Copper supplementation

A difficult topic. It’s hard to decide whether this element should be supplemented or rather avoided. Official medicine washes its hands, while unofficial medicine is divided into two groups – one part wants to outlaw copper altogether and banish it from common supplements, while the other urges everyone to take as much of it as possible. You can find both people who consider it the main cause of half of the diseases and those who claim that its deficiency is responsible for it all. I will try to present all the pros and cons in a fairly rational and balanced way, but I guess I will leave it to the reader to decide who is right.

The main “advantage” of copper is its participation in the formation of superoxide dismutase – under this complicated name hides the most powerful antioxidant at our body’s disposal, many times more effective than vitamin C. There is an ongoing dispute over whether vitamin C can reduce copper levels, as high doses are known to cause severe deficiency in laboratory animals, and it is almost certain that an identical phenomenon occurs in humans. The mechanisms are all the same, but no one has conducted megadose studies, for the sake of patients’ welfare. Moderate supplementation of 1,500 mg per day after 2 months induced changes in the blood identical to those that occur at the onset of copper deficiency:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6837490

Copper supplementation, at 2 mg per day, induced a marked increase in dismutase activity, which means that most likely the level in the diet was not sufficient to provide full protection to the body:

https://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/21/5/A723-c

There are many sensationalist sites claiming copper as a miracle drug against aneurysms, strokes and varicose veins. Studies have not confirmed these revelations; people who died of aneurysms had the same levels of copper as those who died of other causes. The fact is, however, that in animal studies, copper protected against the development of atherosclerosis:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10487484

We also know that people who died of heart attacks have statistically lower copper levels than those who died of other causes:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10721936

Some scientists have come out with a bold thesis, suggesting that a deficiency of this element may be a major cause of heart disease. If they are right, the thesis is that one deficiency is the most common cause of death overall, killing as many people as all cancers combined.

https://openheart.bmj.com/content/openhrt/5/2/e000784.full.pdf

It is known that copper deficiency can cause osteoporosis, but it is not entirely certain what percentage of cases are caused by it, and whether supplementation can prevent the disease. In a small clinical trial, 3 mg of copper per day caused an almost complete halt in the progression of the disease compared to the placebo group:

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/(SICI)1520-670X(1996)9:3%3C87::AID-JTRA1%3E3.0.CO;2-E/abstract

There are not many reliable studies to assess the relationship between copper and cancer risk. What is known is that levels of the element rise very sharply in the blood of patients, which makes there are dozens of studies that ostensibly point to copper as the cause of the disease – in fact, the opposite is true, it’s the disease that makes its concentration in the blood rise.

So far, studies show that while copper does not increase the risk of cancer in any way (mice that got several times as much of it got sick just as often as on a regular diet), it does accelerate the growth of already existing tumors.

One thing is worth emphasizing – if we have too much of this element in the blood, the cause is most likely not an excess in the diet, but some factor that triggers an increase in ceruloplasmin, like inflammation, stress or upsetting hormone levels.

In Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, copper seems to play a fairly important role, but it is not entirely clear what role. Currently, both the theory that an excess of it can accelerate the development of the diseases and the one that a deficiency can have such an effect are quite strongly defended.

Anxiety disorders are a separate problem. In these disorders, copper levels are highly elevated. It is suspected that it may be one of the mechanisms, even if something else is responsible for the increase in concentration (for example, the usual stress caused by this particular anxiety), its excess in the blood may still affect the brain in some way.

It is often the case that “alternative medicine” fights a symptom because the “quack” dealing with it is too stupid to understand the difference between cause and effect. In effect, it resembles shamanistic techniques for powdering the pimples of a smallpox patient. You can cure the smallpox, and then, by the way, those pimples will disappear, but it won’t work the other way around.

This is the mechanism that can be seen in many “alternatives” dealing with copper. They noticed that sick people had higher levels, so they concluded that it was the cause. In reality, this is simply the body’s reaction to illness.

In the case of anxiety, however, there may be a grain of truth in this, and perhaps even more than a grain. However, it is hard to decide whether there is actually a cause-and-effect relationship here. It is known that sufferers are very deficient in zinc, and it is also known that such a deficiency causes increased copper levels. Something that some consider “toxicity” may be the most ordinary symptom of zinc deficiency. Personally, I struggled with panic disorder for quite a long time, it, incidentally, made me interested in medicine. To date, I sometimes have states of heightened anxiety, but even very high doses of copper did not affect this in any way.

The case is slightly different in schizophrenia. In this disorder, not only is there a much higher level of the element of interest, but it also correlates very clearly with the disease activity. Here, too, there is a possibility that it is simply a combined effect of zinc deficiency, which patients very often have, as well as a change in hormone levels, which can cause an increase in the level of copper in the blood, nevertheless, the hypothesis of a cause-and-effect relationship is a little stronger here.

As I wrote, it’s hard to decide whether you should use supplements or not. There are only a few solid studies to rely on. No clinical trial has shown negative effects. However, it is almost certain that some people are much more likely to be deficient, making the use of supplementation quite strongly advisable in their case. These are people who use high doses of either zinc, vitamin C or iron. These three substances cause quite a strong leaching of copper from the body, which can carry serious consequences.

Supplements can be bought at the pharmacy, but they are quite expensive in some countries. For those who like to play a little chemist, you can make them yourself. Take 5 grams of copper sulfate pentahydrate and dissolve in a liter of water. One milliliter of such a solution will contain 1.3 mg of copper. Caution: copper in excess is a very strong poison, if someone can’t tell grams from decagrams, don’t try it. Both pharmacy supplements and “self-made” must be kept out of the reach of children. Copper sulfate is disgusting in taste and dissolving even 2 milliliters in a glass of water will make drinking it quite a challenge. I advise you not to do it on an empty stomach and not to drink the whole glass at once. Similarly, pharmacy supplements: it is better not to take them on an empty stomach.

Dosage for those willing: 1 mg from supplements should together with what we have in our diet easily provide full health, 3 mg seem a good option for the first few months if we suspect a deficiency. 5 mg should not be exceeded.

If someone has unexplained symptoms, especially those involving the liver, they should make sure beforehand that they don’t have Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic condition in which copper levels in the body rise very sharply. Ordinary tests won’t help here, as blood levels are often even below normal, despite the fact that the liver is thousands of times above normal.

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