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Why Copper is Estrogenic + How to Avoid It is THE answer for increasing numbers of people as we learn: how to reduce sources of copper and find relief from symptoms. In this article, we look at the controversial mineral, that some people think they need more of, and see what happens when we ingest a lot of it: Think chocolate and menstrual cramps!
As one medical professional explains, “These days when a patient tells me about a history of postpartum depression, severe PMS, dysmenorrhea or adverse effects related to the prescription of oral contraceptives, I immediately suspect copper overload.” [emphasis mine]
In addition to its effects on reproductive organ systems, we look at other side effects of too much copper and estrogen: mental health struggles, GI problems, cancer risks and conditions like fibromyalgia.
This article includes a free printable list of foods high in copper, which makes these foods easier to avoid.
In this food list, I do not include the copper content in processed foods. If you’re trying to reduce estrogenic symptoms, copper intake or just get healthier, avoid all processed foods, and even reduce the amount you eat out at restaurants (where estrogenic vegetable oils are commonly used).
Are foods high in copper healthy
A new trend in some health circles is to increase copper, sometimes up to 30 mg a day. But the upper limit of copper supplementation is actually 10 mg daily; otherwise liver disease results. (High levels of copper are always found in cancer cells, too!)
Whether heavy metals come from our food, water or supplements, they aren’t healthy. Copper is a heavy metal.
Surprisingly, most high copper food lists encourage us to consume more copper.
This article’s purpose is different: If you struggle with estrogenic symptoms, or other symptoms mentioned below, consider reducing your intake of these foods to reduce symptoms.
Estrogen makes you hold onto copper
How are copper and estrogen linked
Estrogen production contributes to copper build up.
Copper promotes the production of blood vessels (for example, this is needed when a woman becomes pregnant). When estrogen goes up (also at puberty or with birth control pills or hormone replacement), copper is stored in various organs, and it becomes difficult to normalize copper afterwards.
For women getting pregnant, this can be compounded with each pregnancy.
Both high copper and too high of estrogen levels are more common for women, but many men also have too high of copper levels.
Estrogen makes us retain and accumulate copper, and copper makes us hold onto estrogen.
Estrogen dominant people tend to have too much copper.
Hormonal changes can be a trigger.
Sadly, estrogen dominance directly correlates to breast, ovarian and cervix cancer.
Avoid copper to stop the cycle
Avoiding high copper foods allows us to begin the detox process of both copper and estrogen. (You may wish to also avoid these estrogenic foods in the process.)
Not all foods high in copper are “bad” for you
One category of high copper foods listed below may not be bad, but actually good for you, depending on your unique body: beans.
They’re high in soluble fiber and a helpful mineral called molybdenum. (Both molybdenum and zinc help to balance copper in the body.)
We need soluble fiber in diets for good elimination, and it feeds good gut bacteria. Oftentimes, foods high in fiber, like beans, that are also relatively high in copper, can still be included in a healthy diet. That’s because their benefits, including soluble fiber, outweigh the copper they contain, especially when eaten in moderation.
So, get to know your unique body: After eliminating other foods high in copper, like shellfish, liver, chocolate, soy and spirulina, if you wish, see how you’re doing while still including beans in your diet.
Nuts in moderation are similar. See how you do.
While many people who are estrogenic need to eliminate seeds, some can still tolerate nuts, especially certain nuts and in moderation. (While expensive, macadamia nuts are the best nuts in terms of being low in copper, high in Vitamin B1 and containing a good fat profile.)
50+ FOODS HIGHEST IN COPPER
Depending on the source, numbers vary slightly on the exact rankings of high copper foods, but the results are relatively similar. The foods in the following list are ranked from the greatest amount of copper.
Coffee is estrogenic, so is best to avoid as well.
Below are the top 50+ foods that are high in copper. Happily, as mentioned, some may be fine to keep in the diet, like beans. Others will be easy to eliminate, like oysters and liver. Finally, I have emboldened those that I think you need to notice; many Americans eat these foods regularly and think they’re healthy. Yes, you need to consider eliminating avocados and mushrooms…:
- Rowal (a fruit native to Western Pacific islands)
- Shellfish: Squid, or calamari, Whelk, Alaskan King Crab, Lobster, Cuttlefish
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Firm tofu
- Raw oats (This may apply to granola? Cooked oats are fine, and raw oats may not be a problem because of their soluble fiber and the fact that they soak in your stomach if you drink a decent amount of water.)
