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Copper, Anxiety & Adrenal fatigue

Copper, anxiety & adrenal fatigue are a nasty little threesome that can greatly affect day-to-day life.

Clinically, I see copper to be a large contributor to anxiety, because it converts dopamine to adrenaline.  This will lower dopamine, which is responsible for mood, motivation, memory, emotional arousal, and rewarding sensations.  And it will increase adrenaline, which is responsible for the fight or flight response, increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels, and causing anxiety. Recent studies highlight how alterations to copper levels can reduce the negative effects of anxiety.[1]

Some common signs of elevated copper

  • Anxiety
  • Tired but wired
  • Anger and irritability
  • Mania/depression
  • Mood swings
  • Headache/ migraine
  • Exhaustion
  • Lying awake at night
  • Poor immune response
  • Hair loss
  • Yeast infection
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Estrogen dominance
  • Reproductive problems
  • Cravings and addictions
  • Skipping meals, overeating, or eating unhealthy foods
  • Relying on stimulants such as cigarettes, coffee or alcohol.[2]

How does anxiety affect the adrenals?

Anxious emotions produce a stress signal within the body that is recognised by the hypothalamus (H) in the brain. The hypothalamus releases corticotrophin-releasing hormone, which is sent to the pituitary gland (P). The pituitary then releases adrenocorticotropic hormone, which sends a signal to the adrenal cortex(A). The adrenal cortex responds by increasing the production of cortisol.

The more anxiety experienced, the more cortisol is released

Cortisol is necessary to be able to deal with the stress at hand. This H-P-A response should be a short-term solution for life-threatening situations.[3]  However, in the current reality we live in, we have become more stressed than ever! We now release cortisol as a response to many non-life-threatening situations as well. It may come from work colleagues, family members, traffic conditions, being stuck in a line at the supermarket, when your partner wont put the dishes away, when you don’t get enough Facebook likes, and the list goes on. Long-term high cortisol eventually can lead to a chronic state of adrenal fatigue.

Copper, Gut & Diet

High copper can trigger a depletion in Zinc and Magnesium, which causes insufficient hydrochloric acid production in the stomach. This results in a poor appetite, nausea, and poor ability to digest tough fibres founds in meat products. This often causes the person to lean towards a vegetarian diet. Zinc and Copper exist in a seesaw type relationship, so more Zinc is needed to reduce Copper. Animal products are a much better source of Zinc than plant foods, so a vegetarian or vegan diet can often feed into the same high-copper process.

Poor gut function will greatly reduce the absorption of all other nutrients including Calcium, Iron, and B vitamins. It can also lead to allergies, food intolerances, elevated histamine, and general gut dysbiosis.

Copper is everywhere!

Copper is found in foods we eat, such as liver, sesame seeds, chocolate (sorry!), sun dried tomatoes, and nuts. It is found in ground water, copper pipes in our houses, pesticides and fungicides, leather processing, dyes, roofing, cookware, even car brake pads.[4] Bascially humans are a a detoxification machine. We can’t escape the toxins we’re exposed to, we can only minimise it.

Genetics can play a role in the expression of copper excess. Pyrroluria is a common genetic condition that causes low B6 and Zinc, and subsequently causes the seesaw to tip in favour of Copper.

Testing for Copper

Various tests are available to assess copper levels. Testing Zinc, Copper and Ceruloplasmin (Copper’s transport protein), can be available through your regular doctor providing they have the understanding of why that are necessary. Pyrroluria testing ordered through a urine test if required, although not as clinically useful compared to the other 2 tests mentioned.

Reducing Copper involves tipping the seesaw in the right direction, and also considering other nutrients that have become depleted as a result of high copper. The dose and length of nutrient therapy required is dictated by the test results and symptoms.  Anxiety can certainly be overcome by addressing elevated Copper.

To learn more about handling fatigues, contact a chronic fatigue specialist in Adelaide today!

[1] Russo, A. (2011). Decreased Zinc and Increased Copper in Individuals with Anxiety. Nutrition and Metabolic Insights , 1-5.

[2] Head, K., & Kelly, G. (2009). Nutrients and Botanicals forTreatment of Stress:Adrenal Fatigue, NeurotransmitterImbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep. Alternative Medicine Review , 114-140.

[3] Head, K., & Kelly, G. (2009). Nutrients and Botanicals forTreatment of Stress:Adrenal Fatigue, NeurotransmitterImbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep. Alternative Medicine Review , 114-140.

[4] Background document for development of WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality. (2004). Retrieved from Copper in Drinking-water: