Copper is an essential trace element that our bodies need for vital functions. It works with zinc to:
- Produce ATP for cellular energy,
- Produce and repair connective tissue,
- Form collagen,
- Metabolise iron,
- Produce optimal immune function,
- Enable our reproductive systems,
- Provide a healthy nervous system,
- Enable cardiovascular function, and
- Develop neurotransmitter production and function.
This list is not exhaustive of the functions zinc and copper work together to achieve – but as you can see, the relationship is responsible for some serious systems in our body!
What happens with the copper-zinc balance gets out of whack?
There are 3 kinds of copper-zinc imbalances: insufficient copper, excess copper and copper bio-unavailability (there also exists a rare genetic disorder – Wilson’s Disease – where the body is not able to effectively excrete copper, leading to brain and liver damage).
The first 2 are self-explanatory. Copper bio-unavailability occurs when there is excess copper in our bodies, but it isn’t easily accessible. This occurs when copper binding proteins are deficient and may lead to both a copper deficiency and copper excess at the same time!
When someone is deficient in copper they may experience:
- High blood pressure,
- Chronic fatigue,
- Chronic fungal infections,
- Loss of libido,
- Heart disease,
- Food cravings and compulsive overeating, and
Copper toxicity occurs more often than insufficiency. When someone is suffering from excess copper they may experience a wide range of both physiological and psychological health problems, including:
- Brain fog
- Hair loss,
- Impaired digestion (e.g. fat intolerances, feeling queasy after eating animal protein, bloating, gas),
- Depression (generally from the anxiety and insomnia),
- Adrenal fatigue (though this is a chicken-and-the-egg problem, more on this in later posts),
- Light sensitivity (sometimes so bad that you need to wear sunglasses inside),
- Burn easily by the sun,
- Fluid retention,
- Candida, and
- Many, many more….
Excess copper stimulates the nervous system, having a profound impact on the neurotransmitters in our brain and causing a similar effect on the body as caffeine or amphetamines. The excess copper tends to accumulate in the liver, brain and reproductive organs. When excess copper accumulates in the thyroid it can lead to hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease.
The copper-zinc relationship has such an important role to play in our bodies. Copper has a very narrow range for optimal function – both too much and not enough, is associated with an increase in oxidative stress. The key is to try and keep the two minerals in balance (which is easier said than done in today’s society), as too far in either direction leads to trouble.