It’s another post by The Duck Dodgers, this in advance of a subsequent post that continues to explore the governmental policy of food enrichment or fortification in general, and iron in particular.
As we prepare to explore how mineral imbalances exacerbated by iron fortification and/or high meat intakes may promote chronic disease and inflammtion, we wanted to set the record straight about copper—a mineral that is absolutely essential for maintaining iron homeostasis.
Copper may be the most misunderstood mineral—it has recently gotten a bad rap in health circles. Chris Kresser explains the conventional wisdom of copper:
One of the most common and important imbalances that we see in clinical practice with trace minerals is excess copper and deficient zinc. So, the ideal ratio between these two, if copper is in the numerator and zinc is in the denominator, would be 0.7 to 1, which means anywhere from 70% as much copper as zinc to even amounts of each. And one of the ways that you can recognize this or when you might suspect this, and this will tie into a future question that we’re gonna talk about a little bit later in the show, is that copper and zinc are not only minerals, but they’re also regarded as neurotransmitters in the brain. They have some of the functions of a neurotransmitter, so an imbalance in copper and zinc will lead to things like hyperactivity, ADHD, other kinds of behavioral disorders, and depression; and in fact, a lot of people who are labeled with autism and even paranoid schizophrenia, when they test their copper levels, they find out that they’re elevated. Then high copper can cause severe PMS. That’s another red flag for me where I’ll consider it. It can cause estrogen intolerance, and it can cause skin issues, so people with excess copper have a high incidence of acne or eczema, psoriasis, just sensitive skin in general, sunburn, people who are really apt to get sunburned even if they’re only out for a short period of time, headaches, poor immune function…So, as you can see, most of the effects are nervous system related, nervous and endocrine system, I would say, with particular impact on the brain and behavioral health. So, those are the things to look for when you’re considering copper-zinc imbalance as a potential issue.
Kresser recommends taking steps to reduce copper exposure if one’s serum copper is high. Dr. Emily Deans, MD seems to agree. In July, Deans Tweeted:
Emily Deans, M.D. – @evolutionarypsy 4:57 PM – 3 Jul 2015
“I’ve started to test copper levels in a certain kind of patient…resistant depression with neurological complaints…and they are HIGH.”
It has long been theorized that excess tissue copper can cause schizophrenia. However, this theory has neither been compellingly demonstrated nor convincingly refuted. Some have called copper a ‘neurotoxin.’ Yet, zinc is a ‘neurotoxin’ too. Of course, nobody calls zinc a neurotoxin—it’s just copper they want to demonize.
If Deans’ patients have high serum copper, and she thinks it means copper overload, she may want to look up depression inflammation and schizophrenia inflammation.
This fear of copper has gotten so bad that supplement manufacturers have begun removing copper from their mineral formulations. We contacted one of those manufacturers about this and were given the following response:
“We have removed the copper from our Trace Minerals at the request of several of our medical advisors. They have found that most individuals are testing with high levels of copper, and excess copper to be a problem for many health issues…While copper is an essential mineral important for several enzymatic reactions, many people are looking to avoid it due to the potential negative cognitive concerns.”
There’s just one problem…
The copper protein ceruloplasmin is an acute phase protein, which means it rises in the blood during inflammation. Here’s a paper about what it does:
Indeed, copper has well known anti-inflammatory properties. Your body needs it to fight inflammation.
More specifically, the main copper containing enzyme, ceruloplasmin, is significantly elevated in inflammatory conditions and has anti-inflammatory activity (Frieden 1986). And the copper content of serum is known to be elevated above normal values in various inflammatory diseases in man and laboratory animals. (Lewis 1984)
The body is intelligent. It lowers serum iron when inflammation is present (anemia of chronic disease)—to keep iron away from pathogens and cancers—and it raises copper to fight inflammation. This is not an accident. As you can see, serum tests at face value can be extremely misleading to health practitioners.
You might be surprised to learn that, according to the recent scientific literature, serum copper levels are now considered to be rather worthless for determining copper deficiency or copper overload.
