Copper 'Toxicity'

The Psycho-Physiological Effects on the Mind, Body, and Emotions

Though copper assists with energy production, this is only one side of the energy coin.  What needs to be understood is that copper, as it accumulates in the body, largely gets stored in the liver and over time wears down adrenal function.  Eventually this can potentially lead to full blown adrenal burnout. At the very same time that copper accumulates in the liver and takes its toll on the adrenals, it is also stimulating the mind.  Aldosterone increases which enhances brain activity and leads to the 'racing mind' symptom, common as copper begins to accumulate.  The person might take on new projects and load their plate with tasks. However in doing so they are only further adding to their own stress and further wearing themselves out. The accumulation of excess copper presents a continual source of internal stress, which takes a further toll on the adrenals. Under stress (from any source), the body loses both zinc and magnesium (calming minerals), while boosting sodium and intensifying the individual's short fuse reactions to stressors.  In turn, with zinc spiralling lower, copper accumulates further.  Eventually the body is no longer able to respond to the stress.  If the body is unable to properly eliminate the copper, and so long as the exposure to copper continues, it will eventually lead to exhaustion / adrenal burnout, along with a crash in sodium and aldosterone. At this point the person has little energy left to do anything.  

Stress from any cause contributes to copper imbalance. Stress depletes the adrenal glands and lowers the zinc level in the body. Whenever zinc becomes deficient, copper tends to accumulate.

Full adrenal burnout is a significant game changer that can have life long affects on the patient.  The obvious symptom is an overwhelming sense of debilitating fatigue, often with a period of complete and utter exhaustion.  Resentment, withdrawal, dizziness, loss of libido, slurred speech, depression, insomnia, frustration, lost interest in relationships, moodiness, poor concentration, and irritability are all common symptoms. 

Beyond the obvious symptoms above, the point of adrenal burnout will cause a significant worsening of the copper toxicity condition, due to ceruloplasmin production decline.  Ceruloplasmin is a glycoprotein produced in the liver, and it is responsible for the transport of 95% of the copper in the blood plasma. As the adrenals speed up initially, ceruloplasmin (Cp) production is usually fine, as the adrenal activity assists with Cp production. However, upon burnout, this all changes, and the previously adequate Cp levels now dwindle and become deficient.  Without ceruloplasmin to bind to copper, copper is essentially bio-unavailable in the body, regardless of how much excess copper is being stored. This post-burnout Cp insufficiency means that stored bio-unavailable copper now begins building up even faster, adding an even greater burden to the liver and adrenals, and in turn exacerbating the aforementioned symptoms of burnout. Energy also takes a further hit. Without adequate Cp, copper is incapable of completing the electron transport in the mitochondria (where our energy is produced). In the exhaustion stage, copper is not being used nor eliminated, and it further stores in the tissues. Under stress or sudden increases in adrenal activity, copper leaks out or 'dumps' from storage, and this can heighten PMS type symptoms, insomnia, headaches, joint pains, skin rashes, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and depression, among other problems. 

As coppers rises it has antagonistic and synergistic effects on various minerals (explained more on the Flowchart page).  One mineral that excess copper depletes is potassium. On an HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis) we can clearly see the effect copper has on the adrenals by assessing the corresponding levels of potassium (and sodium).  Low sodium and potassium is a clear indicator of adrenal burnout/exhaustion. When we see such low potassium we know that not only is there insufficient adrenal function, but that as a result there will also likely be insufficient ceruloplasmin production. Along with the low sodium and potassium (exhausted adrenals) there is the possibility that copper won't show up as high in the hair (or in blood either for that matter), simply because that excess copper is tightly stored in tissues with insufficient energy to release it.

"Copper toxicity reduces the ability to cope normally with stress and the inability to respond adequately can provoke many fearful emotions, including anxiety and panic." ~ Theresa Vernon, L.Ac.

Adrenal support will be required to help release excess stored copper as well as raise ceruloplasmin.  HOWEVER, this requires the patient (and practitioner) to be aware of two possible and very important consequences.

  1.  Adrenal support can give a person a relatively quick sense of restored energy, enough to make the person think they have recovered. Any such quick improvement is merely a false sense of improvement, as to properly restore adrenal function takes at minimum 6 months to a year or more, including giving the body sufficient rest and following proper healing protocol. For severely burned out women the process can take two years or more. The danger is that adrenal support can lead a person to quit their program too early, believing themselves to be fine, even though they have merely just begun the process.  Don't be fooled - feeling better quickly does not mean your adrenals are rejuvenated.
  2. Adrenal support will mobilize stored copper. Attempted too quickly (or strongly), and without sufficient detox pathways, this bio-unavailable copper will simply be stirred up, possibly aggravating symptoms further, and getting redeposited in other locations, including the brain.  This underscores the dire importance that any copper detox using adrenal support must be done very gently and cautiously. The supervising practitioner also needs to inform the patient of these possible detox reactions while not misleading the patient into thinking they are fine after just a few weeks.