- Soy and whey protein powders
- Chocolate and cocoa/cacao
- Button mushrooms
- Soy foods
- Sweet potatoes
- Potato skins (Cook and eat potatoes peeled.)
- Adzuki beans (Reminder, most people do not need to eliminate beans because of their soluble fiber. Choose which beans you eat based on which ones make you feel best. Some people need more soluble fiber, and some people need less.)
- Sesame seeds, tahini
- Avocado (but avocado oil is fine)
- Canned tomatoes
- Black pepper
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Gelatin (I’m not sure this one is relevant because of the amount that is consumed and because it’s spread out or diluted in a recipe.)
- More shellfish: Crayfish, Conch, Octopus, Clams
- Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans (Reminder, most people do not need to eliminate beans because of their soluble fiber. Choose which beans you eat based on which ones make you feel best. Some people need more soluble fiber, and some people need less.)
- Dungeness crab
- Sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts
- Black turtle beans (Reminder, most people do not need to eliminate beans because of their soluble fiber. Choose which beans you eat based on which ones make you feel best. Some people need more soluble fiber, and some people need less.)
- Hazelnuts, Hemp seeds, Walnuts
- Lentils, Fava beans, Lima beans, Navy beans, Catjang beans (cowpeas), Black eyed peas (Reminder, most people do not need to eliminate beans because of their soluble fiber. Choose which beans you eat based on which ones make you feel best. Some people need more soluble fiber, and some people need less.)
- Coconut milk
- Dried figs
- Kamut, Spelt, Whole Wheat, Barley (hulled barley I believe is fine)
- Pumpkin Seeds, Mixed nuts, Pine nuts
- Skirt steak
- Great Northern Beans, Kidney beans, Pinto beans, Lupin beans, Baked beans, Black beans, Refried beans, Split peas
- Soy milk
- Goose, Lamb, Pork, Pheasant, Quail
- Beet greens, Turnip greens, Cilantro, other leafy greens
- Dried bananas, Golden raisins, Dates, Dried apricots, Prunes
- Smoked whitefish
- Pistachios, Walnuts, Chestnuts
- Guava, Nectarines
- Canned pumpkin
- Cooked spinach
- Canned sardines
- Chia seeds
- Cooked peas
- Pomegranate, Blackberries, Kiwi, Mangoes, Pineapple, Olives, Raisins, Currants (May be fine in small portions, but avoid mango for Low Vitamin A diet.)
Other symptoms of too much copper
Important: Copper taken in, in excess of the body’s requirements, is excreted through bile. When our bile is full of copper, which most people’s bile is!, we can be sure our bodies have excess copper they are trying to detox.
We store copper in our brains, reproductive organs, livers and kidneys. This is why copper disrupts the glandular, reproductive and nervous system with insidious effects on physical and mental health. (See how many of the symptoms below are brain related, as well as hormonally related. Copper also interferes with thyroid and adrenal function.)
I have personally experienced many of these symptoms. I hope you find it helpful to see which ones match and give some answers for your health:
- Menstrual problems, including PMS and fibroid cysts
- Libido problems
- Endometriosis and PCOS
- Premature or expedited aging
- Anxiety, paranoia
- Racing mind
- Panic attacks
- Stress (a tendency to feel stressed when you don’t need to)
- Wired, or tired but wired (Think of copper’s conductivity.)
- Shaky or inner trembling
- Insomnia, racing mind
- Heart palpitations, especially at bedtime (This is a hormonal symptom. And our hearts run on electrical currents.)
- Sore throat
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Electricity feeling through the nerves (Copper is conductive.)
