 'detox' a patient will turn to giving zinc and adrenal support, which on the surface would be the obvious choices to balance copper and restore energy. Such a protocol however is extremely dangerous, especially if detox pathways are not first open. Attempting to detox copper in this way will simply mobilize the copper from storage sites, and can really exacerbate physical and / or psychological symptoms, especially if copper then goes to the brain. It is akin to a street sweeper going by and stirring up a cloud of dirt - it all gets mobilized but then redeposits elsewhere. The added stress of this mobilization can further increase the calcium shell effect too, really impairing an individual's perception. Added to this, a high increase in zinc can significantly increase anxieties. Zinc helps mobilize copper, creating a temporary hypoglycaemic state which boosts adrenal secretion and in turn increases anxieties. Panic attacks may also occur. As copper is mobilized and 'dumped', it can also lower potassium, which then increases the Na/K stress ratio, amplifying short fuse reactions and making it more difficult to get through to the person. This is one of the reasons why adrenal support must be approached delicately, and why zinc supplementation is usually not given (or if given, administered at very low dosage) by those who specialize in treating copper toxicity. Practitioners need to understand this in order to minimize detox reactions and harmful outcomes.
As one eliminates copper through detox, patients will often experience the effects of copper “dumping”. The dumping is simply the elimination of copper. Typical symptoms of a copper dump include severe depression, uncontrollable anger, anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disturbances, as well as increased headaches, paranoia, increased awareness of fears, decreased libido, fatigue, and digestive problems. Often the symptoms are frightening and very uncomfortable, and if the patient is unaware of what is happening they may stop treatment as it is too unbearable. By understanding that copper dumping and the associated symptoms are part of the detoxification process, patients (and their partners) are better able to endure what they are experiencing. Dumping usually occurs in cycles, and life can feel like quite a roller coaster for some time. Detoxing does not (and should not be expected to) happen quickly, and can usually take at least 6 months to several years until the health of the mind and body are restored. While the unpleasant effects of copper dumping can't always be avoided, they can certainly be minimized by using HTMA as guidance. Without the hard evidence provided by HTMA showing the mineral pattern, any detox is really being done blindly.
It should be noted that aerobic exercise, stimulant drugs, and increases in stress while detoxing can further exacerbate symptoms of copper elimination. These activities increase metabolic rate and cellular energy production which in turn can trigger copper dumps from cellular storage. The danger is that the patient feels a return in their energy, feeling better, yet without proper guidance and education behind what may be occurring psychologically, the patient may believe at a certain point they are fine, unaware of what it has done to their perception.
How many healthy lives and relationships have fallen victim to a copper toxicity detox protocol administered blindly without the hard evidence of mineral levels and ratios as provided by HTMA? How many individuals continue to be sold on blood tests, thyroid tests, antidepressants, and a whole litany of other tests and dangerous pharmaceuticals in an effort to address their relentless symptoms, when all the while a simple HTMA screening test could offer them so many answers and natural guidance.
WHY IS COPPER SOMETIMES CALLED THE EMOTIONAL MINERAL?
Copper, at a normal healthy level, helps in the release of endorphines that contribute to love and euphoria. The great misinterpretation of this is that, as copper levels get higher and higher, so too do feelings of love and euphoria. The truth is, copper at high levels creates the exact opposite! Copper in fact enhances all emotional states in humans – and most predominantly, the negative ones. Excess copper is very closely linked to depression. Copper also stimulates the diencephalon (old brain), while zinc on the other hand is needed for the new brain (cortex) – the brain associated with the “higher emotions” such as reasoning, compassion and love. As zinc drops and copper rises, these higher emotions are weakened and the person tends to revert to using the old brain, also called the animal/lizard brain or emotional brain – triggering a wide array of negative emotions and behaviours. Copper toxicity causes “excessive emotions of many types such as anger, rage, frustration and others.” Copper, at high levels, leads to loss of libido, detachment from loved ones, and diminished feelings of love and compassion – leading, very often, to the copper toxic individual losing interest in their relationship, or feeling the need to cut it off. Often, the more intense the relationship, the more intense the opposite reaction.
COPPER'S CONNECTION WITH OTHER KEY MINERALS AND VITAMINS
Copper toxic individuals will usually (though not always) display the following patterns when it comes to their vitamin and minerals levels:
Elevated Calcium: As bio-unavailable copper increases to high levels, a phenomenon known as the “calcium shell” is formed. This high level of bio-unavailable calcium is the body’s ultimate defense against the stress caused to it by the copper and other stress inputs, and this leads to the aforementioned numbing and deadening of feelings.
Low Zinc: We’ve already looked at the important role zinc has in the brain, helping the functioning of the neocortex. Zinc deprivation also destroys the cells in the hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with recording and integrating meaningful memories, experiences, and emotions). As copper increases, zinc decreases. This also leads to increased anxiety, lightheadedness, and detachment. Zinc deficiency is one of the greatest and least known dangers of the vegan diet. “Any deficiency in mossy fiber cells, or of zinc or histamine in the [hippocampus] cells, might result in schizophrenic behaviour.”(1)
Low Magnesium: Magnesium is the calming mineral, and as copper rises, magnesium decreases, further exacerbating irritability, inability to handle stress, and poor concentration.
Low Molybdenum: Copper is antagonistic to molybdenum, and often a low HTMA molybdenum reading can be the clue to copper toxicity even when the copper level itself is not showing high.
Elevated sodium: Sodium is the primary stress, and the higher sodium rises over potassium, the shorter one’s fuse becomes, and the fight or flight response is intensified.