The most frequently used blood markers of copper metabolism are serum copper and Cp concentrations, which have proved useful to diagnose Menkes and Wilson disease and moderate to severe copper deficiency. However, these markers also act as acute phase proteins and as such increase during inflammation, pregnancy, aging and a number of diseases. Therefore, copper deficiency could be masked in these conditions. It is also clear that these markers are not sensitive enough to detect changes of a lesser magnitude…
…On the excess side, despite several efforts currently there are no candidate [diagnostic] markers. In the past several years, many proteins and enzymes present in blood have been measured in different conditions of copper exposure, but all of these studies have failed to identify a potential indicator of early effects of copper excess.
Yes, you read that correctly. Not only are serum copper tests unreliable, but it’s possible to have elevated serum copper mask a copper deficiency.
Numerous researchers have examined the paradoxical role of copper in the process of inflammation, and they have determined that the increase in serum copper is a physiological response to inflammation, rather than a promoter of it (Sorenson 1977). Stephan Guyenet wrote about this in 2010.
Copper deficiency increases the severity of experimentally-induced inflammation. “…The elevation of plasma copper-containing components represents a physiologic response which may lead to remission. Promotion of this physiologic response would appear to be a valid approach to the treatment of…diseases with inflammatory components” (Sorenson 1984). Interestingly, this was not a recent discovery. Ancient cultures beleived that foods high in copper and copper bracelets were beneficial in treating arthritic conditions (Whitehouse, 1976).
Furthermore, it has been shown that dietary copper must be increased to maintain adequate copper status of animals in an inflammatory state (Milanino, et al. 1985).
In recent posts, we’ve examined how iron intakes have skyrocketed over the past century, due to fortification and higher meat intakes. High iron intakes block the absorption of copper, promoting copper deficiency. While chelation of iron reverses copper deficiency. For those with true iron deficiencies, it’s been known since at least the 1930s that iron deficiency anemia can be cured by increasing copper intakes.
In other words, the more iron you consume, the more copper you need. We need copper to get iron in and out of cells. Additionally copper (and manganese) is required for our most important and most powerful endogenous antioxidants (SOD).
Copper’s role in managing iron is crucial for protecting our organs. In rats, modest fructose consumption can block copper absorption and promote hepatic iron overload, which in turn may lead to liver injury and fructose induced fatty liver.
In the United States, most people tend to eat a lot of iron-fortified refined grains and a lot of meat, yet Americans have low copper intakes from both diet and water. And when copper intakes are estimated from nutrition surveys using food-composition tables, the results usually overestimate copper.
Americans are fond of muscle meat, which is rich in zinc but realtively low in copper—zinc is well known to compete with copper for absorption. Therefore, it seems extremely unlikely that most Americans have too much dietary copper, particularly since dietary copper from food is not known to cause toxicity because of the potent and redundant mechanisms that effectively control copper absorption, storage and excretion over a wide range of dietary exposure levels.
Given all of the above, one has to wonder why practitioners and supplement manufacturers have become so confused about copper, particularly when researchers are raising concerns about Western diets being too low in copper. Unfortunately, few people have noticed that much of the confusion comes from just one individual, George Brewer.
Beyond all of the studies people cite that conflate inflammatory disorders and heart attacks with (physiologically normal) elevated serum copper levels, Brewer has published a number of papers hypothesizing that copper overload from water pipes (not from real food) is to blame for promoting Alzheimer’s and neurological diseases. Unfortunately, Brewer’s papers are full of errors and misconceptions. A dozen researchers have even rebuked Brewer’s papers.
The numerous researchers behind the letter wrote, “The current authors respectfully propose that Brewer’s ‘warnings’ and recommendations could inadvertently result in a disservice and a potential danger to the public, for reasons outlined in the following.”
Incidentally, many researchers now believe that Alzheimer’s disease, ischemic heart disease and osteoporosis are the most likely human illnesses from low copper intakes.
Another antidote to Brewer can be found in an article titled, Copper: The Maligned Mineral. (Ignore the Illuminati reference at the top)
In upcoming posts, we will cover the mechanism of how copper deficiency promotes inflammation when fortified foods and/or high meat diets are consumed.