How a Sneaky Copper Deficiency Landed Me in the ER (2022)

What’s it like needing immediate health care during a pandemic?

Terrifying. Unsettling. Overwhelming.

Needing immediate medical attention already elicits a mixture of those emotions; needing it during the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbates things further.

I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA)and other underlying health issues. From the very beginning of COVID-19, I’ve been worried about how contracting the virus would affect my health and recovery.

Then within a few weeks of when cases started to spread near my community in Vancouver, I had to endure a medication change because health care providers at my clinic were exposed to COVID-19.

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One the worst parts of living with an unpredictable disease like RA is you never know when new or weird symptoms may pop up. This is especially true when you change medications — could [fill in alarming new symptom here] be a new sign of a flare? A medication side effect? Who knows?

Playing Pain Detective

Over the past few months, I found myself incredibly frustrated with my pain because my rheumatologist reported that my disease activity was low; my level of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker in the blood) were great; and I wasn’t showing any signs of inflammation.

I kept asking, Why am I still in so much pain? Could it be from irreversible joint damage caused by RA? A while ago I had an ultrasound of my hands, which revealed that not only did I have RA, an inflammatory arthritis caused by my immune system attacking my own joints, but also osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear kind that tends to happen with overuse or age (I’m 34).

I am constantly trying to pinpoint what is causing my pain so I can treat it properly, but living with so many different pain conditions makes it challenging to tell which may be causing what.

Five years into my diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis I have learned keeping a record of my symptoms is important. Chronic illness is bumpy.

When Pain Comes with Scary Symptoms

I knew the stress of the pandemic and the lack of physical activity from being in lockdown would impact my rheumatoid arthritis but my routine bloodwork was still coming back normal. I should have been feeling better than I was.

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This pain also felt different. It came with other symptoms that startled and worried me:

  • Numbness in my legs starting from the belly button down that comes and goes, sitting especially triggered it
  • Heavy sensation in legs
  • Lightheaded/dizziness
  • Poor balance/feeling off-center
  • Back pain and various muscle pain in legs
  • Burning pain in my hands and feet
  • Sensitive to textured surfaces on my hands
  • Headaches
  • Increased fatigue
  • Odd popping sensations in legs
  • Increased cognitive dysfunction (brain fog)
  • Increased depression and anxiety
  • Overall weakness
  • Bruising easily
  • Always feeling cold, especially hands and feet (which was originally thought to be Raynaud’s)

I booked a telehealth appointment with my rheumatologist and explained these bizarre new symptoms. She suggested I go to the ER and see a neurologist.

The ER was definitely not a place I wanted to go to during the pandemic, but my doctor happens to be married to a neurologist, so I knew if she was suggesting this, her advice was serious. And I had done enough Googling of my own to be worried about multiple sclerosis, transverse myelitis, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

However, I had an in-person appointment with my family doctor booked for a few days later. We decided we would wait until after my physical exam, but my family doctor ended up sending me to the ER to see a neurologist anyway.

Down a Testing Rabbit Hole

After my reflexes were tested and came back fine, the neurologist suggested I had some sort of neuropathy. This can be caused by diabetes or some rheumatoid arthritis medications, so I honestly wasn’t surprised I was joining the neuropathy club. But this is also pretty rare apparently — the diagnosing physician said he only sees one or two cases a year. So we weren’t totally convinced. Cue more testing.

After an electromyography (EMG), which evaluates the health of muscles and nerve cells that control them); a couple more doctor visits/telehealth calls; more blood tests; and a second opinion from another neurologist, we discovered I had a copper deficiency — and it was causing myeloneuropathy, a condition characterized by problems with the spinal cord and peripheral nervous system.

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Yes, copper caused all this drama and pain. My ass was being kicked by a mineral that makes for nice jewelry and cookware. Who knew?

Thankfully, for once in my chronic illness journey, I was diagnosed with something that was highly treatable. I left the neurologist’s office with a smile on my face, especially since he told me to eat more dark chocolate (it’s a great source of copper).

I turned back to Google to learn more about this shiny new health problem of mine.

How Copper Kicked My Butt: My Deficiency, Explained

I learned that the mineral copper is present in the human body in small amounts to help with necessary brain, blood, nervous, musculoskeletal, and immune system functions. The body also depends on copper to break down iron.

Because copper is used in so many different body systems, a copper deficiency can cause a wide range of symptoms and side effects, including weakness, numbness, pain, fatigue, paleness, frequent infections, neurologic deficits, and bone and cardiovascular issues. It can happen from a poor diet, malabsorption (not getting enough nutrients from food), or an inherited disorder.

I already eat many foods high in copper, so the deficiency was more than likely caused by my autoimmune issues or the medications I take for them, which I will need to investigate further with my rheumatologist.

