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Wilson's Disease

The excessive accumulation of the mineral copper in different parts of the human body is characterized as a particular disorder known as Wilson's disease. The condition is a genetic disorder that leads to copper accumulation in the body and particularly in the liver of the affected person. The condition can lead to fatalities if it is left untreated. Wilson's disease is however, very easily treatable and an affected person must be treated at detection.

Some of the symptomatic signs of the condition are a faintly noticed but persistent physical fatigue, in women it can be the absence of menstrual periods, and it can also be related to the repeated and unexplained spontaneous abortions in many women. The initial symptoms of the condition are very silent and the condition is gradual in development and requires some time to detect and diagnose correctly. The presence of headaches, muscular tremors, and uncoordinated limb movements and general body motion, the development of a sudden unsteady gait, involuntary drooling, problems swallowing, and persistent pain in the joints are all symptoms of the more advanced stages of the condition. Unusual behaviors are also often displayed by affected individuals and the individual may experience strange thought patterns as a form of the psychological manifestation of the condition.

It is however, not possible to avoid copper in the diet completely or with any degree of certainty as the majority of foods contain at least some copper, even in so called trace amounts. But some steps can be taken in this regard; organ meats and oysters are rich in copper and can be eliminated from the diet of the affected individual. People with Wilson's disease can also moderate their intake of certain foods which are relatively high in copper but may be important in other aspects and could even be quite nutritious-good examples are the majority of nuts and legumes. If supplementations of the mineral zinc are carried out, dietary restrictions of food grains need not be done and are not strictly necessary even though food grains contain significant amounts of copper-however these are an important components of a healthy diet and are required for other metabolic needs of the body.

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Supplements and herbs

Wilson's disease affected individuals can benefit from supplementation with zinc and its peculiar property of reducing the amounts of absorbed copper within the body-this form of supplementation has been carried out successfully in many patients over numerous trials lasting several years and thus it is a proven method of treating Wilson's disease. In fact the mineral zinc has been acclaimed by many researchers as a (in their words) "remarkably effective and nontoxic therapy for the treatment of Wilson's disease". While many of the scientist who treat Wilson's disease have suggested the use of supplemental zinc as an initial therapeutic measure, the FDA has not yet given its approval however and at the same time the FDA- the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of zinc to treat Wilson's disease at least during what is known as maintenance therapy which the immediate period that follows successful drug therapy of Wilson's disease.

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Even in people who have already undergone a successful treatment using some prescription medications the use of zinc is still suggested to keep copper at normal levels and to prevent it from rising in people with Wilson's disease after treatment. Maintenance therapy is the primary arena of supplementary zinc-taken at 50 mg thrice each day during the period of maintenance therapy, however, the successful use of zinc supplements has been achieved by other doctors who prescribed zinc as initial therapy supplements without the use of any other drug therapy and without resorting to drug therapy at all. Thus Wilson's disease can be treated through the use of supplements of zinc by itself and drug therapy is not necessarily required in all cases.

The effectiveness of zinc as a supplement can be gleaned from one report where a deficiency in copper was actually reported in someone with Wilson's disease. This person took excess doses of zinc, at around 480 mg per day to treat the condition. There is a word of caution here, all Wilson's disease affected individuals may not necessarily benefit from supplements of zinc. This is because even after supplementation with zinc the increased levels of copper in organs like the liver can immediately occur as soon as the treatment begins. This is however, not a serious issue and may researchers suggest that the temporary accumulation of copper in the liver is just a passing phase and all copper drops to normal levels once prolonged supplementation is initiated using zinc as the supplement; they also claim this rise in copper is not necessary harmful to the patient.

Even pregnant women with Wilson's disease have been successfully treated using zinc supplementation alone; dosages for these women were at 25 mg or 50 mg taken three times daily. However, it is essential to have some form of clinical supervision when undertaking the treatment of Wilson's disease through supplements of zinc, consult your doctor about how to go about it and let him or her play a supervisory function.

Many dietary supplements like all forms of multimineral and multivitamin-mineral preparations have a very high copper content. Therefore as far as patients with Wilson's disease are concerned the use of any supplements containing even small amounts of copper should not be consumed in any appreciable quantity or regularly.

Herbs that are useful for treating Wilson's disease are mentioned below.

Astragalus is an excellent herb for treating ailments related to the liver. This herb augments liver metabolism and also helps in removing toxic substances from the liver. Astragalus may also be useful for augmenting the emission of surplus copper from the liver as well as the kidneys. While this herb is primarily effectual in treating viral hepatitis, it also possesses the aptitude to treat degeneration of the liver owing to Wilson's disease.

The herb cordyceps is generally employed in Chinese herbal medicine. It helps to enhance the functioning of the liver and, at the same time, promotes the metabolic process in the liver.

Dandelion helps to augment the functioning of the liver and aid the removal of toxic substances from the body. Hence, dandelion may be used in the form of an alternative remedy to support other medications given to a patient suffering from Wilson's disease.

Milk thistle is an effective herb for treating various disorders of the liver, counting cirrhosis of liver. People suffering from Wilson's disease may also find this herb beneficial. Milk thistle also put off harm to the liver as well as the hepatic tissues. However, more studies are necessary to assess its effectiveness in treating Wilson's disease.

Turmeric has the ability to protect the liver and several studies have corroborated this attribute of the herb. People suffering from Wilson's disease may take turmeric in the form of a supportive herb to facilitate treatment.

Additional things you may do

In some cases, physicians may suggest the patients suffering from Wilson's disease to restrict their copper consumption during the first year of their treatment. When the symptoms and signs of the disease draw away, there is a decline in levels of copper in the patient's body and at this stage the patient may again incorporate foods containing copper in their diet.

Several foods have a rich copper content and some of these include vitamins and supplements containing copper; avocados; animal liver; bran products; chocolate; dried peas, lentils, and beans; mushrooms; shellfish and nuts.

Provided there are copper pipes in your home, it is advisable that you get the copper levels of the tap water tested. However, the water supplied by majority of the municipalities does not have elevated copper levels.

In case you have copper pipes in your home, it is advisable that you should allow the tap water to run for a few minutes prior to collecting the water for drinking and cooking purposes. In fact, it is possible that water that remains in the copper pipes will collect copper particles. When you run the water for some time, it helps to flush out the contaminated water from the copper pipes.

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