Excess iron and copper contribute to chronic disease and aging

Both iron and copper serve vital functions, but as we age excess stores of these metals may build and become toxic. A report from the American Chemical Society1 suggests that iron and copper toxicity are unrecognized but significant threats to public health, in particular for adults over the age of 50.

pennyIron is crucial for oxygen transport and the proper function of several enzymes and proteins. Similarly, copper is also a component of enzymes that catalyze important reactions in several of the body’s cells and tissues. The human body evolved to store excess iron and copper to fuel these vital processes in case of extreme conditions like bleeding or famine, but their accumulation over time may be detrimental because both metals are involved in the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).

It is now generally accepted that oxidative damage, a byproduct of oxygen-dependent energy production, contributes to chronic diseases and aging.

Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is one of the initial steps of atherosclerotic plaque development. Epidemiological associations between body stores of each of these metals and atherosclerosis have been found, and this is thought to be due to ROS production.2 

Oxidative damage and depletion of the brain’s natural antioxidant defenses are implicated in the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Because the brain uses more oxygen and produces more energy than any other organ, it is the most vulnerable organ to oxidative damage. The high iron content of the brain, even higher in those with excessive iron stores, makes the brain even more vulnerable to oxidative stress.3

In people at least 65 years of age who consumed diets high in saturated and trans fats, copper intake was associated with accelerated cognitive decline. Copper bound to cholesterol is also commonly found in the β-amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.4

Excess quantities of these metals primarily come from meat, followed by multivitamin/multimineral supplements. Copper in supplements and drinking water is even more toxic than copper derived from food sources.1   

The author of this new report has outlined steps that we can take to limit our exposure to copper and iron, including:

  • Avoiding or minimizing red meat consumption

  • Avoiding drinking water from copper pipes

  • Choosing a multivitamin that does not contain copper and iron. 

Dr. Fuhrman designed his Gentle Care Formula multivitamin/multimineral to be free of potentially toxic ingredients like copper and iron.



1. American Chemical Society (2010, January 22). Consumers over age 50 should consider cutting copper and iron intake, report suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/01/100120113553.htm 

Brewer GJ. Risks of Copper and Iron Toxicity during Aging in Humans. Chem Res Toxicol. 2009 Dec 7. [Epub ahead of print]

2. Brewer GJ. Iron and Copper Toxicity in Diseases of Aging, Particularly Atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease. Exp Biol Med 232 (2): 323. 2007

3. Kidd PM. Neurodegeneration from Mitochondrial Insufficiency: Nutrients, Stem Cells, Growth Factors, and Prospects for Brain Rebuilding Using Integrative Management. Alternative Medicine Review 2005;10(4):268-293

4. Morris MC et al. Dietary copper and high saturated and trans fat intakes associated with cognitive decline. Arch Neurol. 2006 Aug;63(8):1085-8.

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Sam - February 3, 2010 3:55 PM

This brings to mind the heme (found in meat products) vs non-heme (plant-sourced) iron. Meat-eaters argue that heme iron is superior since it is more easily absorbed by the body. It is true that it absorbs more easily. But this does not make it superior as it overlooks the fact that it is absorbed whether the body needs it or not. Therefore this is actually a disadvantage as it contributes to excessive iron in the body. With non-heme (plant source) iron, the body can aborb as little or as much as it requires.

John Robbin's wrote a nice summary on this point: http://tinyurl.com/yz9rnpa

Nancy - February 3, 2010 9:35 PM

I had a D.O. that thought I had too much copper from taking the birth control pill for too many years. I went off that and she then said to take a magnesium supplement and workout to get myself back to normal. I wasn't really feeling well is why I saw her in the first place. I eventually felt better though I don't know which change contributed to it. Anyone heard of too much copper accumulation from taking birth control pills? Oh yes, and strangely enough she made this diagnosis from the color of my nipples. Weird, I know, but I did end up feeling better.

mada - February 5, 2010 12:42 PM


After more than 10 years of vegetarianism I found myself with the following problem:

1. High levels of iron in the blood samples. (more than upper limit mentioned by laboratory)

2. At the same time my Ferreting levels were abnormally low....

3. Low B12 levels, and high homocysteine (more than upper limit mentioned by laboratory)

A friend of mine, which was vegetarian for about 18 years and vegan during last year, found the same pattern. (only worse than in my case)

What could be the explanation for the high iron levels and very low ferritin levels in my blood?

Could it be that very low B12 status, prevent the iron to be assimilated? I read that B12 is required for iron absorption ...

Any other explanations that you can think of?


Jeff Richards - June 12, 2010 9:36 AM

My wife swears that "women" need more iron than a man. Is this true?

Shasha, Scotland - August 7, 2010 9:31 AM

Im really worried now... i eat a great deal of green iron filled veg but regardless of this im still so anaemic that at first my doctor worried i had leukemia. I didn't though it turned out that im only anaemic, i say only as my doctor didn't tell me it was a big deal, even when i told him i wasn't taking my prescribed iron tabs as they were making me constipated. Years later i read an article about anaemia and heart disease/attack the article told of a study done on heart attack, heart disease and found that 48% of those with heart disease and 43% of those who had taken heart attacks were found to be anaemic, apparently because of a lack of red blood cells the heart has to work alot harder to pump blood and oxegen round the body. So i instantly started taking my iron tablets (but bought a carton of senna tabs too!)because since my teens i could always feel my heart beat so hard it sometimes felt like it would burst through my chest and most times i stood up i would be so dizzy i'd have to sit back down again until it passed, even my friends notice my clothes pulsating away, So now after reading this post im confused with what to do? give up my youthfulness or go back to dizzy spells and a facial colour of greenish grey? this is a hard one for me... and i know this may sound shallow but i'm a very pretty 28yr old but look alot younger and want to stay that way as long as humanly possible but don't want to die of a premature heart attack either, Please help and please forgive my british spelling. x x x

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