What do migraines, anxiety, sleep troubles, and learning issues have in common? Well, they all could stem from copper overload. Copper is a micronutrient needed in the body. But sometimes there is too much in the system. What happens in this situation. Why does copper cause these problems?
In this week’s episode of AskDrGil, I go through the problems that arise in the body as a result of excess copper. I will also discuss how total copper may not be high but may be an imbalance somewhere else in the system.
Copper overload is one of the subtypes that Dr. Walsh lists as a cause of mental illness. I have discussed methylation issues, pyroluria, heavy metals, and zinc deficiency on the Ask Dr. Gil podcast but haven’t really covered copper overload as of yet. It is an important aspect of the Walsh Protocol.
Tune in to find out more.
Below is a transcript of the podcast:
Copper overload podcast
What do anxiety ADHD and migraines have in common? If you’ve been listening to my program for some time, you know that the diagnosis could also come from a chemical imbalance or a nutrient imbalance in the body. Specifically, these conditions may show up because of a copper issue. Not that the copper is too low, but the copper is too high. On today’s podcast of Ask Doctor Gil, I want to talk about how copper overload affects millions of people, and how it can be detrimental to your health to have too much in your system. So stay tuned and let’s find out.
Hello, and welcome to Ask Doctor Gil. I’m Dr. Gil Winkelman. Today on the program, I want to talk about copper overload symptoms, and how they can show up and be a problem for people. Now, there’s a lot of confusion about this. And certainly, in my experience, in my medical training, I didn’t learn about copper overload, except in the sense that it’s really toxic. I’ll explain that in just a minute. Before I get to that, though, I want to talk about what copper can do in the body and even when it’s not really high. Now, I’ve had patients who’ve shown up, who’ve had super high levels of copper in their bodies. And interestingly enough, it was not something that was looked at by other physicians. It’s not part of, for example, basic blood work neither is zinc. As a result of that, I think a lot of people end up with copper issues that go undiagnosed. So the thought process in the mainstream medical community is that you basically see super high levels of copper in the body briefly, and then it gets deposited into different organs and that deposits are what caused the problem.
There’s a disease called Wilson’s disease that does affect a few people. It’s a genetic disorder that has to do with copper storage, and there’s a high level of copper in the body that then gets deposited into various places. And in fact, to the point where you can sometimes pick this up with an eye exam, and you can see the deposits show up in the eye. This is very rare, by the way. It’s, in fact, when I was talking to Dr. Walsh, he was basically saying he has over 30,000 cases and his database of people with various psychological ailments and gets a lot of people who are high copper and very few Wilson disease patients. And interestingly, oftentimes, even though Wilson’s disease is about too much copper in the body, you often will see very low copper levels in the blood. And that’s because it’s basically getting shuttled out of the blood really quickly. So that’s kind of the mainstream approach to copper. And typically, western medicine has looked at copper deficiency, more than copper overload, and at some point in history, this probably was true. I think, now, we just don’t see it quite as much. It is pretty rare. There isn’t an anemia that will show up. That looks like iron deficiency anemia, but people’s iron levels are fine. And typically that also will be related to a low copper with or without Wilson’s disease, usually without. So that’s kind of the overview of the old-school way of looking at Copper.
What we’re now learning is that’s not really a complete view of copper imbalance in the body. And specifically, I think that there are levels of copper that can cause problems in the mental health realm. Let me explain the thought process behind that. So we obviously need some copper in our system, it’s used in various organic reactions in the body. It’s also used and it helps with making red blood cells. So if you don’t have enough copper, you can end up anemic as I alluded to before. But copper also plays some other roles in the body. It’s used in the immune system. It’s also used in helping neurotransmitter production. And specifically, copper with Vitamin C is a catalyst that allows for the conversion of dopamine into epinephrine. So you’re going from a particularly calming neurotransmitter to one that’s more excitatory. So epinephrine is used in a fight or flight situation. So it’s one of the adrenal neurotransmitters, and used when you need a jolt of energy. So this is important because sometimes you do need a jolt of energy.
