Why your Zinc: Copper Ratio is important

Zinc and copper are two important elements in nature and minerals within the body. Working with my clients to correct imbalances between these two has shown me what an incredible biochemical instrument we are and how imbalances can easily result in an array of symptoms and disease pathways.

Zinc and copper are known as antagonists. This means they compete for the same receptor sites in the body and one has the potential to inhibit or interfere with the physiological action of the other.

While in some parts of the world zinc toxicity is a problem, far more commonly in Australia we see zinc deficiency and excessive levels of copper.

The role of zinc in the body

  • DNA & RNA synthesis
  • Gene expression
  • Nervous system function
  • Immune function & immune signalling
  • Neuronal transmission
  • Brain function
  • Zinc is essential for blood clotting and platelet formation
  • Zinc is involved in Vitamin A synthesis
  • Folate is made available through zinc enzyme reactions
  • Zinc makes up the antioxidant enzyme system, ZnCu superoxide dismutase, along with copper
  • Steroidal hormone synthesis
  • Growth & development of children
  • Testosterone and semen formation
  • The highest concentration of zinc is found in the male prostate gland

Low zinc levels are often implicated in many presentations of mental health disorders including anxiety and depression. Zinc is important for sleep, stress management and reducing anxiety as well as functions such as wound healing, immune function and skin health.

Often in a consultation I am asking questions that dig beneath the surface to check on my client’s mineral status. Observing the body helps give me an indication of low zinc levels which I can then verify with further testing.

The role of copper in the body

  • Connective tissue formation
  • ATP synthesis
  • Iron metabolism
  • Brain health via neurotransmitter synthesis
  • Gene transcription
  • Synthesis of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase
  • Skin pigmentation
  • Nerve tissue: myelin sheath formation
  • Copper tends to rise when estrogen is dominant

Copper is an essential trace element also required for many important functions in the body. However, copper in excess can induce many unwanted side effects. Copper is a pro-oxidant which means, when free and unbound, it can generate free radicals that cause all sorts of damage at a cellular level.

There are a number of environmental causes of copper toxicity that it pays to be aware of. Living in a house with old copper (plumbing) pipes, copper cookware, birth control pills and exposure to copper-based fungicides are some of the dangers. Diets high in copper and low in zinc may also play a role in copper toxicity.

Copper Toxicity

Conditions associated with copper toxicity include: depression, anxiety disorder, chronic fatigue, migraines, liver toxicity, thyroid conditions, chronic candida yeast infections and PMS. Copper toxicity has also been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease and cardiovascular disease.

One of the primary mechanisms through which copper toxicity can damage tissues is through the initiation of oxidative stress and free radical formation. Free copper ions that are not bound to copper proteins such as ceruloplasmin, are highly reactive and pro-inflammatory.

Zinc Deficiency

Aside from elevated copper levels being a major reason which someone may be zinc deficient, soil levels of zinc in Australia are very low. This means that all the food grown in our country is already deplete in this important mineral before it even gets to our tables.

Zinc plays an essential role in neurotransmitter synthesis. Low zinc and high copper levels directly affect cognition (thinking and memory) as well as behaviour. Zinc deficiency contributes to insomnia because it is needed, together with B6 to help tryptophan work. There is an emerging body of evidence that demonstrates that Alzheimer’s disease may involve copper toxicity and zinc deficiency.

Testing for zinc: copper status

Testing is important before any supplementation program is commenced. Without knowing your levels of both minerals taking a supplement blindly may in fact be dangerous and have adverse effects. If someone has excessive copper and begins to supplement aggressively with zinc, it may release copper into the blood (copper dumping) causing the person to feel much worse!

After a full consultation and case history I may advise zinc and copper plasma levels be tested if there is an indication that the balance is off. Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA) is also valid way to monitor zinc and copper activity.
If you are concerned about your zinc or copper levels at all please get in touch so we can have a chat.