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Copper Toxicity: Implications on Mental and Hormonal Health

September 12th 2023 | Dr. Natalie Walch

If you have worked with me for any length of time, we have most likely discussed copper and zinc metabolism, and implications of copper overload on overall health. In this post, I want to dive a little deeper into the importance of addressing copper overload, and how it affects mental and systemic health.

I base the testing and treatment I use for copper overload on the work of researcher Dr. William Walsh, who developed advanced nutrient therapy for the treatment of neurotransmitter imbalance and mental health conditions.

Dr. Walsh outlines the importance of copper in “neurotransmitter synthesis, respiration, immune function, energy metabolism and growth”1.  Copper is essential in the synthesis of norepinephrine, which is made from dopamine and several cofactors including copper and vitamin C. Copper overload leads to low dopamine and increased norepinephrine levels in the brain. Increased norepinephrine is linked to several mental health conditions including ADHD, bipolar disorder and postpartum depression1.

Copper is “neuro-excitatory” (think about its electrical conductivity), meaning it increases nervous system activity. Copper overload is known to be associated with anxiety, ADHD, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, depression, and poor focus and concentration.

Copper overload does not impact only mental health. Other conditions associated with copper overload include hypothyroidism, allergies, acne, hair loss, chronic fatigue, migraines and infertility.

Since learning about the health implications of copper overload, I began checking copper and zinc levels in at least 90% of my patients. I have been astonished to find how many people have high copper levels, and treating copper overload has become a cornerstone in turning gut, hormone and mental symptoms around in my practice.

A question I commonly get asked is, “but Dr. Walch, where did all of this copper come from?”

Copper overload is becoming very common due to the widespread exposure we have to estrogen-mimicking chemicals in our environment. Estrogen-mimicking chemicals, known as xenoestrogens, are found in plastics, and petrochemicals sprayed on our food and animal feed. Estrogen promotes copper storage. This makes women particularly susceptible to copper overload due to our higher estrogen levels. Women with higher copper levels tend to become more symptomatic during hormonal fluctuations (menstrual cycle, post-partum, etc).

Other risk factors for copper overload include exposure from water sources, copper cookware, copper pipes and copper IUD’s. Additionally, some people are more susceptible to copper storage due to genetic inability to regulate copper levels.

Zinc deficiency is another factor contributing to copper toxicity. Zinc and copper are often inversely related. Patients with elevated copper are often zinc deficient. Zinc is essential for immune regulation, wound healing, skin health, and neurotransmitter synthesis. Zinc helps to mobilize copper from the liver by increasing bile production. Excess copper is excreted from the liver through bile.

From my perspective, there are several reasons high copper and low zinc has become an issue for so many. We are living in a world where we are bombarded with environmental toxicants putting unprecedented strain on our detox pathways. Combine this with impeded detox mechanisms and mineral deficiencies, and our bodies have difficulty regulating minerals on a basic physiological level.

When my patients present with any number of symptoms listed above, I typically recommend four simple blood tests that can help us determine their body’s copper burden. These include copper, zinc, ceruloplasmin, and histamine. These tests, often in combination with other lab values and hair mineral analysis, help me to create an individualized treatment plan for each patient.

Balancing copper and zinc levels can profoundly improve mental health and hormonal symptoms. My approach to treating copper toxicity involves a combination of reducing inflammatory and toxic load on the body, balancing specific mineral and nutrients, and supporting detoxification pathways.

References

Walsh, W. (2014). Nutrient power: Heal your biochemistry and heal your brain. Skyhorse Publishing.