In today’s world copper-zinc imbalances are rather common. However, many people do not suffer from copper toxicity as their livers are able to detox the excess copper effectively. The problem occurs when our body’s liver is not functioning properly – this happens especially in people suffering from autoimmune diseases because we can’t clear heavy metals very well.
There are numerous causes of copper toxicity, including:
1. Zinc deficiency – As we said in our previous post, copper and zinc have a very close relationship which act together in our body. Zinc is required to form ceruloplasim and metallothionein which bind to copper and carry it into our mitochondria. While the actual amount of copper and zinc doesn’t matter too much, it is the ratio of zinc to copper that has the most significant impact. Ideally, we want a zinc to copper ratio of 8:1.
However, the push by the public health system to eat less meat, eliminate fat and cholesterol from our diets means we are not getting enough zinc in our diets (animal protein is the highest form of concentrated zinc). But not only that, because of over farming, antibiotics and environmental toxins, our soil has now had its zinc sources depleted.
2. Copper plumbing – Copper can leach from copper pipes into our water sources causing copper toxicity. In some instances, copper sulphate is also used in our water supply to prevent and control algae contamination.
3. Other vitamin and mineral deficiencies – Elevated copper in our bodies can also result from deficiencies in vitamin C, vitamin B, iron, chromium, manganese and selenium.
4. Other heavy metal toxicity – This is especially significant for us suffering from autoimmune diseases as our liver is unable to detox heavy metals effectively. As a result, there may be a build-up of toxic metals such as cadmium and mercury. When our copper binding proteins are busy trying to clear these metals, they are unable to transport copper, leading to an excess in our body.
5. Lifestyle factors – This includes contraception (especially birth control pills and IUDs which increase retention of copper in the kidneys), copper cookware, jewellery, swimming pools and some prescription medications.
6. Xenoestrogens – Today we are exposed to countless more chemicals in our environment than our grandparents. Estrogenic compounds, commonly found in plastic, cosmetics, petrochemicals and pesticides disrupt our endocrine system causing our bodies to retain copper.
7. Imbalances in copper binding substances – An imbalance in ceruloplasim and metallothionein (due to reasons other than low zinc) can cause copper toxicity.
8. Inherited – Unfortunately this one can’t be avoided if you have inherited excess copper from your mother. This can occur if your mother had high levels of copper and passed them through the placenta to you (gee, thanks mum! But we still love you to the moon and back!).
9. Genetic Disorders – In particular Wilson’s Disease and Pyroluria.
10. Diet – We have dedicated a whole blog post to the role of diet in copper toxicity (still to come), but the key point is that eating foods with high copper to zinc ratios (and vice versa) can lead you to accumulating copper.
11. Impaired methylation – Methylation is one of the pathways our body uses to detox heavy metals. When we can’t methylate properly this can lead to the build-up of heavy metals in our bodies. In particular, a defected MTHFR gene mutation (an no, we are not swearing….although when suffering from copper toxicity you most definitely want to, this is actually the name of the gene) can result in the body not being able to break down heavy metals effectively, leaving them to accumulate in our body.
12. Adrenal Fatigue – Because it wasn’t causing us enough problems anyway. We have written another post dedicated to copper toxicity and adrenal fatigue (still to come), but the main take away is that copper and adrenal fatigue is a catch 22.