- Bi-lateral limb weakness
- Brain fog
- Postpartum depression
- Impulsiveness, anger or violence — in men
- Additional symptoms include: poor concentration, ADHD, spaciness or numbed emotions, migraines, ringing in the ears, bipolar, blood sugar issues and sugar cravings, hypothyroid, acne, candida, allergies, asthma, skin sensitivities, anemia, loss of hair, digestive problems, testicular pain and autism.
Regarding mental health issues and depression, copper can create an imbalance in neurotransmitter activity by lowering dopamine levels and increasing norepinephrine.
Copper is also a stimulant to the nervous system, as we see in many mental health challenges and various forms of agitation.
How to test for copper toxicity
Keep in mind, reversing these symptoms of copper toxicity, and estrogenic symptoms, most likely means: work with a doctor like Dr. Smith to test your copper and zinc levels three ways, through both hair and blood, as well as symptom assessment.
Steps: 1) reduce copper intake, and 2) supplement the correct amount of zinc and molybdenum, which are copper antagonists.
My husband and I have both seen from experience that it’s wise to test before supplementing, or at the very least, be careful not to overdo your zinc or molybdenum dosage in an effort to get well faster.
While higher dose zinc helps some people, for others, it frees up too much copper too fast, and actually causes symptoms.
After testing with Dr. Smith, my personal zinc dose is high, but my husband’s is pretty average, on the low side, and if he takes more, he gets mental health issues, which are otherwise not a problem for him. And while I need a good average amount of molybdenum, if I go higher than that, I experience depression.
So it’s really good to get tested, to know your correct doses. If you choose the DIY route, just be careful to start low, and watch carefully for symptoms.
When copper testing can be misleading
Lastly, very important, low copper levels from testing do not indicate the amount of copper stored in one’s liver.
Not until the diet is low in copper, and a patient is supplementing correctly with zinc and molybdenum, does the liver begin to detox copper. Then blood levels show more accurately how much copper is in the body, and it can take years for the liver to detox this metal fully.
When copper testing shows low copper, symptoms of copper toxicity are still a very important indicator of one’s liver copper levels.
Why are women more often copper toxic
As one study informs, “Approximately 50 percent of copper is excreted in the bile, while the remaining half is excreted through other gastrointestinal secretions.” As you’ll see below, bile flow problems cause copper toxicity symptoms, as they reveal copper toxicity in the liver and blood.
As we look at why women are more often more copper toxic than men, we see this issue of bile flow come up regularly:
- Women typically see more doctors, and thus use more medications, which cause liver injury and blockage of proper bile flow (which then causes it to leak into the blood).
- We have often used hormonal birth control.
- During the monthly cycle, an increase in estrogen causes bile dumping into the blood. Why do women struggle with emotional regulation during PMS? Copper toxic bile is released during this time. Estrogen causes bile in the blood.
- Women eat more chocolate and have more chocolate addictions.
- We tend toward vegetarian and vegan diets, which are high in copper and low in zinc.
- Women have more GI problems, such as IBS, leaky gut and related autoimmune issues.
But of course, many men are copper toxic as well: from exposure to insecticides and fungicides, men who eat organ meat or who love/frequently eat foods like oysters, men who tend toward vegetarian or vegan diets, men who have liver injuries from medications or other causes, copper water pipes, the burning of copper sulfate among Buddhists and Hindus (more often done by men), men who have done hormone replacement therapy or men who are estrogenic from the environment.
And children, too, are susceptible, from enhanced GI absorption and immature bile ducts, plus copper is added to infant formulas.
General sources of copper
Here’s an overview of common sources of copper, which may shed light on current copper toxicity and help with future prevention:
- Copper IUD’s, birth control pills, prenatal vitamins, hormone replacement drugs
- Xeno-estrogen or chemicals that mimic estrogen found in plastics and petrochemicals
- Dental work
- Growth hormones fed to animals
- Fungicides and pesticides
- Copper pipes in homes and tap water
- Algae treatments for swimming pools
- Copper cookware
- Hot tub and pool chemicals
- Plant-based diets and other high copper foods (liver, shellfish)
- Zinc deficiency and other mineral imbalances
- HPA axis imbalance/Adrenal weakness (These glands and resulting hormones help stimulate the liver to produce a major copper-binding protein in the body. When these hormones are weakened due to stress, copper is not properly bound.)
