Zinc and Copper -- what happens when the balance is off

Zinc is one of my favourite nutrients. I know, I know, I shouldn’t have favourites. I get that they are all important but zinc stands out. Don’t tell the others, I don’t want to upset them, but zinc and I have been through a lot together. It, or rather a lack of it, has created chaos in our little family at times. It took us years (and me studying to become a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist) to figure out just how important zinc is. So, you see, now that we have that bit figured out I really appreciate zinc and all that it brings to the family. So, today I would like to talk to you about this amazing mineral and its buddy copper and how maybe they can help you too.

Unlike some nutrients, the body has no storage method for zinc so it needs to be consumed in the diet regularly. It also needs to be absobed at adequate levels so if gut function is an issue you will need more zinc than you think. Zinc has many roles in the body. Currently, there have been more than 300 enzymes and more than 1000 transcription factors identified that require zinc. It affects all manner of body systems from the top of your head (quite literally as it is involved in hair maintenance and growth) all the way down to the tips of your toes and everything in between.

Here is a sample of the roles it plays in the body:

  • Involved in taste and smell

  • Critical in immune function

  • Involved in the control of zinc absorption in the gut

  • Involved in other metal and mineral absorption in the gut

  • Involved in maintenance of the epithelial linings (gut, skin, etc)

  • Involved in neurotransmitter production

  • Assists in many hormone activities

  • Important for protein synthesis

  • Important for DNA synthesis

  • Key in the brain regions associated with interpreting eating as pleasurable

  • Plays an important role in keeping heavy metals from crossing the blood-brain barrier

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Antioxidant

Why am I going on about zinc when the title of this post is zinc and copper? Well, zinc and copper have a special relationship in the body — when zinc gets low copper can take its place and change the function of things or increase certain pathways and decrease others. So if zinc gets too low or copper gets too high or the ratio of the two gets out of balance all manner of things can misfire. Have a look at the lists below to see some of the ways in which low zinc, high copper or an incorrect ratio of the two might impact you.

So if your zinc levels are low what might you be experiencing?

  • ADHD

  • Bipolar Disorder

  • Depression

  • Alzheimer's disease

  • Schizophrenia

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder

  • Violent behaviour

  • White flecks on your fingernails

  • Irritability and temper

  • Delayed growth

  • Inability to tan

  • Delayed puberty

  • Poor wound healing

  • Frequent infections

  • Premature greying of hair

  • Loss of sense of smell and/or taste

  • Hair loss

  • Roughening of skin or rashes

  • Low libido

  • Canker sores

  • Lethargy

  • Deformed nails

  • Diarrhoea

  • Cracked or peeling lips

  • Metallic taste in the mouth

  • Anorexia

  • Prostate problems (men)

  • Menstrual irregularities (women)

  • High cholesterol

What if your copper levels are high, what might you experience then?

  • Hyperactivity

  • High anxiety

  • Sleep problems

  • Underachievement

  • Emotional meltdowns

  • Postpartum depression

  • ADHD

  • Skin sensitivity to rough fabrics

  • Behaviour disorders

  • Schizophrenia

  • Depression

  • Intolerance to oestrogen (or birth control pills)

  • Ringing in ears

  • White spots on fingernails

  • The onset of symptoms during puberty (all), pregnancy or menopause (women)

  • Sensitivity to food dyes and shellfish

  • Poor concentration and/or focus

  • Low dopamine activity

  • Elevated norepinephrine and adrenaline activity

  • Acne

  • Chronic fatigue

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Migraines

Quite an extensive list! And since zinc and copper are involved in a dance in the body, if you are experiencing low zinc you could very well be experiencing copper overload at the same time.

There are certain factors that increase the demand for zinc in the body as well. A few are listed below:

  • Alcoholism

  • Burns

  • Stress

  • High fibre diet containing phytate (interferes with zinc absorption in the gut)

  • Hypertension

  • Pancreatitis

  • Diabetes

  • Anorexia nervosa

  • Bowel resection

  • Exercise

  • Vegetarian diet

  • Viral infections

  • Pregnancy

  • Lactation

  • Gastrointestinal disorders

  • Pyrrole disorder

All of that said, please do not rush out and start taking zinc supplements. You can safely increase zinc foods in your diet but due to the relationship with copper, it is important that if you feel you need zinc supplementation you see a qualified practitioner. They can support you in determining the correct, biochemically individual, dose for you. The dosing will depend on your current blood levels, your size, age and gut function. Also, zinc will displace copper in the body along with other heavy metals so you need to make sure you have enough antioxidants going in to temper any side effects this release may cause while your body is clearing them. It is also best to test your copper and zinc levels to begin with so you know which, if either, is out of range and what the ratio between the two is.

Foods that are high in zinc include:

  • Oysters

  • Lamb

  • Beef

  • Poultry

  • Egg yolks

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Ginger

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Whole grains

  • Capsicum

  • Liver

  • Herring

  • Milk

I would love the opportunity to go through this with you in greater detail as this has been such a game-changer for me and my family. Reach out for a free 15 minute chat to determine if a consultation with me may be right for you.

To wellness!


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