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Copper in food linked to Alzheimer’s disease

Copper is a necessary mineral in our diets, crucial to a healthy lifestyle. However, new research suggests that it may be a contributing factor in Alzheimer’s disease. This is an excellent example of how the public must take scientific development and research with a grain of salt, so to speak. While this new research from the University of Rochester in New York and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that copper may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, previous research has actually shown the opposite effect, with copper helping to maintain brain health. Copper plays a significant role in “nerve conduction, bone growth, the formation of connective tissue, and hormone secretion,” explains a press release from the University of Rochester.

In the new research, the team dosed mice with copper over a three month period. The exposure was through trace amounts of copper in the drinking water and was 1/10 of the standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency. The scientists found that too much buildup of copper in the brain could cause the blood-brain barrier to break down. As a result, the protein amyloid beta, a byproduct of cellular activity, accumulated in the brain. Amyloid beta is thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

The mice were exposed to a very low level of copper compared to what humans are exposed to in their typical diet. This copper made its way into the blood stream and got caught in the walls of the capillaries near the brain, building up to toxic levels. The cells are an important part of the brain’s defense system. Researchers observed this impact on amyloid beta in both mice and human brain cells. The copper actually stimulated production of amyloid beta. Then it interacted with the protein to form so-called “logjams” that the brain’s waste disposal system was unable to clear. The scientist cite this effect as evidence that copper is a key player in Alzheimer’s disease.

Tap water that travels through copper pipes, fruits, vegetables, red meat and shellfish are all sources of copper in the human diet. Scientists urge caution in interpreting this new research.

“Considering copper is a vital mineral for the body, people should treat these results with caution and not cut it out of their diet. More research is needed to understand the role that copper might play in the brain,” Dr. Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society told BBC News.