We have covered the basics of excess copper (symptoms, causes, testing for copper toxicity, the detox process, diet, digestion and the effect of grains on copper toxicity). This post is going to be a bit more scientific – we’re going to discuss the chemical effects copper toxicity has in our bodies.
So we know that when excess copper accumulates in our body it can have both physical and mental impacts on our health…but why does this occur?
The neurotransmitters in our brain and our autonomic nervous system are considerably impacted by excess copper. When we accumulate copper it impedes our brain’s ability to break down dopamine. It also decreases histamine levels and increases norepinephrine levels. These chemical reactions (or lack of) are what cause the psychological symptoms (anxiety, insomnia, depression, feeling like we are going to lose our mind etc.) we experience.
Copper Toxicity and Addiction
It is the disruption to dopamine and norepinephrine that can lead to addiction. Copper is needed in the synthesis of the neurotransmitters that regulate our thoughts, mood and behaviours. Given the minimal range of optimal copper, too much or too little can cause significant drive to self-medicate with psychotropic substances. Why psychotropic substances? Well drugs like MDMA, amphetamines and PCP cause chemical reactions that mimic our natural neurotransmitters, initially giving users the ‘boost’ of energy that the body is unable to give due to excess copper. When these drugs wear off, the user wants more to give them back that feeling, which leads to the cycle of addiction.
Copper Toxicity and Mood
Histamine is an important neurotransmitter. It is responsible for regulating pain sensitivity, sleep, tear production, sex drive and mood. Copper is responsible for breaking down histamine and when there is too much copper in our body, histamine is excessively degraded, leading to histapenia (low histamine levels). At extreme levels, excessive degradation of histamine can cause paranoia and hallucinations.
Copper Toxicity and Anorexia
Putting the above chemical effects of excess copper together, copper toxicity can actually play a role in anorexia. Whilst anorexia is a mental health issue, copper toxicity can actually affect the physical aspect of the disease.
Excess copper and low zinc can lead to a loss of taste and smell which results the desire to skip meals because the person suffering the imbalance has lost their appetite. As the person skips meals, their copper-zinc ratio becomes even further out of whack, making the lack of appetite fall even more.
As the copper-zinc ratio becomes more imbalanced, the excess copper begins to have psychological effects on the sufferer. Excess copper can cause the sufferer to ‘detach’. Yet at the same time, the copper toxicity is wreaking havoc with the neurotransmitters in their brain causing them to feel anxious and depressed.
Scarily, the anorexia and copper toxicity biochemically feed on themselves – as the copper-zinc balance worsens they want to eat less, the psychological symptoms worsen, and the copper-zinc ratio worsens even further. It is a scary, viscous cycle.