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Treating My Copper Deficiency

I eat fairly healthy but there is always room for improvement, so I will be educating myself and incorporating more copper-rich foods into my diet:

  • Oysters, crabs, and other shellfish
  • Whole grains
  • Beans
  • Nuts, such as cashews, hazelnuts, and peanuts
  • Potatoes
  • Kidney and liver
  • Dark leafy greens, such as spinach
  • Dark chocolate

As for supplements, it’s important to remember that every case of arthritis is different, each body is different, and what someone else needs may not be the same as what you need.

My doctor appointments and blood tests revealed that I was also anemic and low in vitamin D and vitamin B12, which can also cause similar symptoms as my copper deficiency. For the past six weeks I have been taking copper supplements daily, as well as some others recommended by my rheumatologist, pharmacist, and naturopath.

I was told that these vitamins and supplements may not have an immediate impact, but within a week I noticed a decrease in symptoms, and by week five I was working out again, but without muscle soreness and burning pain in my hands and feet.

I am enjoying my healthy daily dose of dark chocolate, along with plenty of gratitude for having a condition that is so treatable and the resilience to help me get to the bottom of it.

Nothing tests your resilience like navigating the bumpy road of chronic illness in the middle of COVID-19. So far, I’m still winning.

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Want to Get More Involved with Patient Advocacy?

The 50-State Network is thegrassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation,comprised of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more affordable and accessible to patients with chronic illness, learn more here.

FAQs

How do you get copper deficiency? ›

Common risk factors for copper deficiency are foregut surgery, dietary deficiency, enteropathies with malabsorption, and prolonged intravenous nutrition (total parenteral nutrition). We present a unique case of copper deficiency, with no apparent known risk factors.

How long does it take to recover from copper deficiency? ›

If your deficiency is severe and your doctor is concerned that your body won't absorb copper supplements, they may prescribe intravenous (IV) copper treatments. According to the British Medical Journal , correction of copper deficiency can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks.

Can a copper deficiency cause joint pain? ›

Copper deficiency can also keep your immune system from working well. This is due to a reduced energy metabolism. Other symptoms of copper deficiency may include arthritis, inflammation, and anemia.

What does copper deficiency look like? ›

Common signs and symptoms of copper deficiency include fatigue and weakness, frequent sickness, weak and brittle bones, problems with memory and learning, difficulties walking, increased cold sensitivity, pale skin, premature gray hair and vision loss.

Which fruit has the most copper? ›

Dried Fruit High in Copper
FoodServingCopper
#1 Dried Figs View (Source)1 cup48% DV (0.4mg)
#2 Dried Pears View (Source)per oz12% DV (0.1mg)
#3 Dried Peaches View (Source)per oz11% DV (0.1mg)
#4 Dried Apricots View (Source)per cup11% DV (0.1mg)
6 more rows
Apr 24, 2022

What blocks the absorption of copper? ›

High dietary intakes of zinc can interfere with copper absorption, and excessive use of zinc supplements can lead to copper deficiency.

Which group is most often affected with copper deficiency? ›

Copper deficiency is rare among healthy people and occurs most commonly among infants who have other health problems or inherit a genetic abnormality.

What does copper do to your hair? ›

Copper Peptides Increase Hair Follicle Size And Inhibit Follicle Death. Copper peptides not only play a significant role in regenerating new hair growth, but they can also make your existing hair look and feel thicker by increasing the follicle size. The hair will have a thicker and fuller appearance.

What is the best test for copper deficiency? ›

A ceruloplasmin test is most often used, along with copper testing, to help diagnose Wilson disease. Wilson disease is a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from removing excess copper. It can cause a dangerous buildup of copper in the liver, brain, and other organs.

Can low copper cause anxiety? ›

Also, copper blocks iron from being absorbed, often leading to fatigue. Anxiety and depression- copper is needed for neurotransmitter production, however in excess it blocks serotonin (the happy neurotransmitter) and melatonin (your anti-oxidant sleep hormone).

Can copper deficiency cause headaches? ›

Many people with frequent headaches have low levels of copper in the body. Copper deficiency causes excessive vasodilation, which leads to pain. Other symptoms of deficiency include concentration and memory problems.

What does copper do to immune system? ›

Support your immune system. Form collagen, a protein that helps make up your bones and tissues. Protect cells from damage. Absorb iron into your body.

What food is highest in copper? ›

Beef liver contains the most amount of copper per serving of any food. Whether braised or fried, a 4-ounce serving contains 16,070 micrograms, more than 18 times your daily value.

What is the best form of copper supplement to take? ›

Copper citrate is a popular option, but it might have absorption issues. Copper bisglycinate absorbs directly into your bloodstream, which provides better bioavailability.

