When I switched multivitamins back in December, it allowed me to uncover another significant and hidden health issue, copper toxicity. My multivitamin was not the cause of my iron deficiency, and it was not out-of-balance. My diet was. I was consuming many high-copper foods and in excessive quantities. Even though I consumed foods rich in zinc, I didn’t do so often enough to counteract the amount of copper I was consuming, and I became zinc-deficient.
When I found the Centrum Adults multivitamin, I wasn’t entirely convinced it was what I needed. It was what I thought was the least bad of the options on the shelf. It was low in a few vitamins and minerals, and the one that had me most concerned was copper. I didn’t know much about it other than it was needed in order for the body to utilize iron properly. Since I was trying to find a multivitamin that would be better for iron absorption, the low amount of copper concerned me. Since I didn’t have a lot of time to be out shopping that day, I thought I’d just go ahead and purchase the vitamins and try them, with the intention of researching copper to see if the low amount in the multivitamin might be a problem.
The first day on the Centrum Adults multivitamin, I could tell I was feeling better. I went through the first few days with no need for my additional iron supplement. I was having other symptoms, however, but I wrote them off as possibly being an effect of taking an extra half tablet of iron during the night before I purchased the Centrum. In the back of my mind, I knew the amount of iron couldn’t be that much more different from what I’d get out of a bowl of cream of rice, but I thought since it had come from a tablet rather than from food, my body was reacting to it differently. It probably sounds like a crazy idea, but I had no other explanation at that time for the symptoms, which involved GI distress, sleep disturbances, and increased acne breakouts.
During the first few days of taking the Centrum, I began researching copper to see what I could find out about the ideal ratio of copper to iron and other information about the mineral itself. I started reading about a concept called copper toxicity. In copper toxicity, a person consumes an excessive amount of copper, knocking the copper-to-zinc ratio out of balance. As a result, a person becomes zinc-deficient. Without enough zinc to process copper, the copper starts to build up in the body and ends up getting stored in tissues and organs. The body tries to store excess copper where it can because free copper in the blood is very dangerous and toxic. When a person has enough zinc, then excess copper can be handled appropriately, and it can be passed out of the body through waste. I’d read that when a person first starts trying to correct the balance between copper and zinc, copper elimination symptoms occur. Thinking back to the symptoms I was experiencing when I first switched to the Centrum multivitamin, I wondered if they could be due to copper elimination. The Centrum multivitamin, while low in copper, had a much higher percentage of zinc. It had 73% zinc to 25% copper. I wondered if the high ratio of zinc to copper was what allowed my body to begin utilizing the copper stored in my tissues and eliminate what wasn’t needed. I began to think that this was the reason I was feeling so much better and why I didn’t need more iron. I was finally getting enough zinc so that my body could actually use and process copper. This, in turn, kept me from becoming iron-deficient.
I also began thinking back over my diet and realized how it was contributing to my copper toxicity. One of my favorite things to fix for breakfast was sliced banana with peanut, nut, or seed butter. When I looked up cashew butter, I saw that it had almost 20% of the RDA for copper in just one tablespoon! I was blown away. I could easily spoon out a fourth to a third of a cup of the stuff to eat with my banana. Cashews in general are extremely high in copper. Another breakfast option I enjoyed was sliced cucumber and hummus. I could spoon out quite a bit of hummus as well, and it’s also high in copper. I would often eat a NoGii bar with this meal, which is a bar filled with tree nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. This meal was a recipe for disaster concerning excessive copper intake. I could have followed such a breakfast with a can (two servings) of Amy’s Kitchen chili for lunch, which is all-vegetarian and primarily beans. Beans are high in copper as well. If I needed a quick bite for dinner, I could have stopped by the grocery store and picked up an Amy’s Kitchen frozen entree. None of Amy’s Kitchen products contain meat, so they don’t really contain good sources of zinc. There were times that I paired such an entree with a Dagoba dark chocolate bar. Dark chocolate is also very high in copper. There were probably multiple days a week where my diet consisted of high amounts of copper and low amounts of zinc. It’s no wonder I became copper-toxic!
Eventually, the Centrum multivitamin caused me to become deficient in copper. Once the stores in my body were used up, I was no longer consuming enough copper to keep up with the high zinc-to-copper ratio in the multivitamin. I ended up switching back to my old multivitamin and began working on getting zinc and copper more balanced in my diet. I plan to discuss how I’m handling my diet and other issues pertaining to copper toxicity in future posts, so stay tuned!
Perhaps you yourself are dealing with iron deficiency that won’t resolve. Your diet is primarily plant-based. You have other symptoms with no known cause like hypothyroidism and acne. Perhaps you may also need to consider copper toxicity as a cause of your symptoms and work to balance zinc and copper intake in your own diet. However, please see your doctor to find out options for treating your copper toxicity and to rule out Wilson’s Disease, a disease where the body doesn’t properly process copper. Wilson’s Disease requires additional treatment and follow-up.
UPDATE: On January 16th, I had an appointment with my doctor to be tested. She ran several different blood tests, and after this post was first published, I got a call from her office saying I did not have Wilson’s Disease.
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