We often think of vitamins, magnesium, calcium, possibly sodium, or potassium… but we often forget to consider the duo zinc/copper. Let’s see here what are their major roles, and what are the best food sources.
Zinc and copper are antagonistic. If one is in excess, the other is deficient – and vice versa. That’s why we always have to consider them together.
The imbalance zinc / copper is among the most common mineral disruptions. The ratio between these two elements is clinically more important than their isolated concentrations. It equals ideally 8, in favor of Zinc. In the vast majority of cases, zinc is deficient and copper is in excess, which is why I chose to orientate this article on this specific imbalance and the risks it involves.
The body contains 2,000 to 4,000 mg of zinc for 75 to 100 mg of copper1, which is 40 times more! (don’t confuse the total amount with that of the plasma or the hair)
The functions of zinc are multiple, and a good little list is sometimes more efficient than beautiful sentences. Zinc:
- participates in the catalytic activity of 200 enzymes2
- participates in immune function3
- improves antimicrobial action4
- participates in the synthesis of proteins, lipids, DNA synthesis and cell division56
- plays a role in the central nervous system7, and especially in synaptic function8(connection between neurons)
- plays an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory role9
- plays a role in the synthesis10, storage and secretion of insulin11
- participates in the constitution of vitamin D12
Given the key roles played by this element, it’s quite logical that the consequences of a deficiency can be disastrous:
- Alzheimer‘s and Parkinson‘s Disease13
- In children
- Loss of taste16
- Immune dysfunction17
- Increased risk of preterm birth18
- Insulin resistance19 (which leads to type 2 diabetes)
- Gynecological tumor20
In addition, a low level of zinc disrupts the ability to evacuate copper, which amplifies the imbalance.
Are you now wondering if you have enough zinc? Here is a list of symptoms that should make you suspicious:
- Stress and Anxiety22
- Racing mind and panic attacks
- Skin problems
- Premenstrual syndrome24
- Lack of appetite2526
- Loss of sexual appetite27
A weak appetite in the morning, along with a slight nausea, is characteristic of a lack of zinc. Among teenage girls, the zinc / copper imbalance is common (if it’s severe, it can trigger anorexia). Why especially in women? Because they have a third more copper than men.
The absence of emotion is also a sign of imbalance. Or a tired body but a brain that is always racing (especially before sleeping). Sometimes we make a lot of plans that we unfortunately cannot keep, which leads to a constant frustration, preparing the ground for a possible depression or constant anxiety.
Note that according to Dr. Andrew Cutler (specialist of heavy metals low-dose chelation), people with mercury poisoning are very likely to be deficient in zinc.
The best sources of zinc are undoubtedly red meat, followed by chicken, followed by eggs – consume quality meat, of course. Not only are they rich in zinc, but also low in copper, which helps correct the imbalance. It is therefore no coincidence that the omnivores have a higher level of zinc than the vegetarians28(not to mention vegans!).
There is of course zinc in the vegan food, but it’s usually accompanied by a lot of copper (compared to the ideal ratio of 1/8).
When it comes to minerals, the hair test is more effective than a blood or urine test. If need be, the analysis of pubic hair or nails are equivalent alternatives.
A little anecdote: a Japanese study showed that zinc deficiency or social isolation caused some depression in rats. So far, nothing extraordinary. On the other hand, the combination of the two factors would have an anti-depressant effect29! It’s crazy, isn’t it? Sometimes I feel this effect also: when my brain fog and my fatigue are high and the interactions are difficult for me, then I feel better alone!
Although essential to many mechanisms, copper becomes toxic when it becomes in excess. It then accumulates in the liver, altering the liver’s ability to detoxify itself. Once the liver is saturated, the body uses other storage spaces, including the central nervous system30(the brain). This can then affect learning, memory and emotions. Excess copper is also associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s31The reproductive and hormonal system may also be affected.32.
Yes, the consequences of excess copper are similar to those of a zinc deficiency. Everything is linked by the relationship between the two antagonists zinc and copper!
Note that women are more prone to excess copper than men – because they naturally have more copper.
Your body is exposed to copper through various sources:
- from mother to child: if the mother has a strong zinc / copper imbalance, it’ll be transmitted to the child via the placenta33
- tap water (especially if the water is acidic and the pipes are copper)
- contraceptive pills and other drugs that increase the retention of copper
- some dietary supplements and multivitamins
- sea food
- legumes (beans)
- dried fruits
- organs (calf liver)
Be careful: some of these foods have many nutritional benefits and you don’t necessarily have to completely remove them!
If you have your hair analyzed and your zinc / copper ratio is less than 8, it may be interesting to modify some dietary habits.
If you are omnivorous, it’s easy : eat red meat, white meat, and eggs. If you are vegan, it’s more complicated… beyond supplementation, there are some rules that can improve your ratio:
- reduce your consumption of cereals, corn and rice (containing phytates that reduce the absorption of zinc34)
- or else, have them sprout or ferment35
But chances are it’s not enough. It will then be necessary to consider the supplementation.
Chelated zinc (“chelated zinc “) is more bio-available than inorganic zinc: an amino acid is attached to the zinc atom, which ensures better transport of the latter.
If you look at the results of my mineral hair analysis, zinc is at 168.7 mcg / g and copper at 29.8 mcg / g, which makes a ratio of 5.6 – far from 8, the optimal recommended ratio.
Recently, I limited my meat intake to 1 or 2 times a week. It was for concerns of health, animal condition, and environment. I am questioning the health issue today, meat being the main source of zinc. So I had to increase my meat intake – at least temporarily – to correct my zinc / copper imbalance.
Oddly enough, I have always had a great appetite for meat (even when my convictions went in the opposite direction). I think my body knows it needs zinc, and where to find it.
Like magnesium, zinc is a very important mineral, and it’s constantly needed. Beyond the amount of isolated zinc, it’s more important to consider the zinc / copper ratio which should ideally be around 8. To measure this, the hair mineral analysis is a test that can be relied on – unlike blood or urine tests. Adjusting your diet (more zinc, less copper) can then correct the dysbalance and prevent a future disaster. For vegan, supplementation is hardly avoidable.
And you? Have you had your hair analyzed? What is your zinc / copper ratio? Leave me a message in the comments below!
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- Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults.
- A short 18 items food frequency questionnaire biochemically validated to estimate zinc status in humans.
- The co-occurrence of zinc deficiency and social isolation has the opposite effect on the condition compared to other conditions in the central norepinephrine system.
- Wikipedia: Wilson’s disease
- Copper toxicity induced hepatocerebral and neurodegenerative diseases: an urgent need for prognostic biomarkers.
- Copper Toxicity: A Comprehensive Study
- COPPER AND YOUR HEALTH by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
- Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption.
- Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption.
- Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption.
- Studies on the bioavailability of zinc in humans: effects of heme and nonheme on the absorption of zinc.