Is gray hair a copper deficiency? ›

A copper deficiency might trigger hair loss and premature gray hair. Like we said earlier, copper is a key player in your body's melanin production line. And melanin is what gives your hair (and skin) its color. Because of the connection, some doctors believe low copper levels can lead to premature graying.

Are eggs high in copper? ›

Egg is rich in phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and contains moderate amounts of sodium (142 mg per 100 g of whole egg) (Table 3). It also contains all essential trace elements including copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc (Table 3), with egg yolk being the major contributor to iron and zinc supply.

Are blueberries high in copper? ›

Blueberries also contain small amounts of vitamin E, vitamin B6, and copper. Blueberries are a good source of manganese and vitamins C and K1. They also provide small amounts of copper, as well as vitamins E and B6.

What drinks have copper in them? ›

The 10 Best Drinks In Copper Cups & Mugs
  • The Moscow Mule: Our namesake is an American classic, as the Moscow Mule is the drink that pretty much introduced vodka to the American market. ...
  • Mint Julep: ...
  • Dark 'N Stormy: ...
  • Greyhound: ...
  • Mezcal: ...
  • Margarita: ...
  • Gin And Tonic: ...
  • Cuba Libre:
Aug 14, 2020

Where is copper stored in the body? ›

It is found in all body tissues and plays a role in making red blood cells and maintaining nerve cells and the immune system. It also helps the body form collagen and absorb iron, and plays a role in energy production. Most copper in the body is found in the liver, brain, heart, kidneys, and skeletal muscle.

What vegetables are high in copper? ›

Kale, Swiss Chard and Spinach

There are also vegetables with high copper content. Raw kale contains 1,409mcg of copper for every 100 grams. Raw is preferable to frozen kale which only contains 46mcg of copper per 100 grams.

Can copper cause neuropathy? ›

Conclusion: Copper deficiency is a known cause of peripheral neuropathy. Acquired copper deficiency can be caused by gastrointestinal surgery, malabsorption, and nutritional deficiency. Zinc toxicity can also lead to hypocupremia although the exact etiology remains unknown.

Does taking zinc cause copper deficiency? ›

Aims: In high doses zinc may cause copper deficiency, a diagnosis that is often missed resulting in anaemia, neutropenia and irreversible neurological symptoms.

How can I increase my copper levels? ›

Here are 8 foods high in copper.
  1. Liver. Organ meats — such as liver — are extremely nutritious. ...
  2. Oysters. Oysters are a type of shellfish often considered a delicacy. ...
  3. Spirulina. ...
  4. Shiitake Mushrooms. ...
  5. Nuts and Seeds. ...
  6. Lobster. ...
  7. Leafy Greens. ...
  8. Dark Chocolate.
Oct 26, 2018

Are avocados high in copper? ›

Copper: Avocado is a rich source of copper. This trace element is relatively low in the Western diet. Low copper intake may have adverse effects on heart health ( 14 ). Vitamin E: This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant often found in high amounts in fatty plant foods ( 15 ).

Can copper affect iron levels? ›

Copper deficiency has been shown to decrease the assimilation of iron from Fe-TF (★), impair the uptake of iron by mitochondria (★), and reduce heme synthesis (★). Molecular details for these iron-copper interactions in erythroid cells remain to be elucidated.

What level is copper deficiency? ›

A plasma copper level less than 40 µg/dL and plasma ceruloplasmin level less than 13 mg/dL would be consistent with copper deficiency. Menkes syndrome is an X-linked recessive disorder that only affects males and causes defective gastrointestinal absorption of copper.

Should I take zinc with copper? ›

Zinc reduces the amount of copper your body absorbs, and high doses of zinc can cause a copper deficiency. For that reason, many doctors recommend that you take 2 mg of copper along with a zinc supplement.

What blood test shows Wilson's disease? ›

Tests and procedures used to diagnose Wilson's disease include: Blood and urine tests. Blood tests can monitor your liver function and check the level of a protein that binds copper in the blood (ceruloplasmin) and the level of copper in your blood.

Does copper affect mental health? ›

It is a co-factor in the chemical reaction that converts dopamine to norepinephrine. When copper levels are high, more norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) are synthesized from dopamine, which can causes feelings of agitation, anxiety and panic, overstimulation, racing thoughts, restlessness, and insomnia.

Can copper cause psychological problems? ›

When copper builds up in the central nervous system, it can also cause psychological changes such as: Feeling stressed and anxious. Being depressed. Losing touch with reality (psychosis)

Does copper affect mood? ›

According to the Health Research Institute and Pfeiffer Treatment Center, copper deficiencies may also lead to mood swings and changes. Feelings of irritability and anger, as well as stress, memory loss and depression, can be linked to nutrient imbalances.

