copper's affect on the adrenals & energy

Though copper assists with energy production, this is only one side of the energy coin.  As copper builds up, it has a stimulating effect on the adrenals, giving one a sense of increased energy.  However, as the person takes on more and more, this 'wears down' adrenal function over time, and eventually fatigue and exhaustion can set it.  Eventually this can potentially lead to full blown adrenal burnout.  Initially,  aldosterone increased which enhanced brain activity and led to the 'racing mind' symptom, common as copper begins to accumulate.  The person might take on new projects and load their plate with tasks. However in doing so they are only further adding to their own stress and further wearing themselves out. The accumulation of excess copper presents a continual source of internal stress, which takes a further toll on the adrenals. Under stress (from any source), the body loses both zinc and magnesium (calming minerals), while boosting sodium and intensifying the individual's short fuse reactions to stressors.  In turn, with zinc spiralling lower, copper accumulates further.  Eventually the body is no longer able to respond to the stress.  If the body is unable to properly eliminate the copper, and so long as the exposure to copper continues, it will eventually lead to exhaustion / adrenal burnout, along with a crash in sodium and aldosterone. At this point the person has little energy left to do anything. The more exhausted the adrenals become, the less the liver is able to produce ceruloplasmin needed to make copper bioavailable, and so biounavailable copper then accumulates faster and faster in the liver (primarily) and brain (secondary).

Stress from any cause contributes to copper imbalance. Stress depletes the adrenal glands and lowers the zinc level in the body. Whenever zinc becomes deficient, copper tends to accumulate.

Full adrenal burnout is a significant game changer that can have life long affects on the patient.  The obvious symptom is an overwhelming sense of debilitating fatigue, often with a period of complete and utter exhaustion.  Resentment, withdrawal, dizziness, loss of libido, slurred speech, depression, insomnia, frustration, lost interest in relationships, moodiness, poor concentration, and irritability are all common symptoms. 

Beyond the obvious symptoms above, the point of adrenal burnout will cause a significant worsening of the copper toxicity condition, due to ceruloplasmin production decline.  Ceruloplasmin is a glycoprotein produced in the liver, and it is responsible for the transport of 95% of the copper in the blood plasma. As the adrenals speed up initially, ceruloplasmin (Cp) production is usually fine, as the adrenal activity assists with Cp production. However, upon burnout, this all changes, and the previously adequate Cp levels now dwindle and become deficient.  Without ceruloplasmin to bind to copper, copper is essentially bio-unavailable in the body, regardless of how much excess copper is being stored. This post-burnout Cp insufficiency means that stored bio-unavailable copper now begins building up even faster, adding an even greater burden to the liver and adrenals, and in turn exacerbating the aforementioned symptoms of burnout. Energy also takes a further hit. Without adequate Cp, copper is incapable of completing the electron transport in the mitochondria (where our energy is produced). In the exhaustion stage, copper is not being used nor eliminated, and it further stores in the tissues. Under stress or sudden increases in adrenal activity, copper leaks out or 'dumps' from storage, and this can heighten PMS type symptoms, insomnia, headaches, joint pains, skin rashes, anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, and depression, among other problems.

Adrenal burnout and relationships

"Copper toxicity reduces the ability to cope normally with stress and the inability to respond adequately can provoke many fearful emotions, including anxiety and panic." 

~ Theresa Vernon, L.Ac.

"Burnout causes emotional and physical devastation that cripples the person's personality and human potential ... The person whose life has been gutted by stress-damage usually does not know what hit him – and usually has no idea what is really wrong with him... When you go into burnout, unless you pull out of it and realize what actually happened to you - you can go into a state of disillusionment that can last the rest of your life."  ~Dr. Eck

"The unfortunate consequence of all this fatigue-induced irritability can often be negatively felt in our relationships with those closest to us... Many women have missed out on important milestones in their loved ones’ lives due to debilitating fatigue that has left them unable to participate in even the most basic daily tasks...We feel too tired to keep up with the demands of life, so we feel overwhelmed. Feelings of overwhelm often result in losing sight of the bigger picture and difficulty seeing workable solutions to the problem at hand. Overwhelm spirals into feelings of guilt, frustration, disappointment, and, eventually, anger, resentment, and depression." ~ Michelle L. Brown, CTNC

The lack of energy resulting from adrenal exhaustion / burnout can have a profound effect on relationships as well. When exhaustion, depression, and anxiety take over, it's impossible to be the spouse you want to be for your partner, and shame and doubts creep in.  Often, the patient is not even aware of what their feelings really are. The lack of energy reduces awareness to the true extent of the problem.  In fact, at this stage many of the symptoms associated with copper toxicity are the same as those common with adrenal burnout, and the issue is just as much about the burnout as it is with the copper. If copper toxicity is accompanied by adrenal exhaustion/ burnout, the previously mentioned symptoms can be further amplified. It is highly improbable for a person who has experienced adrenal burnout, especially when copper toxicity is also at play, for emotional thinking to be rational in the period following burnout.  The following conversation is taken from an interview with biochemist, HTMA and Nutritional Balancing pioneer and world's foremost expert on trace mineral relationships, the late Dr. Paul Eck, as can be found in the 1985 book 'Energy: How it Affects Your Emotions, Your Level of Achievement, and Your Entire Well-Being' by Chatsworth & Eck:

