Copper: Alzheimer's cause? A new study links the common metal copper with the debilitating disease Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia that worsens as it progresses, eventually becoming fatal. Forbes on Aug. 25 discussed the study and the link to humans.
The study, performed by a team of researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), examined a possible link between exposure to copper in mice and the neurological effect.
The National Monitor explained how the study took place:
“The mice were given water with higher levels of copper, which interfered with the manner in which the blood-brain barrier functioned. As a result, these mice had higher levels of beta amyloid, a protein that forms plaques in the brain that are characteristic of a brain of someone that dies from Alzheimer’s. In addition, higher levels of copper can cause more of the protein to be produced, exacerbating the problem.”
Lead researcher and study author Rashid Deane, a professor in the department of neurosurgery at URMC, explained that their findings showed an accumulation of the toxic proteins in exposed mice.
“It is clear that, over time, copper's cumulative effect is to impair the systems by which amyloid beta is removed from the brain,” Deane said. “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.”
Copper is freely found in certain foods – shellfish and red meats being the main sources – but can also be found in fruits and vegetables that have absorbed copper from ground water. Copper also leaches from water pipes into our drinking water.
Researchers were quick to caution that while the effect was clear in tested mice, the same results would be more ambiguous among humans, and they have yet to determine the exposure rate at which this breakdown occurs.
“Copper is an essential metal and it is clear that these effects are due to exposure over a long period of time,” Deane said. “The key will be striking the right balance between too little and too much copper consumption. Right now we cannot say what the right level will be, but diet may ultimately play an important role in regulating this process.”