Getting Healthier Now

A Blog About Digestive Health

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Uh-oh… Copper Deficiency Mimics Low B-12

It’s been quite a health adventure the last year or more, and you can read a quick update here. I had thought correcting a B-12 deficiency was all I needed to reclaim my health, but things got a bit more complicated.

It turns out copper deficiency can mimic low B-12, with many of the same symptoms of neurodegeneration, fatigue, skin inflammation and joint pain, due to disruption of collagen. I’ve been losing bone mass and developing arthritis – these are also signs of low copper. Here’s a full list of symptoms I’ve had during the last year.

The prevailing naturopathic attitude is we’re all copper toxic, so few of us would believe we could be deficient. Compounding the likelihood in an otherwise healthy population are corporate farming practices. Copper-rich foods simply can’t be grown in depleted soil. And sadly, few doctors ever think of copper deficiency when doing differential diagnosis. I’ve never once had copper levels tested by a physician, despite years of GI problems.

What’s most unsettling – unlike B-12 where there’s a fair amount of lag-time between low serum levels and permanent harm – copper deficiency neurodegeneration often cannot be reversed with supplementation. What does get repaired, eventually, may take months – or even years – of repletion. You can imagine my shock after reading this.

wake-up

Next, I looked up dietary sources of copper. Due to my food intolerances I wasn’t eating any copper-rich foods. Couple this with years of gut inflammation, malabsorption, and regardless of any testing I might do with my doctor, it was clear I needed to supplement with a modest 2 mg of copper soon, just based on my symptoms and diet.

The proper way to take it is in combination with zinc. Too much zinc will deplete copper, so a proper balance is important. Also worth noting is colloidal silver, if taken orally or by IV, can deplete copper, sometimes with dramatic results. This may have happened with me a few years ago after taking colloidal silver for SIBO.

The good news is a few short days after I started taking 2 mg copper my eyesight was much sharper, mood and cognition improved a bit, and I got a noticeable reduction in fatigue. A week later I increased my dose to 4 mg, plus 30 mg zinc, and noticed less joint pain and stiffness. Shortly thereafter, my skin began feeling less fragile. Perhaps my collagen synthesis has been improving, and I may be correcting an anemia due to this deficiency.

Copper is also essential to keep blood vessels and arteries flexible and strong, which could explain my increased vericose veins and petechiae in the last year. It’s thought most cases of aortic rupture are preventable if people get adequate copper in food.

My face has had a red glow for the last couple of years, in recent months my chest and abdomen, and sometimes even my whole body has, too. This flushing could be due to histamine intolerance, and it’s important to note copper (along with B-6 and vitamin C) is required to create DAO enzyme to break down histamine. Sure enough, one thing I noticed after a few weeks supplementation is I’m no longer flushed from head to toe most of the day. Perhaps eventually I’ll be able to tolerate some higher histamine foods.

Given the risk of nervous system damage from long term deficiency, I decided not to wait for testing before supplementing with safe amounts. My plan is to stay at 4 mg copper daily with 30 mg zinc (which is what healthy people get in a copper-rich diet) until I can schedule hair analysis and serum tests to determine the correct protocol for repletion.

Where I’m still hoping to see improvement is more subtle, which appears to be low dopamine. Given its effect on brain health, copper is required to generate important neurotransmitters. Among other things, low dopamine (key to reward and accomplishment) was probably making it tough to update this blog for the last 16 months. With that said, onward and upward.

How many of us diagnosed and treated for B-12 deficiency are also copper deficient? If any of this sounds familiar, please join us in the comments section, and share your own story.

A Long-overdue GHN Update

Since my last post here, many months ago, I got short term improvement from B-12 shots, but my serum levels were sky high and my doctor suggested I stop the injections. After an initial bounce I crashed, and began to have widespread inflammatory and neuroinflammatory issues. He theorized this may have been triggered by saturation with B-12. My serum B-6 was also quite high, despite never supplementing it.

A methylmalonic acid test was elevated, so after being off it for a few months, I continued to take 2,500 mcg oral B-12 and requested referral to a specialist who could check for genetic issues with methylation, but as my neck and back became more inflamed, and cognitive problems worsened, I was instead sent to a neurologist, who did a full workup: brain MRI, a soft-tissue MRA, hearing tests due to increasing tinnitus, a carotid artery test, and an EEG.