So you want that to be able to happen in the body, but sometimes that can happen too much. And what Dr. Walsh’s research and Dr. Pfeiffer’s research have found, is that for many people, anxiety arises because there’s too much free copper. So let me explain that. Copper is a very reactive metal. The body really wants to control how much is available at any one time and how much free copper. So in the body’s wisdom, it creates a mechanism to bind copper so that there isn’t too much available at any one time.
There are basically two ways that it does that. The first is it uses zinc to help balance that out. Now, zinc kind of balances out directly and indirectly. Directly in that zinc will compete against copper and I’ll get to that in a minute. But also indirectly in that, there are proteins that are utilized that helped bind the copper. One of the proteins that do this is called caeruloplasmin, although I don’t think there’s zinc in caeruloplasmin. Caeruloplasmin is the copper-binding protein and at any one time, you can measure caeruloplasmin in the body and copper in the body and get a sense of how much free copper is there. There’s a formula to calculate that. It’s roughly three to one, it’s a little not quite, but it’s roughly you want about no more than three times the copper level. Then you have the caeruloplasmin count and in effect, you want 20 less than 25% free copper in the body at any one time. And if the caeruloplasmin is low, that could be the equivalent of having high copper regardless of where the copper is in the body. And that can lead to symptoms as well. So I’m about to take a short break. And when we come back I want to talk more about the caeruloplasmin connection to copper, and the zinc connection and also look at what the symptoms are of copper overload as Dr. Walsh calls it or so stay tuned and I’ll be right back.
Hello, and welcome back to Ask Doctor Gil. I’m Dr. Gil Winkelman. So before I continue, I want to give you my email address, in case you have any questions, the address is info@askDrGil.com. We can get back to you. If there’s a particular question, usually what we do is we try and answer it in a show. And so it’s really helpful for me because it gives me a sense of what it is you want to listen to. I think I mentioned this in a previous podcast, but I’m going to take a bunch of the questions and sort of put them together and do sort of a grab bag podcast here, one of these days, when I get enough good questions that I don’t have a full topic program topic for. We’ll put together something like that and go from there.
So we’re talking about copper overload, and the connection with migraine headaches, emotional outbursts, and so forth. So I mentioned in the first part of the program, that one of the roles of copper is to drive dopamine to epinephrine. And epinephrine is one of these neurotransmitters, that’s really excitatory. It is important, for example, when you want to get out of bed in the morning, you want adrenaline to sort of help, you want to sort of the adrenal levels, the cortisol levels, and all of that to sort of rise and one of the things that adrenaline will do is it will raise cortisol levels too. So it’s an important hormone. But of course, if you get too much of it, or you get too much at one time, it can be problematic. I mentioned zinc and some of the indirect ways and I think I mentioned this in a previous podcast, but zinc will actually work to stop that transaction, as well as produced GABA, which will also turn off the excitatory elements of the adrenal glands. So zinc and copper, not only work in terms of competing against each other in absorption parts of the body but also work kind of in opposition to each other in the body at times too.
Now there are aspects that they work together. They work together with immune response. It’s a really important aspect of zinc and copper working together and is why medical mainstream medical people for many years were concerned about low copper, I mean, besides the anemia. It has many important functions in the body. But what we see is the layers of explosiveness that show up, and it can be in an EDD diagnosis, it can be schizophrenia, although that’s rare. It can be depression, and I’ll explain that in just a second. It can be behavior issues. All of those can show up because of a really high copper. Now, the high copper depression, you might be thinking, if you’re depressed, well, sometimes yeah.