Does copper help you sleep? ›

Thermal conductivity - why your bed needs it

Enter copper, the heat conductive magnet that sucks up and whisks away your excess body heat. And in addition to promoting sounder sleep, the more comfortable feeling copper leaves you with has a trickle-down effect.

How does copper toxicity affect the brain? ›

Copper toxicity can also trigger the following neurological and psychological symptoms: sudden changes in mood. symptoms of depression or anxiety. feeling irritable or overexcited.

Does copper heal the body? ›

Copper is essential to wound healing, as it promotes angiogenesis and skin ECM formation and stabilization [37-41].

What are the healing properties of copper? ›

Copper Heals

In ancient Egypt, copper was used to sterilize wounds and drinking water. Ancient Aztecs gargled water mixed with copper to fight sore throats, and Hippocrates reportedly treated leg ulcers with copper.

What copper does to the body? ›

Your body uses copper to carry out many important functions, including making energy, connective tissues, and blood vessels. Copper also helps maintain the nervous and immune systems, and activates genes. Your body also needs copper for brain development.

Does oatmeal have copper? ›

Oatmeal. What is this? Regular oatmeal normally has less than 0.10 mg of copper per serving (do check the food label to be sure). Aside from being a rich source of a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, oats also have high amounts of thiamine, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, and iron.

What herbs are high in copper? ›

The plants reported as copper containing were subjected to atomic absorption spectrophotometic analysis. Among these mangifera indica and coccinia indica were found to contain comparatively higher content of copper while manganese was move in coccinia indica aloe perfoliata, cassia auriculata and Nelumbium nicifera.

What has a lot of copper? ›

Oysters and other shellfish, whole grains, beans, nuts, potatoes, and organ meats (kidneys, liver) are good sources of copper. Dark leafy greens, dried fruits such as prunes, cocoa, black pepper, and yeast are also sources of copper in the diet.

When is the best time to take copper? ›

It is best to take your copper supplement 2 hours after zinc supplements, to get the full benefit of each.

Is 1 mg of copper too much? ›

Special Precautions and Warnings. When taken by mouth: Copper is likely safe when used in amounts no greater than 10 mg daily. Copper is possibly unsafe when taken in larger amounts. Kidney failure and death can occur with as little as 1 gram of copper sulfate.

Does vitamin C interfere with copper? ›

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) has been found to antagonize the absorption of copper intestinally, and can impede the binding of copper to copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (Cu,Zn)SOD. Likewise, zinc opposes the absorption of copper.

Does B12 affect copper? ›

Background: Vitamin B12 deficiency is a well recognized cause of posterolateral myelopathy. In Indian subcontinent, it may coexist with nutritional copper deficiency producing partial response of patients to B12 supplementation.

Which vitamins can reverse GREY hair? ›

Vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid)

Although studies in mice have shown that vitamin B-5 can reverse graying fur, there aren't any clinical studies to show that such effects can happen in humans. However, getting enough vitamin B-5 can ensure that your body is properly converting food into energy.

Does copper help white hair? ›

Functions of copper against greying hair

Melanin can only be produced by melanocytes in the presence of the enzyme tyrosinase, and it is precisely copper that catalyses this enzymatic reaction. Taking supplements that contain this mineral is therefore a very effective way of helping protect against greying hair.

What food is highest in copper? ›

Beef liver contains the most amount of copper per serving of any food. Whether braised or fried, a 4-ounce serving contains 16,070 micrograms, more than 18 times your daily value.

Which group is most often affected with copper deficiency? ›

Copper deficiency is rare among healthy people and occurs most commonly among infants who have other health problems or inherit a genetic abnormality.

Which disease is caused due to deficiency of copper? ›

Menkes disease is a congenital disease that is a cause of copper deficiency. Menkes disease is a hereditary condition caused by a defective gene involved with the metabolism of copper in the body.

Does B12 affect copper? ›

Background: Vitamin B12 deficiency is a well recognized cause of posterolateral myelopathy. In Indian subcontinent, it may coexist with nutritional copper deficiency producing partial response of patients to B12 supplementation.

Are eggs high in copper? ›

Egg is rich in phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and contains moderate amounts of sodium (142 mg per 100 g of whole egg) (Table 3). It also contains all essential trace elements including copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and zinc (Table 3), with egg yolk being the major contributor to iron and zinc supply.

Are Bananas high in copper? ›

Fruits like lemon, star fruit, blackberry, litchi, guava, pineapple, apricot and bananas are rich in copper. These fruits are also known for their antioxidants, vitamins and iron content. Mushrooms, kidney beans, radishes and soy beans are some of the vegetables that are also rich in copper.

Are blueberries high in copper? ›

Blueberries also contain small amounts of vitamin E, vitamin B6, and copper. Blueberries are a good source of manganese and vitamins C and K1. They also provide small amounts of copper, as well as vitamins E and B6.

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