happens next depends on many variables— the types of metals to which
you are exposed, and how much, and even where you live. I find very
interesting variations in the hair tests, depending on where people
live. In California, for instance, I primarily see aluminum toxicity;
apparently there is a lot of aluminum in the area. Aluminum is a very
common metal, comprising up to 14 percent of the earth’s crust, so it is
in the dust and in the air.
Aluminum is also an additive in anti-perspirants. I have a theory
that in warm climates, where people use a lot of anti-perspirants, they
are exposed to a lot more aluminum than people living in colder
On the East Coast, I see more problems with cadmium, mercury and
lead, the heavy metals. On the West Coast, if someone shows mercury, you
can bet they have been eating fish twice a week and have been for a
while. If they aren’t eating fish, they don’t show mercury even if it is
in their mouth. I don’t know why, but that is what I have found.
The Copper Problem
the main thing that happens with metal retention is copper toxicity
because everybody is getting copper constantly. Almost everything you
eat has some copper in it. A lot of really popular foods like coffee,
chocolate, avocado, soy, shellfish like shrimp and lobster, and certain
beans and nuts like pecans are pretty high in copper.
This isn’t a problem with good liver, gall bladder and especially
adrenal function. If adrenal function is strong, we just mobilize that
copper and excrete it through the bile. Unfortunately, the way we live
these days, that is not what is happening. Most people are not able to
get rid of the excess copper. How many people have impaired liver
function, congested gallbladder or adrenal fatigue? Probably the
majority these days.
If adrenal function becomes impaired, the copper builds up in the
liver, brain, joints and lungs. When this happens, you see very specific
problems, including mental problems, liver problems and detoxification
problems. Phase II liver impairment is often made worse by copper
toxicity, if not actually caused by it.
You also see a lot of copper toxicity with asthma and breathing
problems, including emphysema. Copper also tends to build up in the
joints, leading to arthritis. Chronic skin problems are also an
indication of copper toxicity.
Vegetarian diets are very high in copper because the vegetable foods
are a great source of this mineral. Since vegetarians don’t eat meat,
and possibly not even eggs, they are not getting enough zinc, which is
the natural antagonist to copper. Zinc naturally balances copper and
keeps it from building up in the tissues. If you are not eating much in
the way of meat and eggs, you will develop copper problems.
Excess copper interferes with energy production at the cellular
level. It impairs various energy pathways in the cell so it contributes
to the very fatigue that tends to make you retain copper, leading to a
vicious circle. Once this pattern gets going, it is totally
self-reinforcing and very difficult to break, even by adding zinc-rich
foods back into the diet.
Copper is stimulating to the brain, causing it to produce high levels
of the activating neurotransmitters, like serotonin, norepinephrine,
epinephrine and dopamine. This is why you will see copper toxicity in
manic states like paranoid schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. The
so-called copper head tends to be very emotional, very intense, often
very creative. Such individuals are prone to crash and burn because
their overactive mind is being supported by a very fatigued body.
Copper toxicity is a major factor in irritable bowel syndrome because
copper is excreted through the bile and certain things will cause you
to suddenly dump copper. If you have been building up copper, anything
that causes an increase in your metabolic rate will cause a copper dump
and it comes out through the bile. If you are copper toxic and suddenly
under a lot of stress, this may bring on an irritable bowel episode
because suddenly excess copper is moving through your bowels and
The tendency of copper to build up in the body is similar to iron,
which is another essential nutrient that is also a heavy metal. They’re
both highly electrical, very conductive metals that produce a lot of
free radical activity and have to be bound by special proteins, such as
ceruloplasmin and metallothioine. The production of these proteins is
controlled by the adrenal glands, and they are produced in the liver. If
the adrenals are not functioning properly and the liver is impaired,
possibly from copper buildup, you will not produce these binding
proteins, so copper remains in free form. That makes it a toxic and
reactive free-radical generator capable of causing a lot of damage.
When this happens, the body starts to sequester it. It tries to stash
it somewhere so it will do less damage. Thus, while you may be building
up a lot of copper in your body, you may also have the symptoms of
copper deficiency because the copper is bio-unavailable. The copper is
not in a usable form so you will have both deficiency symptoms and
symptoms of toxicity.
When copper accumulates under stress, when you go into a
fight-or-flight condition, your adrenals are on line and ready to go.
This is a short-term mechanism that is beneficial. It helps the body
cope with stress, at least initially.
The body has an intricate system of checks and balances which operate
through the mineral levels and ratios. If you are deficient in one
mineral, another mineral accumulates and can become excessive. For
example, when sodium and potassium levels go down, calcium and magnesium
rise. When copper drops, iron increases. If zinc rises, copper goes
down. If iron rises, chromium goes up. There is a constant and complex
dance of minerals going on in the body, and the body very specifically
retains and releases minerals in order to control certain body
When we retain copper, this makes sodium rise. Sodium is required to
produce aldosterone, the adrenal cortex hormone that causes sodium
retention and high blood pressure when produced in excess. An increase
in aldosterone is a defense against stress—you need that high
aldosterone production during a fight-or-flight state, when you are
trying to guard yourself in some way against a threat. When aldosterone
increases, the body retains copper and releases magnesium, which is a
calming mineral that slows you down. That is why a lot of people use it
to sleep or to relieve muscle cramping. So if you are going into fight
or flight, your body drops the magnesium very quickly. It is the first
thing to go, because the body is trying to rev up. Increased aldosterone
production will also cause a drop in zinc, which allows the copper to
be retained and the sodium to go up.
The increase in copper is stimulating, it gets you going, which is
just what you need in the short term. But chronic unremitting stress
never gives you time to recover, you never get to address your
biochemical imbalance, you never have that down time to excrete the
excess copper now.
When your adrenal glands are in great shape, you can excrete excess
copper whenever you need to. But when your adrenal glands are just
hanging on by their fingernails, just barely able to mount a stress
reponse, you have an excess of stimulating copper. It becomes very hard
to go to sleep and the mind races. You think, think, think, worry,
worry, worry, and all of that makes it worse. You are always worn out.
In fact, people with chronic fatigue often wake up tired because they
don’t really ever rest.
We also use up tryptophan in these situations, as tryptophan is
needed for seratonin production. Seratonin is used up under stress. You
can’t replace your tryptophan by eating turkey when it is being used up
so quickly. What this tells me is that the body is not designed to be
constantly under stress. We are meant to spend time sitting in a hammock
somewhere, or weaving a basket!