[Note: the full interview below can be read here]

Even without experiencing full adrenal burnout, adrenal fatigue presents its fair share of symptoms. In her book 'The Everything Guide to Adrenal Fatigue', Dr.Maggie Luther lists the following symptoms of adrenal gland dysfunction as:

  • difficulty getting up in the morning
  • strong salt cravings or strong sugar cravings (usually one or the other, not both)
  • daytime fatigue that is not relieved by any amount of sleep
  • lowered or no libido
  • difficulty handling stress, decreased productivity
  • increased emotional symptoms including anxiety, irritability, depression
  • trouble recovering from illnesses, chronic infections
  • lightheadness when standing quickly, ongoing ringing in the ears
  • worsening of symptoms if meals are skipped
  • lack of focus, "brain fog", memory loss
  • exhaustion in the morning, crashes in the early afternoon, energy bursts after dinner at night

(For those interested in learning more about the stages of adrenal exhaustion leading to burnout, I discuss this more in this article). For a more in-depth understanding of exactly what happens during each stage of declining adrenal function, perhaps the most comprehensive explanation available online is provided by Dr. Lam at https://www.drlam.com/articles/adrenalexhaustion.asp - an excellent resource for both patients and physicians.

Energetically, just as the person's physical energy decreases, or changes, so does their 'vibrational energy', or frequency.  This can also affect relationships because the ability to connect energetically to the person they once knew diminishes.  As Dr. Lawrence Wilson states, "Relationships often suffer when one person in the relationship goes into adrenal exhaustion".

evidencing adrenal burnout on an htma

As coppers rises it has antagonistic and synergistic effects on various minerals (explained more on the Flowchart page).  One mineral that excess copper depletes is potassium. On an HTMA (Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis) we can clearly see the effect copper has on the adrenals by assessing the corresponding levels of potassium (and sodium).  Low sodium and potassium is a clear indicator of adrenal burnout/exhaustion. When we see such low potassium we know that not only is there insufficient adrenal function, but that as a result there will also likely be insufficient DHEA production and in turn ceruloplasmin production (and ceruloplasmin is necessary to make copper bioavailable). Along with the low sodium and potassium (exhausted adrenals) there is the possibility that copper won't show up as high in the hair (or in blood either for that matter), simply because that excess copper is tightly stored in tissues with insufficient energy to release it.

Caution Needed When Taking Adrenal Support

Adrenal support will be required to help release excess stored copper as well as raise ceruloplasmin.  HOWEVER, this requires the patient (and practitioner) to be aware of two possible and very important consequences. 

 Adrenal support can give a person a relatively quick sense of restored energy, enough to make the person think they have recovered. Any such quick improvement is merely a false sense of improvement, as to properly restore adrenal function takes at minimum 6 months to a year or more, including giving the body sufficient rest and following proper healing protocol. For those who are suffering from severe adrenal burnout, the process can take two years or more. The danger is that adrenal support can lead a person to quit their program too early, believing themselves to be fine, even though they have merely just begun the process.  Don't be fooled - feeling better quickly does not mean your adrenals are rejuvenated.

Adrenal support will mobilize stored copper. Attempted too quickly (or strongly), and without sufficient detox pathways, this bio-unavailable copper will simply be stirred up, possibly aggravating symptoms further, and getting redeposited in other locations, including the brain.  This underscores the dire importance that any copper detox using adrenal support must be done very gently and cautiously. The supervising practitioner also needs to inform the patient of these possible detox reactions while not misleading the patient into thinking they are fine after just a few weeks.  It also underscores in a general sense, when investigating how to heal adrenal fatigue, the importance of understanding one's mineral status and the role imbalance plays in contributing to the fatigue.



"In the fall of that year I went into total breakdown…Gittleman talks about adrenal burnout in zinc deficiency as a total exhaustion of the adrenal capacity to respond to stress.  Deep burnout produces a bone-shuddering, unrelenting fatigue that is beyond anything I would have imagined… Burnout was only part of what was going on. There were also waves of a kind of feverish delirium that made it very hard to focus on my surroundings or communicate with others… I remained in a free-floating kind of fugue state for years. It is part of the disorientation of the condition that I don’t know now exactly when I came out of it...there is such a high level of confusion, distractibility and anxiety in certain people today that they frequently cannot focus on the information that could help them. Such observations lead me to look into the area of zinc deficiency and adrenal burnout in their situations."
~ Laurie Warner, MA, CNC

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