Scientists have been trying to learn more about the connection between metals, including aluminum, iron and copper, and Alzheimer's disease (AD)... and now a new study at the University of Rochester brings new information, suggesting that copper may facilitate the development of AD by damaging a specific protein in the brain.
Scientists had previously learned that excess beta amyloid, a protein fragment, typically litters the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. The question that hadn't been answered was "what creates this build-up?" To answer it, associate professor Rashid Deane, PhD, and his colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center added low levels of copper (0.12 milligrams per liter, or about 1/10 the amount the EPA legally permits) to the drinking water of healthy mice and discovered that even this tiny amount increased the levels of brain beta amyloid. How? It seems that the copper damages a substance called LRP (low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein), which is responsible for escorting excess beta amyloid out of the brain in order to keep levels normal. However, high levels of copper tax this process, thus leaving elevated levels of beta amyloid in the brain.
Dr. Deane says more research is needed before we can conclusively link copper to Alzheimer's disease. It remains unclear whether other metals -- such as aluminum -- contribute to AD (for more about Alzheimer's, see Daily Health News, September 13, 2005). Even for copper, scientists need to look further into whether certain people are more susceptible than others. He points out that a certain amount of copper is actually necessary for good health, as it helps maintain bone strength, metabolism and skin, hair and eye pigment, and also helps nerves. Copper is found in meat, seafood, nuts and fruits and vegetables. Researchers are planning further study on the levels of copper in the body of AD patients versus healthy people. We'll keep you in the loop.