Low Potassium: rising bio-unavailable copper lowers potassium, increasing the aforementioned sodium to potassium ratio.
Low Vitamin B12: While copper may not directly lower B12, B12 deficiency is common is many copper toxic individuals, especially those who are vegetarian / vegan. In fact, B12 deficiency is inevitable for the vegan/vegetarian unless otherwise supplemented. Decades of studies show that B12 deficiency is common in patients with emotional disturbances and mental illness. The late Dr. Victor Herbert from Mt. Sinai Hospital blamed B12 deficiency for the hospitalization of many patients in mental institutions.
Low Vitamin C: The adrenal glands require large amounts of Vitamin C, and as copper stresses the adrenals more, the greater the need for Vitamin C in order to help eliminate the excess copper. Stress depletes Vitamin C from the tissues, especially from those of the adrenal cortex. Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, Ph.D., M.D., a pioneer in the field of biological psychiatry, describes in one of the chapters from his groundbreaking and classic book Mental and Elemental Nutrients, the strong connection between excess copper and schizophrenia. In this book he states “In the schizophrenic extra Vitamin C is needed to get rid of the accumulated copper... Any biological state which elevates the serum copper is likely to increase the need for C. The schizophrenic state, late pregnancy, excessive smoking of tobacco and, particularly, the use of the contraceptive pill produce states of elevated copper…. as all research to date has shown, drugs or situations which cause a rise in serum copper demand extra ascorbic acid.”
IF I AM COPPER TOXIC WHAT SHOULD I DO ABOUT IT?
The first step is to properly determine if indeed you have copper toxicity / dysregulation. HTMA is by far the best way to assess this, as only through HTMA can the various key indicators of copper toxicity be seen. A simple blood test, as explained above, is NOT the answer as it does not accurately show stored copper levels (again bio-unavailable copper is stored in tissues, not blood). Even the copper level on an HTMA can be misleading at first glance (especially because one can be copper toxic (high bio-unavailable copper) and yet at the same time be copper deficient (low bio-available copper), and this is why it is imperative to understand the mineral ratios and patterns that indicate copper toxicity, as evidenced through proper HTMA interpretation. A high soft tissue calcium level, a low potassium level and a very high Ca/K ratio are major mineral effects of elevated copper.
Treatment will usually involve gradual supplementation with magnesium, potassium, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 (if vegetarian), Vitamin A, whole Vitamin C molecule (NOT synthetic ascorbic acid), light zinc (sometimes), MSM, chromium, taurine, a return to (at least even a light) meat diet for vegetarians, reducing stress, examining one's programs, fears and past hurts (which copper brings to the surface), and restoring the liver and adrenals with liver and bile and gentle adrenal support, all as part of a full copper detox process. Without adequate adrenal function, ceruloplasmin (Cp) production remains low and Cp is needed to bind to copper to make it bioavailable. Detoxing must be done slowly and monitored, as otherwise the effects of copper dumping can be severe and frightening to the individual or people around them. The detox protocol therefore should only be implemented once a thorough understanding of mineral levels has been performed through HTMA, and ongoing monitoring of the detox process must be done by someone who understands the various physical and psychological symptoms that can occur during detox.
“Disruption of the copper-zinc ratio is an overlooked contributor to intractable fatigue that follows excessive reliance on a plant-based diet. The result is toxic accumulation of copper in tissues and critical depletion of zinc through excretion. This condition usually goes unrecognized because copper levels in the blood can remain normal. Also, most doctors are unprepared to meet with extreme zinc deficiency and its baffling effects on many systems of the body. Hair mineral analysis, competently used, is the tool which can unravel the complexities of this growing problem.” ~Laurie Warner, M.A., C.N.C.
(1) Pfeiffer Ph.D, MD. Mental and Elemental Nutrients, USA, 1975
We truly need a paradigm shift in the way we look at health. We cannot continue to blindly believe that diet and nutrition do not play key roles in our health (minerals after all are the very spark plugs of life) - yet most doctors receive very little training in this area. The field of psychology also needs to catch up and understand that minerals, including copper, play a profound role in determining one's personality, with personality and behaviour changing based on mineral levels. We also cannot continue to pretend that vegan diets and usage of the Pill and IUD do not come without dangerous side effects, when each one directly raises one's level of copper (and it's therefore no surprise that the majority of people who have severe copper toxicity are either vegan and/or using birth control, especially the copper IUD). Women deserve to be fully informed of the dangers of birth control use, and currently almost all OB/GYNs continue to flat out deny any such connection between birth control and symptoms of copper excess exists. Nor can we count on 'doctors' to help this condition when the vast majority of those who pretend they know how to 'fix' it only make matters worse by having no idea how to test for it, nor how to safely treat it. The suffering of people affected and the astounding lack of awareness is only perpetuated as a result. I cannot stand by silently in the face of such malpractice while people's lives and families continue to be destroyed. There are, sadly, only a few of us in the world that currently understand copper toxicity, and I hope this number will increase in time as awareness increases.
I invite you to visit www.coppertoxic.com which provides extensive research, explanations, stories from women, links to additional educational resources on the topic, and the Internet's largest resource of answers to questions relating to copper toxicity. As well, below, is the documentary film on Copper Toxicity, with interviews from several of today's most respected experts in this field.
"The overall psychological effect of excess copper is a loss of emotional control and awareness accompanied by diminished feelings and numbness…. I would venture to say that divorce courts are loaded with people who's relationships were destroyed by copper toxicity." ~ Dr. Rick Malter, Ph.D.
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