The Copper Conundrum

January 28, 2015
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

Why Your Depression, Hypothyroid, and Hyperactivity May Be Copper Imbalance Symptoms

Copper imbalance may be today’s best kept health secret.  An escalating public health epidemic, it affects nearly 80% of all men, women, children, and unborn babies.

Copper is accumulated not only through our own lifetime, but is passed from mother to child with increasing prevalence in each generation with an impressive array of copper imbalance symptoms impacting not just the body, but the mind.

In my opinion, copper, like magnesium, is probably one of the most important minerals of our generation affecting the greatest amount of biochemical processes. Although, unlike magnesium, copper has NOT gotten its due “respect.”

We are all at risk for copper related mental and physical ailments. Key factors include our mothers’ copper levels—think copper IUDs and birth control pills; environmental exposure—copper water pipes, copper cookware, high copper dental amalgams (fillings) since 1976; our metabolic type—whether we are fast or slow oxidizers, as well as inherited genetic mutations (like the MTHFr and CBS mutations). With the latter, inadequate enzyme pathways have global effects on detoxification.

Copper Requirements and Benefits

Copper in its bio-available form is an essential trace mineral that is critical to a number of metabolic functions that are dependent upon balanced copper metabolism.

These functions include the formation of the myelin nerve sheaths, synthesis of neurotransmitters, fertility and detoxification.

Properly bound and balanced copper is critical for production of collagen (including the formation of keratin) and melanin, connective tissue health and the maintenance of our natural hair color.

Add that to its role in supporting immune system function and neutralizing free radicals and you’ve really got a powerhouse mineral.

We only require a pinch of copper, which equates to 2 mg per day of this nutrient. But, this tiny amount goes a very long way biochemically.

Think of it this way, bioavailable copper is responsible for activating over 30 plus copper-dependent enzymes in the body. It’s also a primo beauty mineral.

Properly bound and balanced, it is critical for production of collagen (including the formation of keratin) and melanin, connective tissue health and the maintenance of our natural hair color.

The tricky part is in order for copper to become bio-available, it must first be bound with ceruloplasmin and metallothionein, key transport proteins that are manufactured in the liver—the key to efficient copper regulation—at the command of the adrenal glands.

For complete utilization, copper must also be balanced with targeted amounts of zinc, magnesium, boron, manganese, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C and vitamin A.

Copper gets a bad wrap because too much unbound, bio-unavailable copper is a major source of oxidative damage, leading to tissue destruction, arthritis and premature aging.

Copper Imbalance Symptoms

There are numerous symptoms of copper imbalance. But, I attribute the copper “conundrum” to my clients’ number one complaint—feeling physically exhausted with a mind that simply won’t slow down.

This is a result of copper’s stimulating effect on the nervous system and brain without the calming benefit of minerals like magnesium and zinc—so necessary for balanced neurotransmitters.

This particular issue has been a major player in my own life.

It was the catalyst that prompted me to write my book:

Why Am I Always So Tired?Why am i always so tired 

Discover How Correcting Your Body’s Copper Imbalance Can…

  • Keep Your Body From Giving Out Before Your Mind Does
  • Free You From Those Midday Slump
  • Give You The Energy Breakthrough You’ve Been Looking For


Copperhead personality types are distinguished by their highly-charged nervous system, which can cause compulsive and sometimes addictive behavior. These individuals are highly creative and intensely hyperactive.

Many years ago, I worked with a nutritionally-oriented psychiatrist at Deepbrook Associates in Newtown, Connecticut who systematically took hair samples from every new patient.

Almost 100% of the children he was treating who were suffering from learning disabilities and hyperactivity were found to have a copper imbalance.

Once the copper was in check, the hyperactivity symptoms disappeared.

If you identify with any of these seemingly unrelated copper imbalance symptoms, you’ll want to strongly consider assessing your own copper levels with a Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis:

  • Depression
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Acne
  • ADHD
  • Brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Sleeplessness
  • Scoliosis
  • Neuralgia
  • Autism
  • Candida overgrowth
  • Feeling loss of control
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Short attention span
  • Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, overeating)
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Racing mind
  • Obsessive thoughts

Testing for Copper Overload

The Tissue Mineral Analysis Test that I have used for over 25 years clinically diagnoses and monitors signs of copper toxicity and imbalance using a small amount of hair from the back of your head.

In addition to copper, the hair sample is also analyzed to measure the levels of 28 other minerals and 8 toxic heavy metals.

These levels are then interpreted in relationship to each other—evaluating adrenal and thyroid function, blood sugar utilization, tissue degradation, sex hormone balance and metabolic type—with an extensive readout of up to 20 pages detailing dietary suggestions, supplement recommendations, and lifestyle changes.

