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Reduce dietary copper absorption by supplementing with zinc; consult your doctor to determine the correct amount to use
Work with a nutritionist to make sure you avoid eating foods that are high in copper
Wilson's disease is a genetic disorder that results in excessive accumulation of copper in many parts of the body, particularly the liver.
This condition is readily treatable, but if Wilson's disease is left untreated, it can be fatal.
Wilson's disease is initially silent and may first be noticed as fatigue, absent menstrual periods in premenopausal women, or repeated and unexplained spontaneous abortions. In more advanced stages, there may be headaches, tremors, uncoordinated limb movements, unsteady gait, drooling, difficulty swallowing, and joint pain. There also may also be strange thought patterns with unusual behaviors.
Most foods contain at least some copper, so it is not possible to avoid the metal completely. Foods high in copper, such as organ meats and oysters, should be eliminated from the diet. Some foods are relatively high in copper but are quite nutritious (for example, nuts and legumes)—these foods should be eaten in moderation by people with Wilson's disease. Grains contain significant amounts of copper but are important components of a healthful diet, and dietary restriction may be neither wise nor necessary, particularly if zinc is supplemented.
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Zinc is known for its ability to reduce copper absorption and has been used successfully in patients with Wilson's disease, with some trials lasting for years years. Researchers have called zinc a "remarkably effective and nontoxic therapy for Wilson's disease." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of zinc to treat Wilson's disease for maintenance therapy following drug therapy, although some scientists recommend that it be considered for initial therapy as well.
Zinc has also been used to keep normal copper levels from rising in people with Wilson's disease who had previously been treated successfully with prescription drugs. Zinc (50 mg taken three times per day) has been used for such maintenance therapy, though some researchers have used the same amount of zinc to successfully treat people with Wilson's disease who had not received drug therapy.
Zinc is so effective in lessening the body's burden of copper that a copper deficiency was reported in someone with Wilson's disease who took too much (480 mg per day) zinc. Nonetheless, zinc may not help everyone with Wilson's disease. Sometimes increased copper levels can occur in the liver after zinc supplementation; however, leading researchers believe this increase is temporary and may not be not harmful.
Zinc supplementation (25 mg or 50 mg three times daily) has also been used to successfully treat pregnant women with Wilson's disease. Management of Wilson's disease with zinc should only be undertaken with the close supervision of a doctor.
Last Review: 06-08-2015
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