Can Copper Toxicity Cause Psychotic Symptoms?

Michelle Overman LMFT
July 16, 2019

Copper is a vital nutrient everyone needs that we probably do not think about on a daily basis. It is an essential part of the chemical reaction that occurs when converting dopamine to norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that readies the body for action (which we tend to experience as an adrenaline rush). It is essential for everything to stay in balance so that we can function optimally. Along with the nervous system, the immune system and the endocrine system require copper to function well.


What Happens If There is Too Much Copper?

With copper being such a crucial nutrient in the body, it is understandable that if there is an overload then problems will occur. When there is an overload of copper in the body, it can be toxic, resulting in both physical and psychiatric symptoms. High levels of copper cause increased levels of norepinephrine. High levels of norepinephrine can keep the body and the mind in a state of readiness and put them in overdrive. In a state of overdrive and imbalance, mental health issues such as anxiety, panic, paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and hyperactivity can occur.

How Does Copper Overload Occur?

Copper toxicity can occur in a variety of ways. Some can be genetically predisposed to experiencing a copper overload. Copper toxicity can also occur from eating certain a lot of foods high in copper and even taking particular vitamins. High levels of copper can also be found in drinking water from wells or copper pipes. The most noticeable copper overload occurs in relation to estrogen. Even though copper overload can happen to men, it is copper’s relationship with estrogen that makes it a problem more commonly found in women. When estrogen increases from puberty, pregnancy, birth control, or hormone replacement. Estrogen causes copper retention and it can begin to accumulate. When women are pregnant, copper helps produce new blood vessels. Increased blood flow is vital throughout pregnancy. However, once the pregnancy ends, the high copper levels are no longer needed. The retention of copper can lead to copper toxicity. With some of the psychiatric issues mentioned earlier, doctors may notice higher copper levels if their patient presents with symptoms of postpartum depression.

How Do We Prevent Copper Overload?

Testing copper levels is not something all doctors turn to when people present some of the symptoms mentioned above. Doctors have found that understanding the levels of free, unbound copper and treating it is what helps improve symptoms. Other than limiting exposure to copper in certain foods, vitamins, and water, zinc is a key part of treatment. However, getting too much zinc too quickly can cause symptoms to worsen and elevated levels of zinc can cause anemia in general. Because of the delicate balance that needs to take place, it is crucial that doctors need to be consulted with and involved throughout the process. If experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned earlier, it can be helpful to talk to a doctor about it. Bringing balance to the body is a process that may take time. However, it is possible and is found to help both the physical and psychiatric symptoms experience from copper toxicity.

Michelle Overman LMFT

Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 7 years.

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