A little while back, I was eating lunch with a friend and colleague and he mentioned that copper can increase the risk of cancer. This was not the first time I had heard something scary about copper. Last year, another friend (a medical doctor) also mentioned copper’s association with cancer, especially hormonal types. “How could something so integral to our body be so bad,” I wondered?
I researched it. Just like I suspected, copper is essential to good health. We don’t need a lot of copper, but certain healthy amounts are vital and essential to our health and well-being. It’s all about balance! Copper is required for the formation of about 50 enzymes and it’s needed for our transporters, which shuttle hormones and neurotransmitters all over your body. Copper protects the lining of blood vessels and myelin. It supports energy production.
Did you hear me? Energy! I think one of the most important facts about copper is how it supports the healthy functioning of two major enzymes in your body, one is SOD and the other is DAO.
SOD = superoxide dismutase: This enzyme repairs cells and keeps them from getting killed by superoxide! SOD protects mitochondria and has anti-cancer activity. Without adequate levels of the enzyme SOD, you will likely get cardiovascular disease. Copper helps increase SOD.
DAO = diamine oxidase: This enzyme breaks down histamine from all the foods you eat. There are hundreds of foods that contain histamine (it can cause migraines by the way). DAO is your body’s natural antihistamine. Copper increases activity and functioning.
Here’s a little-known fact that has kept many people dragging all day long, in search of the next cup of coffee or soda. It’s about fatigue. How many of you suffer from chronic fatigue? If you have iron-deficiency anemia that doesn’t respond to iron supplementation, and your ferritin remains suppressed, you might be copper deficient. You need iron to make hemoglobin, the main component of red blood cells, and you cannot absorb iron without copper. Long story short, copper deficiency is sometimes at the heart of resistant iron-deficiency anemia. An “RBC copper” blood test can reveal this. I am a stickler about your test being RBC (or even WBC) because a common mistake is often made by physicians. They often measure “serum” or “plasma” levels. Who cares what is out there? Neither the serum nor the plasma portion of your blood contains any clotting factors or red blood cells. Evaluating copper in the plasma or serum doesn’t give you an indication of what’s inside the cell, where the clotting factors are. That’s what you NEED to know. If you’re spending money on your lab test, you have to do it properly, insist if you have to. Blame it on me if you want to, I’ve got your back!
I am trying to teach you how to derive an accurate evaluation of your intracellular copper levels which will prevent misdiagnosis. If you are tested improperly and you get a clot, it could cost you your life. Let’s pretend for a moment that you get the serum copper test I told you not to bother with. Let’s say the serum copper is normal or even high. Serum copper reflects an inflammatory condition in the body (which most people have). This inflammation could be due to an autoimmune disease, arthritis, cancer, thyroid imbalances, gastrointestinal disorders, anything. This elevated serum copper could be happening while you have a full-blown deficiency inside your cells. Even your heart cells (heart muscle). You may be deficient in the most important part of your body: your cells. But that plasma copper will come back as normal or even high. This is why proper testing matters.
Let me go off on a tangent about Warfarin, the most popular medication used for anticoagulation (blood-thinning) to prevent strokes. Warfarin goes by many popular brand names around the world including Coumadin or Jantoven in the United States, Marevan in Australia, Uniwarfin in India and there may be others. Some people call Warfarin “rat poison” because it’s the active agent in some rodenticides. That wouldn’t prevent me from taking it if I had to, you see … you can take any drug and turn it into a rodenticide if you really want to! Regardless, my article isn’t about weird uses of prescription drugs, it’s about copper, and how a copper deficiency can lead to thicker blood or blood clots. Most doctors don’t test you for that, they go straight to their prescription pad.
Warfarin may be a precursor to Alzheimer’s. We may see this one day come to light with studies. I’m telling you now. I always tell you years before mainstream media because I care. I am telling you this because Warfarin is a drug mugger of vitamin K. That’s why you have to avoid leafy greens and salads while on warfarin, you have to keep vitamin K down. (You must follow these directions from your doctor, I agree that if you’re on a drug, you need to be careful and avoid the drug interactions). The drug WORKS through this mechanism of depleting K.
But here’s where it all goes awry. Vitamin K is crucial for sphingomyelin and helping you remember things. Before you take Warfarin, find out whether or not you have a copper deficiency. Low levels in the cell cause clotting problems. The BIG DEAL NOW is to test properly! Most docs test serum copper levels. Who cares? It is almost always normal causing you to be dismissed. In comes Warfarin to help reduce clot formation!
I’m saying you need to ask your physician to measure copper levels for you, and make sure they are intracellular (either WBC, RBC or look on your CardioION test if you did one).
Symptoms of copper deficiency include:
Grey hair, or loss of color to hair
Skin lesions or dryness
Dizziness or weakness
High blood pressure
High plasma cholesterol
Glucose intolerance or diabetes
Higher risk of clot formation
Shortness of breath
Low white blood cells, leukemia, and other blood irregularities
8 Facts You Should Know About Copper
#1 Zinc supplements lower copper levels. If you’ve been consuming zinc supplements for a long time then you might be copper deficient, and vice versa. Ask your doctor about the zinc to copper ratio; it’s about ten to one.
#2 Elevated copper can cause neurological problems, possibly schizophrenia, phobias, and panic attacks, however, the research isn’t clear. This is a good time to teach you that some of you make large amounts of “pyrroles.” In excess, pyrroles irreversibly latch onto zinc and vitamin B6 and take it out of the body via urine. Once zinc is depleted, copper levels rise. So is it the copper that causes the problem, or the high pyrroles? If you love someone with a mental illness, you can have their pyrroles measured with a simple urine test.
#3 Copper is part of a transport system in your body that protects the inner lining of your blood vessels. Deficiencies will make your vessels lose elasticity and rupture easily.
#4 Copper is needed to make melanin so deficiencies are often seen in people with premature grey hair. If you’ve suddenly experienced grey hair and it’s not due to the natural aging process, it may be low copper. Supplementation with copper may be necessary BUT ONLY if you are tested first, and ONLY if you are deficient. Remember, to test properly, you want an RBC copper level, not a serum level.
#5 Cardiac arrhythmias can result from low copper status.
#6 Copper helps you make elastin and collagen and these are components of bone and connective tissues. Copper may be useful for osteoporosis.
#7 Resveratrol supplements are drug muggers of copper.
#8 Copper can help you manage cholesterol. Deficiencies of copper are known to contribute to high cholesterol. Unfortunately, many people are given cholesterol-reducing medications instead of copper supplements. You have to find the underlying cause, not just drug everything. It’s a simple blood test.
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Added Q&A since the original post!!
Many of you are asking me what it means if your copper is high in your serum, and deficient in your cells (like… your RBC copper is low).
So this means that the copper is present (and maybe high) in your body but you’re not utilizing it well… hence, it’s not going into the cell. This occurs frequently with people because the copper must be BOUND to a protein and toted around your body. It is bound to a protein that we call a “transporter.”
There are two main copper-binding proteins:
Copper must be bound and transported within the body using one of these proteins. If you are deficient in either, you may have high copper in the plasma or serum, and low copper in your cells.
Now, one more thing to answer some of your questions that have come up. If your transport proteins are low, the copper will build up in the brain, liver and reproductive organs. You don’t want to randomly supplement. You want to evaluate the levels of these biomarkers and look at the clinical picture. Remember what I said above, high copper is seen in many women with reproductive cancers. Copper toxicity is something to look out for, so don’t go randomly supplementing just because you think you are deficient. Test, it’s not that hard, then you know for sure. The enzyme SOD is involved too, superoxide dismutase, but that is a whole other article.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.