When I talk about my specific experience with copper toxicity, typically, I am asked three questions. How does one become copper toxic, what are the signs and types of treatment?  Below I explain copper and copper toxicity (also known as a copper overload). I’ve included a comprehensive explanation about this commonly misdiagnosed condition.

Isn’t copper good for me?

In my book, I Cu Copper, I describe copper as the good, the bad, and the ugly. So let’s start there. Copper is an essential trace mineral that helps support the body in many ways. Some of the main benefits or the good is it helps:

  • form red blood cells and is critical for helping a fetus develop the heart, blood vessels, skeletal and nervous system
  • maintain healthy bones for the prevention of osteoporosis.
  • form collagen and sustains elasticity of connective tissue and helps with cardiovascular function
  • development and function of the central nervous system
  • form cells and maintain a healthy immune response
  • energy production in cells to avoid fatigue.
  • regulate the synthesis of neurotransmitters that affect psychiatric symptoms

What causes copper toxicity?

The bad copper is when it builds up and does not get eliminated or utilized appropriately. Copper toxicity is often hereditary and occurs in the following ways:

  • The body may have a dysregulation. It may not produce enough of the binding proteins to take the copper where it needs to go. The main one is ceruloplasmin.
  • Estrogen can cause copper to retain and accumulate in the body. Estrogen dominant individuals tend to have too much copper. Hormonal changes can be a trigger. Side note:  estrogen dominance is known to be directly related to breast, ovarian, and cervix cancer.
  • Pregnancy increases copper levels. When copper doesn’t detox properly, it can lead to psychosis. Especially with multiple births when copper does not go back to normal post-birth. Each pregnancy adds or layers on more copper.
  • Environmental copper can overload the body. Some copper exposures or sources are:
    • Copper IUD’s, birth control pills, prenatal vitamins, hormone replacement drugs
    • Some multi-vitamins
    • Xeno-estrogen or chemicals that mimic estrogen found in plastics and petrochemicals
    • Growth hormones fed to animals
    • Fungicides and pesticides
    • Copper pipes in the home and tap water
    • Copper cookware
    • Dental materials
    • Hot tub and pool chemicals
    • Plant-based diets and other high copper foods
    • Zinc deficiency and other mineral imbalances
    • Adrenal weakness (adrenal hormones help stimulate the liver to produce ceruloplasmin, a major copper-binding protein in the body)
    • Stress (depletes the adrenal glands, lowers zinc levels and increases copper)

Once copper builds up and has nowhere to go, it accumulates in the liver, the brain, and reproductive organs. Thus, disrupting the glandular, reproductive, and nervous system with devastating effects on physical on mental health. This copper is known as percent-free copper, and elevated levels can appear in the blood. It is unbound (not attached to a protein) and causes oxidative stress or damaging free radical activity. It is not the same as Wilson’s Disease. That is a life-threatening and rare genetic disorder where copper accumulates in the tissues of vital organs and glands.

What are the symptoms of copper toxicity?

Finally, there is the ugly copper when in excess, it causes destruction. The buildup of copper interferes with the function of hormones like thyroid and adrenal. It robs energy causing chronic and adrenal fatigue. Excess copper also can create an imbalance in neurotransmitter activity by lowering dopamine levels and increasing norepinephrine. Therefore, creating a risk for postpartum depression and other mental health symptoms.

Copper, being a stimulant, enhances brain activity and can give a feeling that the mind is racing. The is brain using electricity made with chemical molecules to move through the neurons’ membrane. So when you see a young child who appears hyper, impulsive, or agitated, don’t judge. He/she may be having trouble with concentration due to the stimulating effects of copper producing adrenaline surges. Adults may have feelings of anxiety and panic, overstimulation, racing thoughts, restlessness, and insomnia in the same way. Copper conducts nerve transmission. So their nervous system is revved into a state of overdrive or agitation. It is an electrical chemical process in the same way that copper is used in electrical wires to conduct electricity. Similarly, fibromyalgia occurs when nerves are being stimulated over and over, causing tenderness to over-stimulated muscles. The electricity of copper is zapping and tiring out the muscles.

Excess copper can deviate or short circuit a thought or emotion. With depression, poor concentration, mood swings, brain fog, super-sensitivity, and other negative cognitive symptoms as a result. Menstrual disorder, fibroids cysts, PMS, and hormone imbalances are common because of the relation copper has to estrogen. Estrogen production from the regular monthly cycle and added outside sources of estrogen contribute to copper buildup. Males can have copper toxicity as well. Typically, the symptoms are impulsiveness, anger, or violence. The manifestations from one family member to another may appear very different.

Due to copper’s supportive role in the systems of the body, copper can impact many functions.

Symptoms that could be a sign of copper toxicity

Severe PMS, PCOS, PMDD, Endometriosis Increased Anger and Rage
Adverse effects on oral contraceptives High Anxiety, Stress Intolerance
Postpartum Depression and related psychosis Depression
Blood sugar dysregulation or sugar cravings Bipolar Disorder
Adrenal and Chronic fatigue Paranoia or Paranoid Schizophrenia
Hypothyroidism Panic Attacks
Estrogen intolerance Racing Thoughts and Restlessness
Fibroid polyps and cysts Spaciness or Numbed Emotions
Acne Poor Concentration and Focus
Candida overgrowth or yeast toxicity Insomnia
Seasonal Allergies, Asthma Digestive Disorders
Skin sensitivities to rough fabrics, cheap metals Migraines
Intolerance to chocolate or high copper foods Fibromyalgia
Anemia  Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Loss of Hair ADHD/ADD
SSRI’s drugs worsen anxiety Autism


Why haven’t I heard of copper toxicity?