Other than a few white matter brain lesions (no change since a 2008 MRI) which may be congenital, these new tests were inconclusive. While I do have some degenerative changes to my cervical spine, autonomic dysfunction was the neurologist’s primary diagnosis. At this point, my symptoms were growing – you can read a list of them here.

A few weeks later, I saw a neurosurgeon and explained how pressing in various places on my neck, the base of my skull, and near the mastoid process behind my right ear, could often improve my autonomic issues. He pointed out a Chiari Malformation on my brain MRI but said “we don’t operate to fix dysautonomia”, which was yet another blind alley. I’ve yet to see an autonomic specialist for non-surgical treatment of this.

Flushing, at first just a red glow on my face, then eventually from near head to toe, has also been happening for about 14 months. My doctor tested for Carcinoid, and so far results don’t indicate it, which is a relief. Instead this may be related to a  mast cell disorder. I’ve learned certain kinds of flushing, even the rosacea which I have, can be caused by neurological problems.

What’s the root cause? It’s likely multifactoral, but nerve damage from repeated doses of fluoroquinolone antibiotics over the years, like Cipro and Levaquin, likely plays a huge role.  It was after a final dose of Levaquin in 2008 that I developed symptoms of hyperadrenergic POTS – primarily a vagus nerve malfunction – which triggers heat intolerance, trouble handling physical and emotional stress, and orthostatic intolerance.

However, these antibiotics did more than nerve damage, they wrecked my gut flora, and POTS is now thought to be autoimmune.

The best I’ve felt in recent years was while I hosted hookworm (small therapeutic doses) and did fecal transplants. Both of these protocols may boost vagus nerve tone, by lowering inflammation in the gut and boosting signaling from the enteric nervous system back to the brain, the “rest and digest” parasympathetic, which works opposite of “fight or flight” sympathetic.

My doctor suggested I try probiotics and hookworm again because he noted they seemed to help me, so I’ve been taking VSL#3 daily, plus Miyarisan tablets, which contain c. butyricum, and 15 weeks ago I did a dose of 50 necator americanus. While the initial side effects of helminthic therapy were rough, with spikes noted in blood work for eosinophils, I’m now feeling more benefits than allergic response, including no more asthma, healthier sinuses, and a big improvement of ulcerative colitis.

Concurrent with this, I remembered how good I felt one Summer when sunbathing for 15 minutes a day. I’ve had chronically low vitamin D and low testosterone. Sun exposure boosts both. I started laying out at noon each day a few months ago and it has been a great mood lifter. I also find I have better sleep quality when I get my daily 15 minutes. To discuss light therapy, its effect on mood, hormonal production and balancing sleep/wake cycles, join us here on Facebook.

I wanted to cover all the bases, and since sinusitis has been an ongoing problem for me, too, with green mucus indicative of staph colonization, I’ve begun daily rinses, which you can read about here. Two weeks later the mucus is thinning and has no color. I credit both the hookworm treatment and rinses to this recovery. Reducing sinus inflammation has improved anxiety, and my sleep is deeper. There’s a theory sinus inflammation from gram negative sinus flora can generate lipopolysaccharide (a potent inflammatory molecule) which in turn triggers brain inflammation.

Waking in the night gasping for air has been a problem during these last few months, and while I was scheduled for a sleep study I noticed a sudden improvement after a few days of sunbathing. There’s a vitamin D and sleep apnea correlation, mainly with regard to metabolic activity, so it’s possible Sun is good medicine for it. While I still have some brain fog, my mind feels sharper while sunbathing and I’m no longer waking at night. Since obstruction of upper airways can also contribute to apnea, sinus rinses are likely helping, too.

I’ve also been to see an oral surgeon after my dentist thought I could have dental infections contributing to fatigue and cognitive problems, but an oral surgeon did a panoramic x ray and said it looked fine. He noted sinus inflammation and recommended I keep doing my daily rinses.

I feel fortunate testing was able to rule out a lot, but if you see a pattern here, it’s that each protocol has helped a little – yet nothing has totally solved – what first appeared to be symptoms of low B-12. Now, just in the last month, I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out a key factor, and it may be a different deficiency, with very similar presentation.