- Stress (depletes the adrenal glands, lowers zinc levels and increases copper)
Also avoid drinking alcohol. It can be harmful to the liver, and the liver may already be damaged. If you insist on drinking, do so with respect for your body, in great moderation.
Conclusions on copper being estrogenic
Copper is conductive; zinc is grounding. Zinc is more correlative with male hormones, copper is more of a female hormone. Just like women need the right amount of testosterone, we need the right amount of zinc — especially now in history when we have estrogens bombarding our systems more than they naturally should. Obviously, men do not want to be estrogenic either.
Being copper toxic is a newer modern toxicity that’s common among the general population — likely affects most of us. If you’re only focusing on a few aspects of improving your health (perhaps you get overwhelmed doing too much), consider 1) an anti-inflammatory diet and 2) addressing copper toxicity (including: supplement wisely).
What I believe from sources I’ve read
Tumors and cancer are a last resort, one of the body’s methods for storing toxicity. When the liver is full, toxins spill into the blood. Our bodies store toxins in their own cells to protect us from them. Copper toxicity and being estrogenic are outright dangerous conditions, and not to be ignored.
Being too high in copper and estrogens is nothing to wait around about; address it.
Choose joy and thankfulness as you address your health issues. Praises that you learned of copper toxicity when you did and can do something about it! Replace old favorite foods with new favorites. It’s worth it!
Find the PDF list of High Copper Foods to avoid HERE.
Stress and copper
One final thought as you seek to reduce copper levels in your body: When the body experiences stress, it uses up nutrients that help to reduce copper.
Added to that, copper build-up makes it difficult to deal with stress.
Find a form of relaxation that helps reduce stress in your effort to maintain normal copper levels. This could be dance, prayer, journaling, long walks etc.
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ADDITIONAL AND MAIN SOURCES
Are you saying everyone should totally avoid all these foods? (I mean, except the beans ,which I already can’t have because of gut issues). There are so few foods I can eat because of multiple health issues, one of which is anemia, and when I find a quantity of an allowable food I stock up on it. This list would pretty much wipe it all out. It seems every time I turn around I hear about another “healthy” or beneficial food becoming not acceptable. So very frustrating.
Hi Naomi, I understand that. The best thing to do IMO is to work with Dr. Smith, if you can afford one appointment. But even if you can’t, by addressing reduced vitamin A and low copper, we finally hit the nail on the head as far as major root causes for most people. This allows the liver to truly begin detoxing, and over time, we can indeed reintroduce so many foods. When we see and understand the road map, it’s easier to have a limited diet for a short time. And I’d be remiss to not share the issue of copper toxicity. While it’s overwhelming to first hear about, and I sympathize with that!, it’s also true. So to get well, I believe most people need to pay attention to this and make some changes. In your shoes, I’d look at the Low vitamin A list and this list, or look at the Anti-Inflammatory Diet list I recently published, and see which foods could be your staples to start.
Gosh it doesn’t leave us much to eat if we eliminate all foods with copper
Hi Wanda, it all depends on perspective and health goals. Compared to most Americans eating whatever they want regardless of health consequences, the transition is hard. I remember doing it myself years ago, the first time I needed to do restricted diet. But the rewards and truly enjoying the foods we CAN have make it worth the process. For some people, it will be wisest to just reduce some of these foods, to make the change work long term. We definitely want to nurture the low stress version of the choices we make, while also being mindful of heavy metals and the importance of truly making changes.
Thanks for your reply. I don’t have any health issues, I follow a Keto diet, Have my own organic vegetable garden. When I’m out with friends Keto foods aren’t always possible so I choose to sugar free and gluten free food.
I enjoy reading your emails…very interesting, thank you.
Thanks for connecting, Wanda!; wonderful that you feel great and have your beautiful garden! 🙂
Johnny Savvy says
Oysters are also very high in zinc. How does that work? Would the zinc make the copper “less bad”? Thank-you for this informative article!
