Dr William Walsh, the author of ‘Nutrient Power’, provides extensive research on the connection between high copper levels and postnatal depression.
To quote Dr Walsh:
“Copper and oestrogen are related and I’ve seen probably 400 cases of postpartum depression. Virtually all of them have a copper overload. These are people who might have been on SSRI antidepressants and with nothing really happening not making them better or worse. But if we are able to simply normalise their copper most of them become completely okay and you can throw away their medications. They’re the easiest people to help” 1.
A woman's copper level normally more than doubles during pregnancy to provide for her growing fetus 1, 2, 3. The levels should then start reducing back to normal. Dr Walsh and his colleagues believe that in women who develop postpartum depression, the copper levels stay high, most likely, they suspect, due of a genetically determined flaw in the protein that regulates copper levels 1, 2, 3.
Excess copper in the brain can contribute to postpartum depression as it alters the balance of two mood regulating chemicals, dopamine and norepinephrine 1, 3, 4. 5. High copper may also be seen in bipolar disorder, severe anxiety disorders, depression, ADHD, autism, some types of schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, alzheimer’s and psychosis 3, 4. 6.
If a woman has an anxiety or depression disorder with the onset at puberty it is highly likely the lab results will show a copper problem. At hormonal events such as those at puberty, childbirth and menopause copper levels tend to become skewed if the person is not able to regulate their copper 1, 5. Birth control pills and hormone replacement may also raise copper levels 5, 6.
Copper toxicity can be compounded with each pregnancy and may explain tragic stories of “seemingly healthy women who in the midst of a postpartum psychosis harm their children” 5. It may also explain emotional or other health problems that begin after the birth of a child, and for girls who develop inattention, anxiety, panic or depression around the onset of puberty 4.
Specific laboratory blood test results of elevated copper levels and insufficient serum ceruloplasmin (copper binding protein) indicate copper toxicity. From these two levels the percentage of free copper in serum another marker for diagnosis can be calculated. Commonly, zinc is depleted in these patients, and may also suggest an impairment of copper detoxification mechanisms 3, 7.
Copper levels need to be adjusted gradually and carefully, guided by blood test monitoring and a qualified knowledgeable doctor / naturopath. One way to do this is zinc supplementation. As zinc and copper need to be in balance in our body, high in one will create low in the other 8. Many people with Hashimoto’s (and adrenal fatigue) have low stomach acid, which can lead to depletion of zinc and raise their blood copper level 8.
Small doses of zinc are given initially then the dose is increased. For most people it will take about six to eight weeks 1, 3, 4. Slowly correcting and normalising high copper levels, minimises any discomfort to the person 1, 3.
Avoid multivitamins with copper. Copper deficiency is rare and most people do not need it in a supplement 3, 4.
Limit exposure that can raise copper levels: drinking water, especially if from copper pipes or well water; swimming pools treated with copper for algae; copper cookware: and copper containing intrauterine contraceptive devices 4, 6. Foods including chocolate, seafood, avocado, beans, nuts, lamb and organ meat also contain higher levels of copper 4.
Monitor thyroid function tests and Vitamin D levels. If either or both are abnormal, address this in order to more easily correct the copper overload 4.
Provide an individualised nutrient protocol based on the person's clinical presentation, laboratory tests, age, weight and how well they absorb nutrients 4.
1. Scott, T. (2016). The Anxiety Summit – Is My Anxiety and Depression from a Methylation, Pyrrole, or Copper-Zinc Imbalance? http://www.everywomanover29.com/blog/anxiety-depression-methylation-pyrrole-copper-zinc-imbalance/
2. Norton, A. (2007). High copper levels tied to postpartum depression http://www.reuters.com/article/us-postpartum-depression-idUSCOL96756220070209
3. Jazzar, C. (2008). Study Links High Copper Levels to Postpartum Anxiety Reactions https://momswellness.wordpress.com/2008/11/11/study-links-high-copper-levels-to-ppd/
4. Synder, C. (2015). Copper Overload - Too Much of a Good Thing http://www.courtneysnydermd.com/blog/copper-overload-too-much-of-a-good-thing3
5. Walsh, W. J. (2014). Nutrient Power. Heal Your Biochemistry and Heal Your Brain. Skyhorse Publishing: Canada
6. Pfeiffer, C. C. (1987). Nutrition and Mental Illness. On Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry. Healing Arts Press: Vermont.
7. Bowman, J, (2015). Copper Overload and Depression in Girls and Women http://www.mensahmedical.com/copper-overload/
8. Hansen, G. M. (2016). Hashimoto's Thyroiditis - A New Path of Learning and Discovery (Parts 1 - 4). http://www.nurturingnaturally.nz/blog