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Copper Deficiency – Nutrient Deficiencies and Gluten

does gluten cause copper deficiency

does gluten cause copper deficiencyGluten & Copper Deficiency

When you think of copper, you may think of pennies or plumbing pipes. But copper is also an essential nutrient that plays many important roles in your body.Because those with gluten sensitivity and celiac disease can suffer with nutritional malabsorption, it is important to understand that the functions of copper.Copper deficiency symptoms can mimic many of the symptoms caused by gluten. So keep reading, because if you have gone gluten free, but continue to experience health issues,copper deficiency may be part of your problem.

Key Roles of Copper

Copper acts as a co-factor for many enzymes in your body. So without copper, these enzymes can’t do their job. And many vital reactions wouldn’t occur. For example…

Copper is needed to absorb iron and release iron from storage when it’s needed. It also helps iron bond to red blood cells to prevent anemia. And iron-bound red blood cells then carry oxygen throughout your body, which is necessary to make energy.

Copper is also a co-factor for energy-producing enzymes, which is another way in which copper is involved in producing energy. This explains why most of the copper in your body is found in tissues that have high energy demands, such as skeletal muscle and heart tissue.

Copper is needed to build collagen, the most abundant protein in your body. It’s a structural component of your skin, bone, blood vessels, and more.

Your body produces an enzyme known as superoxide dismutase (SOD). It’s a powerful antioxidant that protects your cells from damage. And copper is a co-factor of SOD, which means SOD needs copper to successfully do its job.

Other vital functions that involve copper include:

  • Blood clotting
  • Blood pressure control
  • Formation of the myelin sheath (insulating layer surrounding nerves)
  • Synthesis and activation/inactivation of chemical messengers (e.g., neurotransmitters and neuropeptides)
  • Building new blood vessels
  • Immunity
  • Brain function and development
  • Pigmentation (skin and hair)

Copper Deficiency

Copper is a trace mineral, which means it’s only needed in small amounts. Yet, deficiencies do occur. And most symptoms of deficiency are closely related to the roles copper plays.

For example, since copper helps your body absorb iron, a copper deficiency could lead to anemia. As a result, you may feel tired and weak. Fatigue may also arise because copper is needed to make ATP (a.k.a. cellular energy).

Other possible symptoms include:

Copper deficiency isn’t always considered when it comes to the above symptoms. But it should be. Because if left untreated, a copper deficiency can cause serious problems. In addition to anemia, other associated conditions include:

  • Neuropathy
  • Myelopathy (spinal cord disorder)
  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Aceruloplasminemia (iron accumulation in the brain or liver)
  • Prion diseases (e.g., mad cow’s disease)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Bone marrow dysplasia

How Gluten Contributes to Copper Deficiencies

Copper is released from your food in your stomach and small intestine. Under normal circumstances, it’s then absorbed mostly through your small intestine.

However, gluten causes digestive dysfunction and malabsorption for those with gluten sensitivity. So very little, if any, copper gets absorbed.

In this case report, a woman was being evaluated for a 5-year history of an unsteady gait as well as weight loss. Testing revealed she had brain (ataxia) and spinal cord damage (myelopathy). She also had low serum copper levels along with high anti-gluten antibodies and autoimmune antibodies. So her small intestine was biopsied and the results were consistent with celiac disease.

Her doctors concluded her myelopathy was caused by a copper deficiency. And her copper deficiency was caused by an undiagnosed case of celiac disease. The patient was put on a gluten-free diet along with supplemental copper and her condition improved significantly.

It’s important to note that this woman had no gastrointestinal symptoms. So she’s lucky her doctors screened her for celiac disease. Otherwise, she may still be suffering.

A similar case was reported with a 60-year-old man. He had no digestive distress. But there was evidence of spinal cord damage that caused poor balance, numbness in his feet, and weakness in his lower legs.

