What to Know About Copper Toxicity

Most people think of copper as a shiny, brass-colored metal that is used to make pennies. But copper is also an essential nutrient that can affect overall health. Copper helps keep skin, nails, and hair healthy, and even helps fetus development during pregnancy. It also aids in collagen formation and other connective tissues, and it acts as an antibiotic to prevent damage to your DNA and cells. 

The metal is important to make sure bodies are healthy and that they function as they should. However, too much copper can also cause issues. This guide will tell you what you need to know about copper toxicity and some important things to keep in mind as it relates to your health, including the impact of the copper IUD (intrauterine device) Paragard

What Is Copper Toxicity?

Copper toxicity is caused by too much copper in the body. While copper is an important mineral found in the body, it is only found in trace amounts. This means only a small amount is needed to be healthy. Copper binds to proteins in the body to help make red blood cells, form collagen, absorb iron, and maintain nerve and immune systems. 

When copper is not bound to proteins, it is known as unbound or free copper, which is not considered healthy and can even be toxic. This can occur in two ways: through inherited genes or acquired through external sources. 

Genetic toxicosis is a hereditary disease where the liver does not function properly, which leads to a buildup of copper in the body and, therefore, copper toxicity. Acquired copper toxicity is caused by taking in too much copper either from an unbalanced diet or other sources like contaminated water or cookware. 

The most common ways of acquiring copper toxicity include eating copper-rich foods or too many dietary supplements. Foods like organ meats, shellfish, and some leafy greens are high in copper and can lead to copper toxicity when eaten too often. 

Where Do Bodies Get Our Supply of Copper?

Copper is mainly obtained through food sources, but it can also be found in water and even in the air. In some cases, it is ingested as a byproduct of contaminated sources, such as copper sulfate deposits from old cookware and aging pipes. Copper can even be found in the soil, especially near facilities that use combustion or incineration in their operations.

Contaminated food and water can also cause copper toxicity, as can drinking acidic beverages, and eating or drinking from copper containers can cause you to ingest high amounts of copper.

What Foods Are High in Copper?

Copper is found in higher amounts in these foods:

  • Seafood – Oysters, squid, lobster, mussels, crabs, and clams
  • Organs – Beef liver, kidneys, and hearts
  • Nuts and nut butters – Cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, peanut butter, almonds, and pistachios
  • Legumes – Soybeans, lentils, and peanuts
  • Chocolate – Unsweetened and semisweet baker’s chocolate and cocoa
  • Enriched cereals – Bran flakes, shredded wheat, and raisin bran
  • Whole grains – Oats, barley, and quinoa
  • Fruits and dried fruits – Bananas, grapes, and avocado
  • Vegetables – Mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, asparagus, parsley, chard, beans, and sweet potatoes
  • Others – Blackstrap molasses, black pepper, sunflower seeds, and soybeans

What Are Common Symptoms of Copper Toxicity?

The most common general signs of copper poisoning or toxicity are:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Fainting
  • General malaise
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody vomit
  • Black stool
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Brown ring-like markings around eyes (Kayser-Fleischer rings)
  • Jaundice of the skin and eyes

According to Psychology Today, common mental and behavioral symptoms include:

  • Anxiousness and irritability
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Overexcitement
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Feeling unusually sad
  • Sudden mood changes

How Does Copper Impact Your Health?

A lack of copper can lead to a deficiency that develops into anemia, osteoarthritis, and osteoporosis, per Healthline. While these are true causes for concern and tell us that copper is a needed part of biology, too much copper can also end up being fatal. Severe toxicity affects major organ function when it builds up in your brain, liver, and lungs. Long-term levels of copper and copper toxicity can lead to certain kidney conditions, liver damage or liver failure, heart failure, brain damage, and eventually, death.

What Medical Conditions Cause Copper Toxicity?

High copper levels and copper toxicity can lead to serious medical conditions, including genetic conditions that make it hard for the liver to filter out copper efficiently. These medical conditions include:

  • Wilson’s disease
  • Menkes disease
  • Liver disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Anemia
  • Hypo- or hyperthyroidism
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Brain, liver, and breast cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

High copper diets and copper supplements can also affect how medications work in the body, so it is best to ask a doctor before taking any copper supplements. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition, birth control medications and estrogen replacement for post-menopausal women can elevate copper levels in the blood, as can penicillamine and various medications for gastrointestinal conditions. 

Alternatively, anti-inflammatory medications, some gout medications, and zinc supplements can drastically lower copper levels. This can lead to a deficiency and other health problems. 

How Do You Treat Copper Toxicity?

Copper toxicity is usually treated with medication along with other medical procedures if necessary, according to Merck Manual

  • Chelation – Injected directly into the bloodstream. Binds all copper in the blood together so the kidneys can filter and expel it from the body.
  • Stomach pumping – Removes recently ingested copper from your stomach using a suction tube.
  • Hemodialysis – A device directly pumps and filters the blood for copper waste, like the kidneys normally do.
  • Other medications – Penicillamine and dimercaprol are taken in combination with other treatments to reduce copper toxicity’s effects.
  • Surgery – In extreme cases, it may be necessary to receive a liver transplant.

How Common Is Copper Toxicity?

In those without other health complications, cases of copper toxicity are rare, per Medical News Today. Most are the result of accidental over-consumption of copper or the result of contaminated food, air, and water sources. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, large industrial factories released about 1.4 billion pounds of copper into the environment in 2000. A study published in StatPearls suggests that those at higher risk, such as those with Wilson’s disease, are more likely to experience copper poisoning than the general population.

