Dr. William Walsh’s research and teaching about nutrient therapy for the treatment of psychiatric conditions changed the way that I practice. I now routinely order a few simple and inexpensive laboratory studies on almost everyone. The studies help me to identify biochemical imbalances commonly associated with psychiatric symptoms, which can be treated with protocols of nutrient therapy. Many patients can avoid starting prescription medication, reduce the dosage of existing medication or stop them entirely, by substituting the appropriate combination of supplements.
That being said, I would like to emphasize, that I do not believe that nutrient therapy alone is an appropriate approach to treating psychiatric conditions. In my opinion, it is a serious error to simply substitute nutrient therapy for psychopharmacology. A holistic approach which integrates appropriate diet (including identification of food sensitivities) and lifestyle, discussions about rest, relaxation and sleep, exercise, sunlight, matters of the heart, energy work, and attention to a person’s spiritual life and their relationship to the sacred is essential to healing.
I have written previously about methylation and pyroluria. This post will focus on copper toxicity, which is often found in people who feel distressed enough to consult with a psychiatrist. Copper overload has become increasingly common, due in part to the widespread use of oral contraceptives containing estrogen, our ubiquitous exposure to xeno-estrogens (chemical compounds that mimic estrogen found in plastics and petrochemicals) and growth hormones fed to animals, as well as copper fungicides, and widespread zinc deficiency secondary to malabsorption related to compromised gut health. (The relationship between copper, zinc and estrogen will be explained below.)
Here is a short list of psychiatric symptoms and traits associated with copper overload:
Hyperactivity, Academic Underachievement, Learning Disabilities, ADHD, Autism, Skin Sensitivity to tags in shirts or rough fabrics, intolerance to estrogen and birth control pills, onset during puberty, pregnancy or menopause, white spots on fingernails, skin intolerance to cheap metals, emotional meltdowns and frequent anger, ringing in ears, sensitivity to food dyes and shellfish, high anxiety, depression, poor immune function, sleep problems, poor concentration and focus, low dopamine activity, elevated activity of norepinephrine and adrenalin
Other medical conditions associated with copper overload include:
Acne, Allegies, Candida Overgrowth, Hypothryoidism, Anemia, Hair loss, Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia, Migraines and Male Infertility
The reason that copper is linked with such a long and varied list of conditions is that it is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the immune system, the endocrine system and the nervous system.
Copper is centrally involved in regulating the synthesis of neurotransmitters which mediate psychiatric symptoms. It is a co-factor in the chemical reaction which converts dopamine to norepinephrine. When copper levels are high, more norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenalin) are synthesized from dopamine, which can causes feelings of agitation, anxiety and panic, overstimulation, racing thoughts, restlessness and insomnia. In other words, it has an amphetamine like effect, revving the nervous system into a state of overdrive. Consider that Copper is often used in electrical wires because it conducts electricity well, and likewise increases nerve transmission, which is an electrical chemical process.
Copper is also central to cellular energy production, and thus many patients with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, conditions related to mitochondrial dysfunction, have disorders of copper metabolism.
Copper overload is particularly common in women. Estrogen can cause copper retention and accumulation, which eventually can result in toxicity. Hormonal events such as menarche, pregnancy or menopause can trigger it. These days when a patient tells me about a history of post partum depression, severe PMS, dysmennorhea or adverse effects related to the prescription of oral contraceptives, I immediately suspect copper overload.
Copper promotes the formation of blood vessels (angiogenesis) and when copper levels are elevated, it can predispose an individual to endometriosis and fibroid tumors, as well as increase the blood supply to other types of tumors. Excess Copper can accumulate in the liver and impair its capacity for detoxification, which can result in chemical sensitivities.
Copper is carried in the blood by a specific protein called ceruloplasmin. Some patients have low levels of ceruloplasmin and thus have a large percentage of unbound copper in their blood. Unbound copper causes oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is characterized by the presence of free radicals which interact with molecules in the body, damaging various cell components such as DNA, protein and lipids, and giving rise to various disease states, including autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative disorders and cancers, to name a few.
