Neuroscience evidence changes thinking.

ADHD Insights: Brain Copper Excess

Copper excessFrom Copper Deficit to Copper Excess Trace Elements Matter 

I just finished a post this past week with some links and details on Copper Deficiency and want to remind you here of problems with measurable Copper Excess.

Here are a few more notes on copper concerns summarized from the Worlds Healthiest Foods:

Copper Deficit Reminder

What are deficiency symptoms for copper?

Because copper underwrites many functions of the body, copper deficiency produces an extensive range of symptoms. These symptoms include iron deficiency anemia, ruptured blood vessels, osteoporosis, joint problems, brain disturbances, elevated LDL cholesterol and reduced HDL cholesterol levels, increased susceptibility to infections due to poor immune function, loss of pigment in the hair and skin, weakness, fatigue, breathing difficulties, skin sores, poor thyroid function, and irregular heart beat.

Despite the fact that most Americans consume less than recommended amounts of copper in their diet, these symptoms of copper deficiency are relatively rare. However, certain medical conditions including chronic diarrhea, celiac sprue, and Crohn’s disease [often associated with gluten or casein sensitivity] result in decreased absorption of copper and may increase the risk of developing a copper deficiency. In addition, copper requires sufficient stomach acid for absorption, so if you consume antacids regularly you may increase your risk of developing a copper deficiency. Inadequate copper status is also observed in children with low protein intake and in infants fed only cow’s milk without supplemental copper.

Copper Excess Notes

What are toxicity symptoms for copper?

In recent years, nutritionists have been more concerned about copper toxicity than copper deficiency. One explanation for this is the increase in the amount of copper found in drinking water due to the switch in most areas of the country from galvanized water pipes to copper water pipes [seen in CorePsych offices regularly].

Excessive intake of copper can cause abdominal pain and cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and liver damage. In addition, some experts believe that elevated copper levels, especially when zinc levels are also low, can contribute to many medical conditions including schizophrenia, hypertension, stuttering, autism, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, headaches, childhood hyperactivity, depression, insomnia, senility, and premenstrual syndrome. [Does that get your attention?]

Postpartum depression has also been linked to high levels of copper. This is because copper concentrations increase throughout pregnancy to approximately twice normal values, and it may take up to three months after delivery for copper concentrations to normalize. Since excess copper is excreted through bile, copper toxicity is most likely to occur in individuals with liver disease or other medical conditions in which the excretion of bile is compromised.

Nutrient Interactions

How do other nutrients interact with copper?

Copper is known to react with a variety of other nutrients, including iron, zinc, molybdenum, sulfur, selenium, and vitamin C.

However, with respect to food, we haven’t seen research evidence showing that other nutrients—including iron and zinc—interfere with absorption of copper. Similarly, while copper is known to interact with a variety of minerals once it has been absorbed up into the body, we have not seen research showing food-related problems in this regard.

The situation is somewhat different, however, when it comes to dietary supplements that often provide minerals (or vitamins) in higher doses than possibly obtained from food. There’s some evidence, although not conclusive, that zinc supplements, when taken at 50 milligrams or more on a daily basis over an extended period of time, can lower availability of copper. There’s also some evidence (once again not conclusive) that high supplemental doses of vitamin C—in a range approaching 1,000 milligrams or more—may decrease copper availability. While not applicable to adults, there is also some evidence that in the formula feeding of infants, too much iron in a formula can lower absorption of copper from that formula.1

A Copper Excess Book

On the side of copper excess I strongly recommend this excellent text Why Am I Always So Tired by Ann Louise Gittleman. It contains details on copper and estrogen, diets and specific ways to correct chronic copper toxicity.

Other Conditions Associated with Copper Toxicity

From Trace Elements and Other Essential Nutrients [pg. 83] by Dr David Watts of Trace

1. Secondary to Mononucleosis or Hepatitis
2. Secondary to insufficient Vits C, B, A, or Minerals Zinc or Iron – causes increased copper
3. PMS
4. Toxemia with Post Partum Depression
5. Gallstones
6. Yeast and Fungal Infections
7. Scoliosis
8. Zinc excess found often with Increased Right Brain,  and/or Copper excess with Increased Left Brain creating Dyslexia and ADHD2  See also this Reference in pdf from Trace Elements on the issue of Zn/Cu ratios and dyslexia.
9. Adrenal Fatigue, Hypothyroidism
10. Drugs that can contribute to Copper Toxicity: thorazine, librium, norpramine, estrogen meds, tegretol [pg. 90].

For detailed mind navigation, evidence matters.


1 Waggoner DJ, Bartnikas TB, Gitlin JD. The role of copper in neurodegenerative disease. Neurobiology of Disease [1999, 6(4):221-230] PMID:10448050
2 Malter, R The Strands of Health, 2003


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