Copper was undetectable in his blood. His blood tests also revealed the presence of autoimmune antibodies. His small intestine was biopsied and celiac disease was confirmed. With a gluten-free diet and supplemental copper, his symptoms drastically improved. And there are several other case reports just like this within the scientific literature.

In this case study, severe copper deficiency was diagnosed in two infants (about 7 months old) with celiac disease. In addition to obvious signs of malnutrition, they had low white blood cell counts (neutropenia) and brittle bones. Again, a gluten-free diet along with copper supplementation led to a swift recovery.

Finally, it’s worth noting that gluten doesn’t just cause malabsorption. In many cases, it also causes diarrhea, which further decreases your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Plus, gluten-rich diets are filled with processed foods that lack copper.

Best Food Sources of Copper

Some excellent sources of dietary copper that are both gluten and grain free include:

You’ll also find copper in some seafood, such as shrimp and sardines.

It’s almost impossible to overdo your copper intake with food. However, you must be careful supplementing with copper. Because too much can cause harm. So I always recommend working with a certified nutrition professional when it comes to supplementing.

Lab Testing for Copper

Serum Copper – Can be very misleading for copper adequacy in the diet, typically a reflection of your last meal and not of long term storage.

*Best Way to Test*

  • Lymphocyte Proliferation – Measures long term storage
  • Ceruloplasmin
  • Red Blood Cell Levels

Medicines that Deplete Copper

  • Anti-Seizure or Anti-Convulsive Medicine
  • Antibiotics – especially those used for tuberculosis
  • Anti-Viral for HIV
  • Antacids

And finally, if you are sensitive to gluten, supplementing with copper or eating more copper rich foods alone may not be enough. Supplementation may be necessary to support your healing process, but a strict gluten-free diet is most important. It’s what will allow your body to heal. So you can start absorbing and benefiting from copper once again.

Our Copper Supplement can be purchased here – Ultra Copper

Want to dive deeper into this article? Watch the replay of Dr. Osbornes live discussion in the video below.


5 Responses

  1. I’m seriously thinking of going gluten free to see if it makes a difference all of my issues are on low side but within normal range I take levothyroxine and am on meds for rheumatoid arthritis. Keep getting worse now even my tongue is getting strange

    1. I have no idea if you have looked into this further, since your comment is over two years old. However, gluten could be a huge contributing factor. Experts suggest that up to 97% of hypothyroidism is because of hashimotos (an autoimmune disorder, which rheumatoid arthritis is too, I believe) sometimes hashimotos isn’t detectable by blood, a thyroid ultrasound is the only sure way to rule it out. However, it would be likely that you have it because you are on levothyroxine and have RA. Typically autoimmune disorders make you very sensitive to certain foods, gluten and dairy being very common offenders. If it were me, I would find someone to actually treat the RA/possible hashimotos, follow an AIP diet (look it up and read protocol), start supplementing low dose trace minerals and find a thyroid literate doctor. Yours probably isn’t literate, most aren’t, and it is very very unlikely that you need to be in levothyroxine alone. Your body needs t4 (levothyroxine) AND t3 (liothyronine). Your body and symptoms will continue to deteriorate if any of the things I said are true and you continue to eat offending foods, gluten must be cut out completely, more than likely. Whatever foods you are sensitive to will cause your autoimmune issues to flare (ie, cause pain and swelling in your joints) It’s is definitely worth looking into.

  2. I am wondering at this point if copper deficiency sets one up for celiac disease. Western diets are low in copper and eating lots of meats and taking supplements can interfere with copper greatly. And I don’t think the standard testing is most accurate. Why don’t we test RBC zinc and RBC copper? I personally am to the point where I think most people are copper deficient with modern diet and all the supplements people take. I can’t think if a single supplement that didn’t mess up my gut or immune system. They don’t feel right at all.

    I would be interested in seeing research on copper deficiency, checking RBC copper and RBC zinc (too much zinc isn’t good either). I want to know if it’s possible to reverse celiac disease with copper treatments and diet changes and dropping other supplements. I’m really curious what would happen.

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