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Can Too Much Copper Cause Alzheimer’s?

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Does copper increase your risk of acquiring Alzheimer’s? A recent study suggests that it may harm the brain but there are conflicting opinions about this newest research. The theory, as proposed by scientists at the University of Rochester in New York, is that high levels of copper ‘interfere with the brains’ shielding-the blood brain barrier’.

Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States. And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 5.2 million Americans have this disease or some other form of dementia. A number that will rise to almost 23.8 million by 2050, as the boomer population ages.

The lead scientist in the study, neuroscientist Rashid Deane found that a “steady diet of copper, even at entirely allowable levels, breaks down the barrier that keeps unwanted toxins from entering the brain, and that it fuels an increase in production of beta-amyloid but impedes the performance of proteins that clear the stuff from the brain.”  (LA Times, 8/19)

People with Alzheimer’s develop plaques in the brain, microscopic clumps of a protein called beta-amyloid peptide. For more information about the causes and symptoms of Alzheimer’s see the Alzheimer Organization website.

The study raises as many questions as it tries to answer. How much copper is enough and how much is too much? The results of the study didn’t lead to any conclusions on the optimal level of copper. But Deane does seem to feel that one day diet may be crucial to preventing the disease.

It would be nearly impossible to avoid consuming copper. Copper is a trace mineral residing in body tissues. Our bodies need it to help keep blood vessels, bones and our immune system healthy. Copper is found in many foods, including whole grains, dark leafy greens, potatoes, yeast, nuts and organ meats. It is also an ingredient in vitamin supplements and in drinking water that comes through copper pipes.

“It is clear that, over time, copper’s cumulative effect is to impair the systems by which amyloid beta is removed from the brain,” said Deane. “This impairment is one of the key factors that cause the protein to accumulate in the brain and form the plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.” (BBC News)