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Zinc-Copper Interaction

Copper/Zinc Imbalance

The human body has an elaborate system for managing and regulating the amount of key trace metals such as zinc, copper, iron, manganese, chromium, etc. circulating in blood and stored in cells. Nutrient metals from our diet are (1) incorporated into blood if blood levels are depleted, (2) transported into cells if cellular levels are inadequate, or (3) excreted if blood and cell levels are sufficient or overloaded. When this system fails to function properly, abnormal levels of trace metals can develop in the brain and other parts of the body. One of the most common trace-metal imbalances is elevated copper and depressed zinc (the optimal plasma or serum ratio is 0.70 – 1.00). The ratio of copper to zinc is clinically more important than the concentration of either of these trace metals.

Copper and zinc are regarded as neurotransmitters and are in high concentrations in brain hippocampus. As a result elevated copper and depressed zinc have been associated with hyperactivity, attention deficit disorders, behavior disorders, and depression. Also, many of those labeled with autism and paranoid schizophrenia have elevated blood copper levels in addition to other biochemical imbalances.

It has been reported (HRI-PTC) that 80% of hyperactive patients and 68% of behavior-disordered patients have elevated blood copper levels. Their families often report worsened hyperactivity/behavior after consuming vitamin supplements or cereals rich in copper. In many cases, symptoms may be provoked by consuming chocolate (rich in copper) or food dyes rich in hydrazines, which lower blood zinc levels.

Many high-copper patients (often labeled “depressives”) experience severe PMS, are intolerant to estrogen, and may have a family history of postpartum depression. This group also has a high incidence of acne, eczema, sensitive skin, sunburn, headaches, poor immune function, and white spots under their fingernails.

Elevated copper/zinc ratios can be especially serious for persons with low blood histamine (over-methylation). This combination of imbalances has been associated with anxiety, panic disorders, paranoia, and (in severe cases) hallucinations.

Copper and zinc levels are regulated by metallothionein, a short linear protein composed of 61 amino acid units. When this protein fails to perform its necessary functions, abnormal levels of nutrient metals (such as copper, zinc, and manganese) and toxic metals (such as cadmium, mercury, and lead) can result. Nutrient treatment to eliminate these overloads must be cautious and gradual to avoid worsening of symptoms and kidney damage.   From E.P. Heleniak and D.M. Frechen in their report, “Histamine methylation in Schizophrenia,” (Medical Hypothesis, 1989, 30:167-174), if the laboratory tests showed a high copper:low zinc ratio and low histamine levels, folate, vitamins C and B6, niacin, zinc, penicillamine (chelates copper), a high protein diet, and essential fatty acids as in evening primrose oil reportedly often improved these patients thinking.


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