Study Links Excess Copper to Postpartum Anxiety Reactions

New research sheds light on what may be an underlying cause of postpartum anxiety reactions, and may help explain why some women suffer more extreme cases.

Researchers have identified a pattern of elevated copper levels in the blood of women with a history of the condition. “In our study, we looked at zinc and copper levels in 78 women who suffered from PPD after completed pregnancies, and compared them with a group of 148 mothers without a history of PPD, and also with a group of 28 non-depressed women,” said John Crayton, M.D. Dr. Crayton is a professor of psychiatry at Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Ill. and the Section on Biological Psychiatry, Hines VA Hospital, Hines,

Copper levels and copper to zinc ratios were significantly higher in the group of women with a
history of PPD compared to the other groups, according to the study published in the February issue of the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. “The exact nature of the association between elevated copper and PPD is not yet known, but copper plays a role in a variety of physiological systems that may be implicated in the development of PPD,” said William Walsh, PhD. Dr. Walsh is founder and director of research at the Pfeiffer Treatment Center and the Health Research Institute, Warrenville, Ill., and a coauthor of the study. Walsh added that elevated copper in the brain tends to diminish dopamine and increase norepinephrine levels.

“Zinc and copper play important roles in brain chemistry and are present in high concentrations in the brain’s hippocampus which is involved in mood regulation, short-term memory, and behavior control,” Dr. Crayton said.
During the nine months of a normal pregnancy, blood copper levels increase more than 100% but
quickly return to normal after birth. This study indicates that the high copper condition can
persist for many years in PPD women.

“We have seen dramatic improvement in women with PPD when we treat them with supplements that lower copper levels and restore a normal copper to zinc ratio,” said Dr. Walsh.

“The next step is a controlled, clinical trial to verify these results, which may lead to a more effective treatment for PPD.
Does Your Multivitamin Contain Copper? An article from

Older people whose diets are heavy in copper, saturated fats and trans fats experienced a faster rate of mental decline.

A six-year study of more than 3,700 people aged 65 or older showed that those who consumed at least 1.6 milligrams of copper a day, along with high levels of saturated and trans fats, added almost 20 years to their ages in terms of mental decline. The U.S. daily recommended intake of copper is 0.9 milligrams.
Too much copper in the blood could block the body’s ability to destroy the proteins that form the plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Copper has been found at high levels in the blood of Alzheimer’s patients.

Many of those in the study with high copper levels took multivitamins containing the mineral.

Archives of Neurology August 2006; 63(8): 1085-1088
New York Times August 22, 2006
Scientific August 14, 2006

According to nutritionist Blake Graham, copper is an essential mineral with a number of important
functions. Copper is involved in energy production, connective tissue formation, gene expression, neurotransmitter synthesis and metabolism, melanin formation, the formation and maintenence of myelin, and antioxidant function. It also interacts with iron, zinc, fructose and vitamin C. While copper deficiency is relatively rare, copper excess (hypercupremia) is surprisingly common.

Excess copper is predominantly a condition present in women. For example in women diagnosed with major depression 45% have excess copper levels while only 3% of men with major depression have excess copper. (Pfeiffer Treatment Center data) This gender difference is due to estrogen causing an elevation of copper levels.

Excess copper seems to be related to tinnitus (ringing in the ears), frontal headaches, learning or speech impairments, skin sensitivity to metals, difficulty falling asleep, negative reactions to estrogen (e.g. oral contraceptives/HRT), and negative reactions to nutritional supplements containing copper.

Mood symptoms related to excess copper include anxiety/agitation, temper tantrums, hyperactivity, PMS, and depression-, including premenstrual and postpartum depression (Pfeiffer Treatment Center data).

Copper excess risk factors:

Presently taking estrogen containing medication (e.g. OCP, HRT)
Currently take multivitamin containing copper
Regularly use copper tea kettles or pans
Blue-green stains in bathtub, toilet or sink (suggestive of elevated copper content of water)

Family history of:

Postpartum depression
Wilson’s Disease

There are a number of different laboratory tests available to assess copper levels. Unfortunately a great many people are being diagnosed with excess copper when this is actually not the case. For example most people who have had a hair analysis done prior to seeing me have been told they have excess copper levels. Copper levels in hair are claimed to correlate with copper levels in the liver and other tissues. However one detailed study found hair copper levels did not correlate with copper levels in the liver, heart, muscle, kidney, aorta and rib. (Aalbers & Houtman. 1985) The other problem with relying solely on hair levels is that hair is subjected to external contamination and laboratories vary significantly in terms of accuracy and reference ranges.

I only recommend Doctors Data Inc. for hair analysis. It is recommended that a person wash their hair with Johnson’s baby shampoo for 2 weeks prior to hair collection to minimize hair contamination.

“Hair analysis ALONE is a very poor way to assess copper status. I say this after (a) evaluating more than 100,000 hair analyses, (b) developing the first high-quality hair standards (loaned to NIH and other researchers), and (c) performing numerous double-blind, controlled experiments involving hair chemistries. Findings of high Cu levels in hair are compromised by the many external sources of Cu which cannot be completely removed by washing. Low levels of Cu in hair and/or blood often are coincident with dangerous overloads of Cu in liver. Hair Cu values can provide information of clinical significance, but by itself is not clinically decisive.”, Bill Walsh, PhD, Pfeiffer Treatment Center.

According to Walsh copper contamination comes from water, “… hair gels/dyes/etc, and exposure to pools/jacuzzis treated with copper sulfate to kill algae.”
Also hair reflects excretion (not tissue burden), so those with high copper in hair may simply be the efficient excretors, not those with elevated levels.

For example according to Walsh:
“… low hair levels of Cu can occur in situations involving Cu overload. A good example is Wilson’s Disease in which hair, blood, and urine Cu levels can be extremely low in a person who may be dying of Cu overload in liver.”

Dr. William Walsh of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center and copper expert believes that the best way to diagnose excess copper levels are from measuring both copper and ceruloplasmin (copper binding protein) in serum (blood levels). From these two levels the percentage free copper in serum can be calculated.

According to Walsh:
Percentage free copper above 25% is classified as elevated.

Serum copper of 17.5 – 20.0 umol/L (110 – 125 ug/dL) is classified as high-normal and serum copper above 20 umol/L (125 ug/dL) is classified as high.


The basis of copper lowering treatment is using nutrients which reduce copper levels. These are zinc, manganese, molybdenum, vitamin C and vitamin B6. Water filtration is recommended to minimize copper intake from water. Avoiding copper containing supplements is also suggested.


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