Copper imbalance will show up on this test in a few different ways:

  1. First, it may be just an elevated copper level, above 21 mg%.  
  2. The issue could also show up as a relative excess of copper to zinc (the ideal ratio is 8:1 in favor of zinc). 
  3. Even more commonly, excess copper can be ‘hidden’, tightly sequestered in your tissues, and the following criteria would indicate an overload:
  • Calcium level above 60 mg%, indicating the ‘calcium shell’, a signature of copper overload
  • Potassium level less than 6 mg%
  • Mercury level above .02 mg%
  • Zinc level below 14 mg%
  • Sodium to Potassium ratio less than 2.5:1

How Does Copper Imbalance Affect Your Health?

The Thyroid Connection
Copper can affect our health in so many ways.  Similar to mercury, copper can build up in the thyroid and interfere with the conversion of T4 into the activated thyroid hormone T3.  The thyroid-copper connection can result in copper imbalance symptoms like cold hands and feet, dry skin, constipation, cysts, low blood pressure and racing heart.

Estrogen Dominance
High copper levels are also associated with estrogen dominance when copper accumulates in the liver and inhibits its ability to metabolize estrogen. Hormonal-based conditions like fibroid tumors, endometriosis, PMS, headaches and migraines, hair loss, and yeast infections can result.

Male Disorders
Likewise, many male disorders such as sexual impotence and over-aggressiveness can be copper imbalance symptoms.

Immune System Function
Hypersensitivity and immune dysfunction are other hallmarks of copper dysregulation, creating health challenges and symptoms like adverse reactions to vitamins and minerals, arthritis, aching and cramping muscles and allergies.

Mental Health
Many of today’s most commonly prescribed drugs might very well be unnecessary if doctors and psychiatrists recognized the implications of copper—too much or too little, on the human body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, 70% of Americans use prescription medication, and antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed.

If that figure isn’t staggering enough, consider that copper may play a role in over half of all mental illness.

Who’s at Risk?

People who are most at risk for copper imbalance are…

  • Raw food fans, vegans and vegetarians, who typically rely on foods that are naturally higher in copper and lacking in zinc and vitamin A (like nuts, seeds, soy, avocados, and grains.)
  • Anyone with amalgam fillings
  • Women using birth control pills or the copper IUD
  • Anyone exposed to Xenoestrogens in our environment like petroleum products, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and hormone by-products in waste water. They can also strongly influence our copper levels as well when the liver can’t detoxify due to copper build up that biochemically ties up the major copper-binding ceruloplasmin due to nutrient deficiency (especially zinc).

You may be surprised to know that despite the worrisome implications and symptoms of copper imbalance, many multi vitamins, especially prenatal vitamins, contain nearly twice the amount of copper that is necessary, to the tune of 4 mg!

We only require 2 mg per day, which is easily attainable through a balanced plant-based diet.

When it comes to women’s health vitamins, the only multi that I will recommend is one that I designed for myself and share with my friends, family and clients—the Female Multiple from UNI KEY.

This formula does not contain any copper, and it is also available with or without iron (depending on whether or not you are menstruating).

It contains many additional factors that are necessary for copper utilization, as well as the 2:1 ratio of magnesium to calcium, a formulation hard to find in any product.

Unexplained symptoms and mysterious medical conditions may all be related to the copper conundrum.

Testing is probably the most beneficial first step you can take to really know your unique copper profile, and discover what other mineral imbalances may be playing a pivotal role in your physical and mental health status.

From there, you can determine the dietary changes and proper supplementation you need to relieve your copper imbalance symptoms and reset your health for good!

Related Articles and Podcasts

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!


  1. Jill Dickson

    Dear Sir/Madam

    How would I order a hair analysis test, I have had one done with ARL which would indicate a lot of copper in tissues but that was over 18 months ago. I also have many filings, would thse need to come out, I have heard that poor adrenal function causes copper toxicity and then that traps detox of mercury or the other way around mercury causes the copper toxicity. I am a bit stuck with this have thyroid, candida and hormone problems, kind regards, Jill dickson

    • Libby

      To order the Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis test just go to: or call the friendly Wellness Consultants at UNI KEY 800 888-4353. I have done this test many times and it has helped me balance my copper. In my case, I was low.

  2. Shelby

    Eye opening article Ann Louise, thank you, I already ordered a hair analysis, really anxious to get my results.

  3. Ann Louise

    Copper balance is so crucial. It was first written about in the 1970s by Dr. Carl Pfeiffer and then slowly has disappeared as a key issue for total health…Hopefully, we will awaken public awareness again, starting with my blog 🙂

  4. Liz

    Knowing about copper imbalance has been life changing for me. My mother had low copper and MS. I know that I have avoided any tendency to have this condition by supplementing with copper. Thank you Ann Louise for shining the spotlight on this important topic.

  5. Miriam

    Are you recommending the HTMA over the copper/zinc ceruloplasmin blood test?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Team ALG

      The HTMA gives a more complete picture of health, but in order to determine what proportion of your copper is bound vs unbound, the CP is a necessary test.