And oftentimes, when people have a kind of depression, with fits of anger, that show up, that can be related to copper overload. So one of the things that we see is a lot of times postpartum depression, which can be dysmorphic where people get really explosive, that’s related to high copper levels. One of the suggestions that we’ve had over the years to patients postpartum is to actually not be taking the prenatal vitamin anymore because there’s a fair amount of copper and a lot of prenatal vitamins. So you replace that with something else. I don’t have a recommendation, because I would need to know the patient’s biochemistry better to be able to do that. But oftentimes, too much copper, postpartum can be problematic for mom. It isn’t usually an issue during pregnancy. And oftentimes, the symptoms of sort of depression will be there prior to pregnancy and they’ll go away during pregnancy, and then they’ll come back, even though they’re taking a prenatal vitamin, while they’re pregnant. And that’s because the fetus actually needs lots of copper. And so, in effect, the fetus is sucking the copper out of mom. So that’s one of the clues to us about how copper overload might be there.
Another clue is sort of the sensitivity in their skin. And what I mean by that is that, for example, tags, like on a t-shirt, might be really irritating to a person with copper overload, or certain fabrics might be irritating. And usually, a telltale sign is, if you wear something that’s kind of a metal that’s cheap, we call it cheap metal, but like nickel or something like that, typically, their skin will react with that metal and discolor it and I’ve had patients whose literally their skin will turn green when they wear an earring or a bracelet for too long. It’ll get itchy and that’s usually a sign of copper overload.
So what are we looking for in the blood test with high copper? Well, typically, anything above 110, I think it’s micrograms per deciliter in the serum copper. We consider it to be high copper. Now, in a healthy person, there’s caeruloplasmin will go up relative to copper. So they won’t have a high free copper. I’ve seen patients who’ve had caeruloplasmin go up almost equally with the copper going up to almost 200. It was very surprising and it was interesting how their body was able to adapt to that.
The other aspect we would look at is what’s the zinc level, the zinc level healthy because basically, we want the copper-to-zinc ratio to be between about 0.8 and 1.0. Oftentimes, we get patients who don’t really have a copper level that’s super-duper high, it might actually be at 110. But either they don’t have enough caeruloplasmin or they don’t have enough zinc to balance it out. So in those situations, it’s not necessarily about treating the high copper per se, you know, directly it’s about either bringing the zinc levels up or potentially bringing the caeruloplasmin levels up. And that’s a little more complex. I’m not going to go too much into that today, because that might actually be a separate topic. But that usually represents something going on with the liver, because caeruloplasmin is a protein produced by the liver.
So oftentimes, the issue there is that the liver isn’t functioning as at capacity. And so that’s why people’s caeruloplasmin might be lower. It also may be that there’s zinc is just too low. So that aspect can arise out of that as well. So a few other notes on the high copper folks. I mentioned the hyperactivity, there’s also a really high level of anxiety that will show up with these people. It is the type of anxiety that will lead to an emotional meltdown usually or a panic attack. It’s something that you know. Typically you know, and you can see it, and it can lead to also learning issues as well. People can also have trouble concentrating and staying focused.
Now, remember, you’re basically driving down dopamine levels, which is calming, and up-regulating adrenaline, norepinephrine, and levels, which are going to be more excitatory. It’s more difficult to focus, it’s more difficult to be calm. You can see a lot of emotional meltdowns with these people as well. Typically, they have sleep problems, and they as I mentioned. There are headaches and oftentimes the headaches can coincide with the menstrual cycle. Although that isn’t necessary in this case. We think it might be because the changes in estrogen levels will change how much a female’s body will hold on to the copper. It’s because if the body thinks it’s pregnant or is trying to get pregnant. It’s going to want to do that. So that it can feed it to the fetus: to the developing baby. So that’s kind of the piece about copper and menses.
Sometimes one of the key things is that if you have a lot of symptoms, or they get worse when you go on oral contraceptives, that’s usually a clue that the body’s holding on to copper too much so. So that’s what I have today for you. I hope you enjoyed the program. And if you have any questions, feel free to send an email to info@askDrGil.com. And also if you liked the program, please leave a review on iTunes. That would be really helpful. Again, I’m trying to get attraction and get more listeners in here and if you have a topic you want me to cover, send that along too. So that’s all I got. Hope you enjoyed the program. I will talk to you next time.