Before I got my hair mineral analysis done, I was convinced that I had copper toxicity and a resulting zinc deficiency because of my copper IUD and increasing anxiety. It turned out that I didn’t, but due to my assumptions, I learned a lot about this condition, how common it is, and why it could be affecting you and your skin.

Please read this closely – this could be the missing piece of your acne puzzle.

What is Copper? What is Zinc?

Copper is an essential trace mineral that is required by the body for health and well being. It has important roles in the bone and connection tissue, energy production in the cells, immune response, the thyroid and adrenal glands, reproductive system, and nervous system.

Zinc is another important essential mineral that is a needed factor in over 300 enzymatic reactions in your body. Needless to say, zinc is one heck of an important mineral and it actually plays an extremely important role in your skin. Zinc deficiency is heavily linked to acne.

Minerals in your body are often matched in ratios with their ‘partner minerals’. Copper competes with zinc in the body, so if you are not getting enough zinc or your body is using it up too fast, copper can rise, or if your body is retaining too much copper, it can deplete your zinc.

What are the Symptoms?

Some usual symptoms of copper toxicity and a zinc deficiency include: 

  • Emotional Instability. Do you kinda feel like you’re going insane and can’t really figure out why? This could include depression, anxiety, mind racing, anger, mood swings, irritability, spaciness, nervousness, brain fog, and basically all psychiatric or mental issues. Copper is known as the “emotional” mineral because it revs up the emotional part of the brain. At the same time, copper depletes zinc and magnesium which have a calming, rational effect on the mind. Apparently many people with psychiatric and mental issues have copper imbalances.
  • FatigueAre you tired all the time? Too much copper impairs the production of energy in the cells, and promotes free radicals. Low energy production and free radical damage can lead to all sorts of health issues including acne, candida, hormone irregularities, hair loss, thyroid burnout, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and impaired liver and gallbladder congestion.
  • Poor Immune SystemDo you have problems with sinus or fungal infections like candida, yeast infections, and parasites?  Do you get sick often and have a lot of colds? Zinc plays a HUGE role in immune health.
  • Poor Reproductive HealthDo you get PMS? Apparently copper toxicity can mimic all the symptoms of PMS (yes including acne!). It can also cause low libido in both men and women, and can be particularly an issue for men since they are supposed to naturally be zinc dominant.

Basically it’s one of those things where you could take any symptom and copper could be behind it, but it’s the fact that this is so overlooked yet so common, particularly in women, that makes it worth paying attention to.

What Can Cause Copper Buildup?

  • Slow MetabolismSome people are just more prone to retaining copper than others, and if you have a slow metabolism, you are at higher risk. This is possibly why I don’t have copper toxicity – I have a fast metabolism, use up nutrients quickly, and process it out before it can build up.
  • Chronic StressStress uses up zinc like nobody’s business (one direct reason that stress can cause acne), and stress also weakens the adrenal glands. Weak adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormone to tell the liver to remove copper from the body.
  • Environmental Copper Copper is everywhere these days – in copper pipes, and the one that probably gets most of us – used in pesticides and in some compounds added to tap water. And depending on where you live, it might be in abundance in the soil which means it’s prevalent in your food supply.
  • VegetarianismMeat is full of zinc and little copper, and plant foods like soy, whole grains, beans, and nuts are full of copper and little zinc. Our general trend away from meat and toward vegetarianism can easily lead to copper buildup and a zinc deficiency.
  • EstrogenEstrogen causes your body to retain copper. Therefore, women are at far greater risk than men, and copper toxicity is actually extremely common among women. Ann Louise Gittleman, a woman who wrote a book called “Why Am I Always So Tired? (Correcting Your Body’s Copper Imbalance)“, estimates that about three quarters of the women she sees in her practice have a copper imbalance.

    The use of hormonal birth control is a major risk factor for copper toxicity due to the introduced estrogens. Copper IUDs are problematic too, considering the direct and constant exposure of the copper in them to your body.

    In fact, this ‘estrogen causes copper retention’ thing may be a clue into the reasoning behind hormonal acne and the common condition known as ‘estrogen dominance’, which can be caused by synthetic estrogens in some foods like soy, pesticides on conventional produce, and estrogen-like hormones found in conventional animal products. Estrogen dominance is known to cause all kinds of things like bad PMS, irritability and anxiety, irregular periods, fatigue, and everything else under the sun. So maybe what actually causes the symptoms is the excess estrogen causing the body to retain copper and therefore deplete zinc. This would be most noticeable during the second half of your cycle when estrogen levels are higher (PMS time!)

How Do I Detect a Copper Imbalance?

If you think any of this sounds like you, you can get a hair mineral analysis like I just had done. Make sure you get an interpretive report with it though, because copper isn’t always detected in a straight forward manner. Copper tends to accumulate in tissue other than the hair, but the way you are retaining other minerals lets you know whether there is a copper problem.

Read about what hair analysis here, and also what my results were.

If you can’t afford a hair mineral analysis but you suspect you have this imbalance, I’d encourage you to read Ann Louise Gittleman’s book, which will give you a ton of information on what to do.

How is Copper Toxicity Generally Treated?

Copper toxicity is generally treated by lowering high copper foods in the diet, increasing zinc-rich foods in the diet, and avoiding processed foods. Zinc supplements could also help and do have a great track record with improving acne (I’d recommend the zinc picolinate form). However, if your copper imbalance is strong though, simply taking zinc may not be enough (and it’s dangerous to take high dosages of zinc).

Improving stress levels is also very important as burned out adrenals are a strong factor in the body’s inability to properly excrete copper.

What do you think? Does any of this sound like it could apply to you?

photo by Reuben