There is commonly an inverse relationship between zinc and copper in the body. Often when a patient has elevated copper, the zinc level is low. Zinc is another mineral essential to cellular function, regulation of the immune system, wound healing and synthesis of neurotransmitters. An important ingredient in the treatment of copper overload is supplementation with zinc. This must be done very slowly and carefully, because zinc mobilizes copper stores. During this process a person can initially feel even more anxious and symptomatic. Anti-oxidants are also used in the treatment of copper toxicity, as well as the elements molybdenum and manganese, and amino acids which promote Metallothionein production. Metallothionein is another protein which binds heavy metals in the blood, and which is important for regulation of zinc and copper metabolism. It’s important to find a trained practitioner to help you with this process. A good resource is the Practitioner’s Page of the Walsh Research Institute website.
Here are two excellent posts about copper toxicity:
Courtney Snyder, MD: Copper Overload, Too Much of a Good Thing
Golden Wellness Center: Copper Toxicity, Symptoms and Treatment
This is an informative YouTube video featuring Dr. Judith Bowman, an expert in nutrient therapy, about Copper Toxicity:
Kristie Schultz says
Have you treated copper toxicity due to the copper IUD? I’ve already read that simple blood tests don’t always pick up copper overload because extra copper is quickly excreted by the body and stored in tissues. Are you familiar with that?
Dr. Tsafrir says
Definitely. It’s very common to have elevated copper from a copper IUD. I routinely recommend in my practice that women with high copper have it removed. I do not know what you mean by simple blood tests. When I want to measure copper in my practice, I order serum copper and it is drawn at Lab Corps. I also order ceruloplasmin, which is a protein that carries the copper in the blood. If it is low, there is more free copper available that can cause symptoms.
Angela Davis says
I find this really interesting ! I have a 14 year old with a high Ceruloplasim, high copper in blood and 24 hr urine collection as well. When his Neurologist received the results she said yes they are high but doesn’t know what it means. She thought maybe he has Wilson’s Disease but that’s not the case.
He has hand tremors, Hashimotos thyroiditis, learning and sensory /behavior issues. I am definitely going to read the book and hopefully find a doctor that is familiar with this in our area.
It is not surprising that your neurologist did not know what to do with the information, because conventional MD’s are not familiar with Dr. Walsh’s research. I think your idea of finding a doctor who is familiar with this approach makes a great deal of sense. On the website of the Walsh Research Institute, there is a Practitioners Page. IF you go there and look for your state, you might find someone local for your son to consult. I wish you all the best. If you do, I would be curious to hear what that person had to say.
Sue Wang says
This is so informative. I have to integrate it. I am familiar with several issues you mentioned and I’m amazed at 1. how much you know, 2. how you integrated the information and make it understandable to the laypeople, 3. thankful for doctors like you, because people get bounced around while feeling ill and out of control.
I never paid attention to copper and this is good to know. My teenage son had the ADHD diagnosis years ago and we went the natural route to help him with school, and good diet. His experiential ed school and kind teachers really helped him. He has a friend who went the medication route and life has been challenging. Thank you Dr. Judy!! <3
Thanks for your kind words. Yes, its really surprising that most people are unaware of this. It is really common when I do lab studies on my patients. I would say a third to half of my patients have elevated copper. Its worth checking into as it can make a big difference.
Dr Maria Cronyn ND says
Do you do IV therapy for this predominantly?
No, the protocol involves oral supplements, most of them are very common and inexpensive like zinc and anti-oxidants.
For anyone doubting the connection between excessively high copper levels and cognitive issues, allow my own personal experience to be a learning tool. I’m 30 years old, and have battled depression and anxiety for half of my life. In 2014 the health of my body and brain finally fell apart. I knew anti-depressant drugs could not bring me out of the severely imbalanced cognitive state I was in. After much prayer and research, I saw 2 of Dr. William Walsh’s most experienced doctors. The lab tests found I not only have a metal-metabolism disorder in regards to copper, but also pyrolle disorder and undermethylation.