Now we have the answers to why copper can be good, bad, and what symptoms create the ugly. Let’s pursue why most doctors don’t test for copper toxicity and why it is common and yet not well-known.

The most straightforward answer to this is that doctors do not receive training in nutritional supplementation in medical school. There is no known pharmaceutical to treat copper toxicity properly. Therefore, traditional doctors will not test for something they do not treat. What they will do is treat the symptoms rather than the cause. If you consult your doctor about mood-related symptoms, he/she is likely to dispense an antidepressant without doing any testing. Traditional doctors are unaware that SSRI’s can make anxiety symptoms worse for high copper individuals.

How is copper toxicity treated?

It does not mean copper toxicity is not treatable. The first step is to find a doctor trained in biochemical imbalances. Be aware that even some natural or holistic doctors are not familiar with copper imbalances. Doctors trained in biochemical imbalances are better equipped. They ask the right questions during a history intake and order appropriate tests to identify the root cause. Typically blood and urine tests are used and in some instances, hair analysis to identify an imbalance. Not all doctors know how to interpret the results or prescribe appropriate levels of nutrients. The correct combination of minerals, vitamins, and amino acids is vital to bringing individualized biochemistry back into balance. Therefore, finding a practitioner familiar with copper toxicity is critical. The method of treatment for copper toxicity includes:

Removing the excess copper slowly and add nutrients to balance what became deficient or imbalanced using targeted nutrient therapy

  • Eliminated of copper happens through the bile. It is vital to ensure that the release of toxins occurs slowly and correctly. Thereby protecting against copper getting stirred up and redeposited in another location. Notably, the brain can release negative emotions. Detoxing too quickly is called dumping. Dumping can result in adverse physical and mental reactions. Things like headaches, acne, extreme fatigue, joint pain, digestive problems, premenstrual type cramps or testicular pain, anxiety, spaciness, and fears can occur.  Thus, professional monitoring is advisable.
  • When copper is high other needed nutrients will lower. It may seem easy to remove the excess copper and then add the nutrients that became deficient. However, it is a very complex process to provide the right nutritional support to obtain individualized balance. Taking supplements on your own without knowing the ideal dosage or interaction could cause adverse effects.
  • Some doctors may recommend chelators to remove copper. This method can have serious side effects, including kidney damage. Before agreeing to this type of toxic process, do your homework. Even natural chelators remove essential minerals along with toxic metals and cause more of an imbalance.

Avoiding high copper foods

  • Vegetarian and vegan diets are high in copper. Things like soy, beans/legumes, brewer’s yeast, nuts, seeds, avocado, mushrooms, dried fruits, organ meats, shellfish, grains, and chocolate, to name a few, should be avoided.

Incorporating a regular stress-reducing regimen

  • Meditation, yoga, tai chi, or any form of relaxation that helps reduce stress is essential for maintaining normal copper levels. When the body is under stress, it uses up stored nutrients that help reduce copper. In turn, copper accumulation makes it difficult to deal with stress symptoms.

Seeing a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist

  • Copper is a heavy metal that can take a toll on the adrenals and psychological process. There is emotional healing that requires individual due diligence. Particularly, releasing fear which has a paralyzing effect on the body.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine cites that buried negative emotions store in the liver. They can be released when detoxing these toxins.
  • As the body is getting help to rebalance and heal, the mind also needs assistance to recover. Emotional thought patterns become imbalanced from prolonged negative behaviors. Releasing these negative emotions frees up energy that can be used to assist the body’s copper metabolism.

How long does it take to correct an imbalance?

With adherence to treatment, chemical imbalances are correctable, and healing begins. The length of time it takes to correct a copper imbalance depends on many factors — for instance, the extent of accumulation and the body’s natural ability to detox the excess copper. Depending on the severity and the level of commitment, it can take six months to several years to correct a copper imbalance. Those who have been on a vegetarian or vegan diet for a long time may have significant build-up. They may also be resistance to adding the needed zinc from meat. Adrenal weakness and burnout also take longer for someone to recover because adrenal restoration is a process in itself.

Complying with proper nutrition makes a difference in healing time. Taking supplements, avoiding high copper foods, and protecting stress levels and emotional well-being is imperative. Those who comply often come away from the once debilitating condition to a heightened sense of self-awareness. Also, they have improved energy from the adrenal’s restoration with overall improved health. In summary, we are all biochemical individuals, and it is crucial to get tested by a professional trained in biochemical imbalances.

Does this mean healing is complete?

Healing is an individualized journey. There is no one-size-fits-all way to approach healing. The first step is to listen to your body and mind to identify patterns causing undesirable physical and emotional changes. Then for continued optimal health, regularly use the self-care techniques identified above. Finding and maintaining balance is an ongoing effort because of food and environmental influences. A future post will include methods to help tap into deeper awareness to assist with emotional healing.

I hope this sheds more light on copper toxicity and answers all your questions. If not, send me a note on my contact page.