What Is Wilson’s Disease?

As the Mayo Clinic explains, Wilson’s disease is an inherited genetic disorder that prevents the body from naturally metabolizing copper. The condition puts people with the disease at a higher risk for copper toxicity. Diagnosis usually occurs between ages 5 to 35 and causes copper accumulation in vital organs like the liver and brain. When diagnosed early, the condition is treatable if it is managed properly. Using copper IUDs like Paragard can put those with Wilson’s disease at risk for copper poisoning.

What Is Paragard?

Paragard is a hormone-free IUD (intrauterine device) that is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. The device can last up to 10 years and works by utilizing copper to produce a physiological reaction that makes the body inhospitable for sperm and eggs. It is the only copper IUD currently available in the United States.

How Do Copper IUDs Work?

Some IUDs are copper-based, and they are designed to create localized inflammation in the uterus to prevent fertilization and pregnancy. This can cause unintended side effects as well, including longer or heavier menstrual cycles, abdominal cramping, fatigue, painful intercourse, and vaginal discharge. 

While there is no evidence present that copper IUDs cause copper poisoning, there can be cases where they aggravate or affect any pre-existing conditions that already influence the liver’s ability to process copper. This is especially true of Paragard, which is entirely made from copper. There have been suspicions that the product aggravates patients with Wilson’s disease because the disease is defined by a higher accumulation of copper in the body. 

What Are Paragard’s Side Effects?

General side effects from the copper IUD Paragard include the same that most IUDs have: spotting between periods, vaginal irritation and discharge, backaches, and cramping. Most of these side effects go away on their own. The Paragard website warns that if they do not, users should seek medical care.

Paragard also has more serious side effect risks, including:

  • Higher risk for ectopic and intrauterine pregnancy
  • Higher risk of infection after immediate insertion
  • Higher risk for pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Higher risk for endometritis 
  • Embedment of the IUD into the wall of the uterus
  • Perforation of the IUD through the uterine wall
  • Expulsion of the IUD from the body
  • Changes in period flow or length
  • Dizziness, seizures, and slower heart rate

How Does Wilson’s Disease Affect Paragard Users?

Complications from Wilson’s disease can cause those using Paragard IUDs to develop copper toxicity. After insertion, Paragard causes an increased level of copper to be released into the body. This can overload the liver and further accumulate in the brain. 

Can Paragard Cause Copper Toxicity?

Because Paragard is made of copper, it can worsen the symptoms and complications associated with Wilson’s disease. Copper IUDs do not have a direct link to causing copper toxicity itself, but they can cause other symptoms and complications related to copper levels in the body. 

One 1996 study published in Allergy found that copper IUD use can cause severe allergies to copper, while a 2006 study published in Contraception discovered that first-time copper IUD users can lose more blood during their periods, possibly leading to anemia. 

Paragard Symptoms Don’t Always Appear Right Away

While there is no evidence that Paragard and other copper IUDs can cause copper toxicity on their own, it can certainly be said that it might in certain cases, such as in Wilson’s disease patients who use Paragard.

Complications from Paragard can take time to appear, sometimes even years following insertion. Patients who experience symptoms of copper toxicity after Paragard IUD insertion should first seek immediate medical care. Then, they may want to get in touch with a Paragard lawsuit lawyer about their potential legal case.

Signs and Symptoms of Copper Toxicity to Watch For

Signs of copper toxicity from IUDs are similar to the general signs, but the symptoms can be more specifically focused on the abdomen after the device is inserted. Paragard users that experience the following symptoms should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting blood
  • Sudden, unexplained changes in mood
  • Depression

Is There a Class Action Lawsuit Against Paragard?

Currently, there is not an active class action lawsuit against Paragard for copper toxicity. However, attorneys are actively filing lawsuits on behalf of those who have suffered other injuries from using the device. Though Paragard has existed since the 1980s, there have been numerous recent claims that the device frequently breaks and embeds itself into other organs other than the uterus.  

Cases are being consolidated into single multidistrict litigation (MDL), which will help the federal courts manage related cases filed in different jurisdictions. 

Latest News in Paragard Legal Issues

Teva Pharmaceuticals last recalled a small batch of faulty Paragard devices in 2014 as of this writing. The manufacturer did this voluntarily, but the recall was not widespread. Paragard remains available on the market. 

Still, many lawsuits have been filed against Paragard for causing harm. Many users have alleged that the IUD broke and caused serious injuries during routine removal, resulting in upwards of 1,000 Paragard lawsuits pending. 

If There Is No Class Action Lawsuit Against Paragard for Causing Copper Toxicity, Can I Still File a Lawsuit?

Yes. Just because there isn’t a class action lawsuit regarding Paragard causing copper toxicity, this does not mean it does not happen. You can still file a case, even if no class action lawsuits exist. 

If you believe you or a loved one has suffered copper toxicity or copper poisoning after Paragard insertion, it is possible to file a case. An attorney can look over the details of your case and help you pursue legal action. 

Get a Free Case Evaluation in a Paragard Copper Toxicity Case

Many patients are unaware of the associated dangers that come with copper IUD insertion, and even less so when those complications are associated with prior medical histories with Wilson’s disease.

If you have suffered copper toxicity after receiving a Paragard implant, you can connect with a personal injury lawyer in our network who can review your situation and let you know what legal options you have. You may be able to recover damages from your case. Fill out our form for a free case evaluation today.