I have been on the nutrient therapy for close to 1 year now, and it has literally changed my life. I haven’t felt this normal since I was 16. The last year has been a challenge, as detoxing copper and fixing my methylation status has not been without symptoms. Fortunately, my doctors believe that in the near future I can completely go off the anti-depressant I take, which is a major accomplishment for me because I have taken anti-depressants since I was 16.
For those of you struggling and not knowing where to turn, I urge you to read Dr. William Walsh’s book, “Nutrient Power,” and find one of his trained physicians. Dr. Walsh’s work literally saved my life, and it can save yours too.
Wow, thank you for writing and providing that testimonial. It’s very powerful. I have heard similar stories from many people like you, who feel that Dr. Walsh’s work truly saved their lives and they are so grateful to him. He seems to inspire that feeling in the people he has helped. I am having good results with nutrient therapy in my practice, but I am only just beginning to gain experience with it. It’s been less than a year ago that I attended the training for physicians in Chicago. So, its inspiring for me to read about your journey. Thanks again for sharing.
You’re very welcome Judy. I appreciate that you’re spreading the word of nutrient therapy with your website and practice. My long time psychiatrist attended the same physician training program the same time you did. I don’t believe she has been using the protocols though. I applaud you for implementing the nutrient therapy…it’s clear that it takes awhile to really get the hang of it, but keep on going! We need more doctors like yourself.
Another thing I’d like to mention is how the benefits of nutrient therapy for me have not only been cognitive changes. My physical and spiritual health seem to be also be undergoing tremendous changes for the better. In short, I now understand my body/mind/soul hasn’t been able to mature properly since I first became sick at age 16. Now that nutrient therapy is supplying the missing co-factors, and removing the excess toxins, it is like someone flipped a switch that is allowing my full being to heal. It is quite remarkable, but like I said before, not easy, at least not for me. What I have learned, and am still amazed by, is how our brains can truly heal themselves if given the proper co-factors, and how this healing capacity extends far beyond the brain itself.
Wow, that is so interesting to me to think about the nutrient therapy supporting particularly your spiritual process. But it makes sense. If you are feeling so overwhelmed with anxiety and depression, no spaciousness is possible. All of the dimensions, body, mind, heart and Spirit are so interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Its wonderful that you are feeling better.
Thank you for your story. I am alive to the spiritual piece you speak of from my own chemistry shift at age 40 after years of wellness. Seems when biochemistry is sub-optimal, one’s full experience of life becomes occluded, hijacked…inaccessible. When the brain chemistry is right, living fully can begin again. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you deep blessings on your path…and the natural peace that is your birthright.
Wow. This is of interest to me for so many people in my life, as well as myself. As a long-time sufferer of depression, and within the last five years often severe anxiety, I’m wondering if this applies to me. I have so many of the symptoms, and despite all of the dietary, lifestyle, and spiritual changes I’ve made, I still feel much more agitated than I *think* I should. The challenges of bringing myself into a peaceful state of mind seem ongoing to a degree that I believe is caused by some missing factor. Perhaps this is it. I will read up and implement some changes.
I will also be pursuing rebirthing soon, with the hopes that I have some underlying, unknown trauma in my past that is the key to some of my symptoms.
As always Dr. Tsafrir, thanks so much for a thoughtful, concise, and timely post. I read them all with great enthusiasm!
Thank you, Ann, for taking the time to write and to tell me that the post was helpful to you. It means a lot to me. I am really impressed with the power of nutrient therapy when combined with other approaches which consider the whole person from multiple perspectives. For you, given all of the work that you have done and still experience depression and severe anxiety, this may be the missing piece.
Jeanne Serafin,MD says
Thanks Dr. Tsafrir, a nice reference to share with my patients.
I am happy it will be of use! Thanks for writing.