"In the fall of that year I went into total breakdown…Gittleman talks about adrenal burnout in zinc deficiency as a total exhaustion of the adrenal capacity to respond to stress.  Deep burnout produces a bone-shuddering, unrelenting fatigue that is beyond anything I would have imagined… Burnout was only part of what was going on. There were also waves of a kind of feverish delirium that made it very hard to focus on my surroundings or communicate with others… I remained in a free-floating kind of fugue state for years. It is part of the disorientation of the condition that I don’t know now exactly when I came out of it...there is such a high level of confusion, distractibility and anxiety in certain people today that they frequently cannot focus on the information that could help them. Such observations lead me to look into the area of zinc deficiency and adrenal burnout in their situations."
~ Laurie Warner, MA, CNC

 Adrenal Burnout and Relationships

Even without experiencing full adrenal burnout, adrenal fatigue presents its fair share of symptoms. In her book 'The Everything Guide to Adrenal Fatigue', Dr.Maggie Luther lists the following symptoms of adrenal gland dysfunction as:

* difficulty getting up in the morning
* strong salt cravings or strong sugar cravings (usually one or the other, not both)
* daytime fatigue that is not relieved by any amount of sleep
* lowered or no libido
* difficulty handling stress, decreased productivity
* increased emotional symptoms including anxiety, irritability, depression
* trouble recovering from illnesses, chronic infections
* lightheadness when standing quickly, ongoing ringing in the ears
* worsening of symptoms if meals are skipped
* lack of focus, "brain fog", memory loss
* exhaustion in the morning, crashes in the early afternoon, energy bursts after dinner at night

(For those interested in learning more about the stages of adrenal exhaustion leading to burnout, I discuss this more in this article). For a more in-depth understanding of exactly what happens during each stage of declining adrenal function, perhaps the most comprehensive explanation available online is provided by Dr. Lam at  - an excellent resource for both patients and physicians.

Energetically, just as the person's physical energy decreases, or changes, so does their 'vibrational energy', or frequency.  This can also affect relationships because the ability to connect energetically to the person they once knew diminishes.  As Dr. Lawrence Wilson states, "Relationships often suffer when one person in the relationship goes into adrenal exhaustion". 

The lack of energy resulting from adrenal exhaustion / burnout can have a profound effect on relationships as well. Often, the patient is not even aware of what their feelings really are. The lack of energy reduces awareness to the true extent of the problem.  In fact, at this stage many of the symptoms associated with copper toxicity are the same as those common with adrenal burnout, and the issue is just as much about the burnout as it is with the copper. If copper toxicity is accompanied by adrenal exhaustion/ burnout, the previously mentioned symptoms can be further amplified. It is highly improbable for a person who has experienced adrenal burnout, especially when copper toxicity is also at play, for emotional thinking to be rational in the period following burnout.  The following conversation is taken from an interview with biochemist, HTMA and Nutritional Balancing pioneer and world's foremost expert on trace mineral relationships, the late Dr. Paul Eck, as can be found in the 1985 book 'Energy: How it Affects Your Emotions, Your Level of Achievement, and Your Entire Well-Being' by Chatsworth and Eck:

 Caution Needed When Taking Adrenal Support

This discussion and relevant pages are also available here in more detail as a PDF.

 Copper's Weakening Effect on Adrenal Function

"Burnout causes emotional and physical devastation that cripples the person’s personality and human potential ... The person whose life has been gutted by stress-damage usually does not know what hit him – and usually has no idea what is really wrong with him... When you go into burnout, unless you pull out of it and realize what actually happened to you - you can go into a state of disillusionment that can last the rest of your life." ~Dr. Eck

Dr. Eck: Exactly! When a person undergoes a severe stress, or a series of minor stresses, the body’s reservoirs of zinc become severely depleted. The end-result is an ever-increasing build-up of copper in the tissues. Excessive tissue copper leads to a depression of both adrenal and thyroid activity. It is at this point that burnout ensues. Recovery from burnout occurs only when excessive tissue copper has been eliminated and tissue zinc reserves fully restored. Partial recovery from burnout occurs when tissue copper levels are diminished. Full recovery occurs only when excess tissue copper has been completely eliminated. Although a person may indeed have tremendous amounts of excess copper stored in his tissues, it may not immediately appear on a tissue mineral analysis until the body releases this copper from storage reservoirs.
HV: I have noticed that people in burnout retire into their own world. Now they may be just as talkative as before, but somehow they are more distant. The person’s spontaneity seems to be gone, they seem to be more artificial. It seems as though there is always an aura of repressed anger about them – as though they are ticked off and you don’t know why. You wonder if it’s at you or if it’s at everything. You never know. You can’t even talk to them about it because they will not talk about it. They will even deny that it is true.
Dr. Eck:  This is true. People in burnout will withdraw. They hesitate to communicate; you have to be so careful what you say to them, and often they won’t cooperate or want to work with anyone. They act as if they want to do everything on their own without anyone’s help. If you try to get too close to them they push you away. Even though they need your help, they may act as if they don’t, and even act as if they resent your ‘interfering’with them.
HV:The person might think that their relationship with their partner isn’t satisfying and that they need a different person.
Dr. Eck:  This is true. It is very easy to blame everybody else when you are in a state of adrenal exhaustion. One of the first insidious signs of burnout – even before chronic fatigue – is that all of a sudden the person is not as sexually aroused as he used to be. He doesn’t think about it as often and he doesn’t participate in it as often. What we are saying applies even more to women than it does to men.
HV: The person is no longer the same person that he was before. He becomes unapproachable.
Dr. Eck: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that burnout breaks up so many marriages.   People in burnout have trouble making emotional commitments to others. They are too sunken into themselves. They can’t even take care of themselves. What do they have to give to others? They don’t have enough energy to make a deep commitment to almost anyone or anybody. Often the person has no real idea of what has gone wrong with their life... They may become functional to a point where they return to work and enjoy things more. However , the devastating effects of a severe burnout are usually permanent.

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 Evidencing Adrenal Burnout on an HTMA