Hi Johnny, fun and good question. Interestingly, oysters are too high in zinc as well. We can actually have too much zinc. One of the things that happens is that zinc frees up more copper in the body, actually making us more copper toxic. So while zinc can balance and help the body usher copper out, it’s dangerous to take too much. A medium oyster has 76 milligrams of zinc and 670 micrograms of copper. So just one oyster has more zinc than most people should take in a day. And if someone eats a dozen oysters, they are ingesting almost toxic amounts of copper in one sitting. (Tangentially and so sad, small raw oysters on the half shell used to be my favorite food!) While zinc is a copper antagonist, this does not mean that it clings to and safely ushers copper from the body. I hope that helps!
Would an overload of other metals also be estrogenic? Besides having a mouth full of metal I was also a welder for a few years. Thank you for your work.
Hi Rose, happy to help, and good question. Yes, it is likely if not definite. Here are two studies, and there are many others: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12873394/ and http://eknygos.lsmuni.lt/springer/631/111-133.pdf
Thank you Megan, it looks like heavy metals are far worse than I suspected.
I have had them taken out of my teeth by a knowledgeable dentist and do not weld anymore but am always on the lookout to keep from consuming them.
I appreciate the research you do for all is us
So happy to help, Rose, thank you!
Hi Megan, thank you for this artcile
I don’t understand why do you say that coffee is estrogenic? Never had problems …with it I think 😀
Hi Adrien, the estrogenic activity of coffee is well established in scientific research and literature. We may not all feel the results of it, but this is true. Thanks for the question! https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31234352/
Hi Megan, why coffee is estrogenic? I never felt any problems with it????…
Hi Adrien, I just answered you somewhere else on here, you’ll see it, with a Pub Med link. 🙂
I’m glad to know which foods are higher in copper, I think…lol. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind being blissfully ignorant. We also have copper pipes, so that’s not the best. We do filter our drinking and cooking water, thankfully.
But looking over the list, I’ll probably cut down on or avoid mushrooms, although we’re taking a mushroom supplement from one of your favorite companies, and need to use that up first. Those are medicinal mushrooms, so maybe that’s not an issue?
Also avocados (one of my favorites), coconut milk, and pork, which we mostly avoided for a long time and have recently stated eating somewhat again.
I don’t know that heI’ll be willing to forego the bacon. I happen to have quite a few cans of salmon, so I don’t think I’ll stop eating it, but may consume it less frequently.
Do you think all coconut products are problematic, or just coconut milk?
Hi Dorothy, it is hard to learn more sometimes!! I am so glad you asked about cordyceps mushrooms, because I hadn’t considered it yet. Turns out it’s low in copper, but relatively high in vitamin A. Here’s a study link showing it doesn’t rank for copper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7356751/ Here a chart of the quantity of A: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Vitamin-Composition-of-Cordyceps-militaris-Strain-CBS-132098_tbl3_282862407 My husband has continued to take it over the years on the low A diet without incident, so it may be the amount is not enough from just the supplement to be problematic, similar to using herbs in cooking. For you, perhaps weigh the benefit. If you get a lot of helpful energy from them, it may be fine to leave them in your diet, especially because no noteworthy copper in them! 🙂 I agree about the avocados; a hard one to reduce. I’m so glad you filter your water. Re coconut products, extra virgin or refined oils are both fine, and the water is fine, too. Coconut flour is probably not an issue, because most of the milk has been taken from it, and it’s used in small ratio in recipes.
I feel like you have become a friend! Thank you so much for sharing all you do and for all of your encouraging words! I joined LYL and have asked Dr. Smith some questions. Is your list of 50 high copper items in any particular order. I am trying to figure out which beans have the most copper. I am an under and think copper toxicity might apply.
Thanks for reading!
I love that Alfreda. It is my pleasure to have real relationships with my readers; I am so grateful and blessed. And so happy I can help! Yay about LYL. Yes, the list of 50 high copper foods is relatively in order (with highest being first), but some are equal to one another when they are listed consecutively. Some people in the group do avoid beans completely to overcome copper toxicity, but hopefully you can find a few that don’t give you symptoms so you can keep that variety and fiber. 🙂
Thank you so much for clarifying all this for me!
Blessings to you!
So happy to help! 🙂