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The Iron And Copper Balance On The Immune System

The Iron And Copper Balance On The Immune System

After the few years we have all experienced with a global pandemic, it is only natural for people to be a little more sensitive to the topic of immunity, and how we can best scope out potential weaknesses in our bodies.

Yes, running things like stool tests, saliva tests and even blood tests can be helpful in knowing exactly what type of bacterial or viral infection we are currently dealing with, but running an HTMA is not a diagnostic tool. It's actually utilized as a tool to help us understand the body's current metabolic state and how different body systems are interacting, which can provide insight to potential infections or notify us that if we were to be exposed to something we'd need extra help. 

The Iron to Copper Ratio (Fe:Cu ratio) is the ratio to look to when reviewing potential infections for a couple of reasons.

  1. Iron is a mineral that is utilized in every cell in the body and is a component in hemoglobin which is.
  2. Iron in itself has been shown to feed infections, parasites and other organelles.
  3. Low or high levels of iron itself on an HTMA could be connected to infections in either case and must be evaluated with other markers.
  4. Copper is required for hemoglobin synthesis and is multifactorial in supporting the body through the electron transport chain, the immune system, energy production and neurotransmitter synthesis. 
  5. Copper transport requires strong adrenal function and clearance depends on bile. 
  6. Usually higher copper levels are correlated more to potential infections than low because copper is connected to estrogen, and higher estrogen levels can feed growths. 

The Fe:Cu ratio is specifically coined as the "Infection Ratio" due to the fact that a high ratio typically signifies a bacterial infection (hence the higher iron), and a lower ratio is correlated to viral infections (viruses live in us, and it's the ability to maintain energy through copper that is the key). This is because a lower ratio can also indicate thyroid problems. Other key markers to confirm an infection are the Na;K ratio, if it is low and below a 1, it's a sign of a suppressed immune system.

But let's take a deeper look into what the individual ratios can help us understand.

An elevated Fe:Cu ratio leads to an increase in free radical production, specifically through lipid peroxidation that can damage our mitochondria and damage certain enzymes like superoxide dismutase. For those unaware, lipid peroxidation is when oxidants (the opposite of antioxidants) like free radicals, attack lipids containing carbon-carbon double bonds, like polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAS). This is dangerous because these fats are very unstable in our bodies and can feed into this inflammation. That enzyme we mentioned, superoxide dismutase is the first detoxification and most powerful enzyme in the cell for it acts as a component of first line defense system against reactive oxygen species. Sometimes the ratio is high just because copper is low, but it can also signify iron overload, and this must be reviewed in accordance to other ratios and mineral statuses. An elevation in this ratio could also be connected to bacterial infections, as mentioned before, like an overgrowth in bacteria or even parasites. 

On the flip side though, a low Fe:Cu ratio is associated more with viral infections like Epstein-Barr, Cytomegalovirus, influenza, and others. It's important to note that we technically live with viruses, like bacteria to a certain extent, and a low Fe:Cu ratio is also a sign of low thyroid function which is the main driver to our metabolism. A slow functioning metabolism, is a sign of a lowered immune system leaving us susceptible to things that typically wouldn't phase us. In addition, don't forget an elevation in copper to potentially invert this ratio is typically a sign of adrenal or liver stress. The reason for this is because in order for copper to be utilized properly be "bioavailable" we need adequate adrenal and liver function to produce a protein called ceruloplasmin to prevent iron deficiency, because copper helps the body utilize iron as per our blog here. So looking to stress or bile function should be a step in assessing a client.

All in all, this ratio helps provide insight on the state of one's immune system and how resilient it can be to potential infections, and if there is a potential issue at hand. Remember, minerals are electricity to our cells, and if our cells don't have energy to regulate bacteria or viruses that we symbiotically live with, then we get sick.

Barbara Madimenos
Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner
Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner
Integrative Health Coach

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