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.
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.