Copper has numerous functions in the body ranging from connective tissue health, energy production, immune function, and even cognitive function. But did you know it is vital for our endocrine system?
So you know that ratio we look at on a hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) called the Zn:Cu ratio (Zinc to Copper)? That is our hormonal ratio. Zinc is synonymous to testosterone and progesterone, whereas copper is to estrogen. This doesn't mean it is a direct reflection per say, especially for women, for our hormones vary all through our cycles, but rather is a representation to the availability of these minerals that influence the production and utilization of these hormones.
First let's understand how copper is utilized by the body. Unlike other minerals, copper needs a specific protein called ceruloplasmin to be utilized by the body properly. Without this protein, copper goes all haywire and can cause dysregulations down the line. Ceruloplasmin is mostly made in two areas of the body: the adrenal glands and the liver.
Ironic isn't it how if we have properly functioning adrenals (capable of handling stress) and optimal liver function (properly detoxing) we wouldn't have copper dysregulation issues, but these two things are also the main causes of heavy metal toxicity and chronic disease? We'll be making the connections soon.
Anyway, moving forward.
Copper needs ceruloplasmin to become bioavailable so it can be carried around the body and attach itself to another mineral-particularly iron. This is when it gets interesting. Iron cannot be utilized by the body if copper isn't present. Let's repeat that. Iron cannot be utilized if bioavailable copper isn't present. If it isn't, the body gets all smart and says "Okay, I can't leave iron lying around all alone because it can become toxic, so let's put it in our tissues for safe keeping until bioavailable copper comes along again". Copper, when loaded into ceruloplasmin acts as a ferroxidase enzyme which converts ferrous iron into ferric iron. In lament terms, it becomes less reactive and not as inflammatory.
This isn't an immediate effect per say, it takes time for all of this to occur, but without ceruloplasmin, copper is just free floating around not knowing how to function and iron starts lowering in serum and accumulating in tissues. This is bad because excess iron in tissues can lead to increased inflammation, the lowering of certain antioxidant-like nutrients like vitamin E and an increase in ROS (reactive oxygen species). In addition, especially on HTMAs, copper seems elevated and people begin to think copper is the main antagonist, when in reality she's just lost and doesn't have her friend ceruloplasmin to help regulate her.
This is the kicker, once this starts happening and the body sees that there is low bioavailable copper, it increases estrogen production as a defense mechanism. Now some of you may be asking, why estrogen, that's a bit strange, isn't that a female hormone? Actually, no, estrogen isn't necessarily the "female hormone", estrogen is a "growth" hormone. Our bodies are constantly trying to stay alive, and part of that mechanism of survival is to continue to "build". This can look like building bone density, building a uterine lining, building cells, and in some unfavorable cases, can even be building tumors. This is why estrogen can be problematic if not being detoxed properly and how it can influence the growth of cancers.
If we were to technically look at estrogen dysregulation in general, not even care about minerals for a second, we'd understand that estrogen dominance (whether there is too much of it or it's too high in relation to progesterone and/or testosterone) is always related to two things:
- Adrenal dysfunction, where adequate progesterone isn't being produced or testosterone is aromatizing into estrogen
- Liver issues which could mean one is having trouble detoxing estrogen and it is recirculating
Sound familiar? As mentioned above with ceruloplasmin and copper, if we focus on those two areas, copper dysregulation, iron overloading and estrogen imbalances will then get fixed. The goal is to get the body to utilize copper better through the support of adrenals and liver so the body doesn't increase estrogen as a means to protect itself. Once copper is regulated and not considered "toxic", we can then see that the body also reaches a place of being able to either produce adequate progesterone to counter act estrogen or be able to detox the excess from the liver.
So the answer to all of this? If we want to balance our copper levels so we don't risk "iron overload" and estrogen dominance, we have to prioritize adrenal function and liver health.
Here are some key steps to doing so:
- Balance your adrenals first by looking to your Na:K ratio and Na:Mg ratio on a hair test
- Make sure to eat balanced meals by having enough carbs to protein, for frequent blood sugar crashes or raises can stress the adrenals
- Get enough sleep to recover from the day, hit that pillow between 10-11pm
- When waking up, expose yourself to sunlight or go out for natural light, even if it is cloudy
- Try and reduce the stress in your life- I know easier said than done, but make it a priority
- Optimize liver detoxification by trying to support more favorable estrogen pathways. There are 3, the 2-OH-E1, 4-OH-E1 or 16-OH-E1. Numbers 2 and 16 are the more favorable. You can do this by increasing amino acid availability in your foods (animal protein), fiber (raw carrots and cruciferous vegetable consumption), getting in enough B vitamins and working on bile flow through bitters (like dandelion, ginger and citrus).
- Consider castor oil packs to help a sluggish liver along.
- Reduce xenoestrogens in your life which can hinder liver function like fragrances, beauty products, paint smells, etc.
Hopefully this was helpful!
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Integrative Health Coach