  6. kaye

    Just wondering about the mineral analysis. What about hair that’s been colored?

    • Team ALG

      If you list the type of dye and the color, we are able to rule out any effect the dye may have had on your sample.

  7. A.V. Duch

    Is it a good idea to wear a copper bracelet. ( It is supposed to help arthritis problems.)

    • Team ALG

      The copper can wear off on your skin and increase your copper stores. If you have a high copper, this is not a good idea. Otherwise many people have said it is helpful.

  8. Carrie

    Water about copper water jugs as used in Ayurveda? Is this a good source of copper, assuming one is copper deficient.

    • Team ALG

      Carrie, water stored in copper water jugs would have some copper in it. It could be helpful if you are deficient.

  9. Rina

    I’ve have been aware of my having copper toxicity since 2006 when i had a awful time after having the copper IUD. The symptoms were horrendous until the IUD was removed and some of the worst of the symptoms began disipating within a few hours, took months to get backto feeling ‘normal’ again. I changed my diet during this time and eliminated high histamine high copper foods. Ive also been diary free, soy free and gluten free.
    In recent years though, having been through a very stressful time my health and mental health has been failing again. I recieved my results from a HTMA just last week and it appears i have the calcium shell, which it says indicates hidden copper and adrenal fatigue. Im from the UK and cant find a practiontioner to help with correcting this.
    Is there any information i could be directed to please? (books, articles etc) (i have your book ‘why am i always so tired’ a brilliant read!) Im looking for a treatment protocol which gives dosages etc. Im tying myself in knots trying to figure it all out on my own. Thank you

    • Team ALG

      Rina, I suggest that you schedule a consultation with Ann Louise Gittleman. She can be reached through her assistant, Ally. Please email her at [email protected].

  10. Karen Robertson

    My son (aged 22yrs) has low copper and a marginally low cerloplasmin. Diagnose at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2012. COPPER IS being absorbed in the gut but it isn’t incorporating well into the ceruloplasmin. We have since discovered he has Candida overgrowth in the gut coupled with little good/beneficial flora/microbiome/bacteria in the gut. There is an upper fermenting gut by anaerobes. Basically his gut is a mess!

    It is looking highly likely that the candida is causing the problem with Bio unavailable copper as candida toxins produce ESTROGEN type substances that mimic estrogen and won’t allow ESTROGEN into the cells. It is ESTROGEN that elevates copper and helps copper incorporate into the ceruloplasmin. This is my hypotheses but I might be wrong.

    We are in the process of a Candida diet and supplementing with probiotics in the hope that copper will be allowed to do it’s stuffing we have the candida under control. I wondered if you might comment/offer your thoughts on this. I’m wondering if I am missing something or if we are at last finding the root cause of why my son has had low copper from birth??

    Any suggestions would be most appreciated. It has been a very long and difficult journey with my son. Diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome at just 5 yrs. Horrendous. He was given many antibiotics from birth as he had several respiratory tract infections and I believe it’s possible the antibiotics decreased the gut microbiome early on and has suppressed copper ever since.

    Enormous thanks to you.

    Kindest regards

    Karen Robertson

  11. Team ALG

    Karen, your assessment seems reasonable. So sorry to hear about your son’s problems. If you would like to schedule a telephone consult with Ann Louise Gittleman she will be able to give you more helpful input at that time. You can contact her assistant Ally if you wish to pursue an appointment, at [email protected]

  12. D. Smith

    There is a new article out (I read it on November 29, 2017)by Bill Sardi having to do with the connection between a lack of zinc leading to hypertension. It’s quite interesting to read, but a very long article. However, he comments on how people should NOT take/have copper in their diets. I was on Fat Flush about 15 years ago or so and I remembered reading Ann Louise’s opinion regarding copper, so I decided to look it up and see if I remembered correctly!

    Ya’ll should read the article by Bill Sardi though because he does make some good points. He also mentions salt but does not say whether he’s talking about grocery-store refined crappy salt, or sea salt. I have to assume he’s talking about the cheap Morton type salt. If you have high blood pressure, this article is worth reading. Do a search for Knowledge of Health (web site) and his article called The Hidden Mineral Deficiency that Induces High Blood Pressure. LOTS of info in there, but I would be most interested to know what ALG thinks about this and his “take” on copper. Thanks so much!

  13. Team ALG

    D. Smith, thank you for your comment and article recommendation.

  14. Wendy

    With a copper iud, can you use a zinc supplement to counter act the higher levels of copper in the body? If so how would you determine how much to take?

    • Team ALG

      Wendy, Yes you can supplement with zinc to balance the copper. The best way to determine how much zinc to take is to do a Tissue Mineral Analysis. This will show you the levels of copper and zinc in addition to other nutrient minerals and heavy metal levels.

  15. saman

    i’m really frightened of this subject and have some symptoms but i live in iran, what should i do?



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