Copper may be a trigger of Alzheimer's disease
August 19th, 2013
03:54 PM ET

Copper may be a trigger of Alzheimer's disease

Copper, which is found in anything from drinking water to red meats, may be an environmental trigger of Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

The study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests copper keeps toxic proteins from leaving the brain.

It is clear that, over time, copper impairs the systems through which amyloid beta is removed from the brain, said Rashid Deane, a research professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center  Department of Neurosurgery, member of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, and lead author of the study.  This causes the protein "to accumulate in the brain and form the plaques that are the hallmark of Alzheimer's disease."

Copper is usually found in drinking water that is carried by copper pipes.  It is also found in shellfish, meats, nuts and many vegetables and fruits.   The mineral is important for the body because it helps with the development of the nervous system, along with bone growth and hormone secretion.

Researchers looked at the effect of copper-laced drinking water on mice. They used low doses of copper over a three-month period. The dose was 10% of the maximum contaminant level set by the Environment Protection Agency.

"These are very low levels of copper, equivalent to what people would consume in a normal diet." said Deane. "We chose copper in water because it is easily absorbed in the blood."

Even with the low levels of copper, scientists found a buildup of toxic proteins in the brain. The toxic protein is called amyloid beta, which is a component of amyloid plaques that have been previously connected to Alzheimer's disease.

Research conducted using mice doesn't necessarily translate to humans, but study authors found that in both mice and human brain cells, copper exposure prohibited the removal of the harmful protein from the brain. Researchers also found that copper exposure led to a breakdown of the blood- brain barrier, making it easier for copper to get into the brain as well.

"Copper is an essential metal, and it is clear that these effects are due to exposure over a long period of time," said Deane. "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."

Deane says people should know more about copper and its effects.  "Because of what I do, I believe in preventive medicine and practices," notes Deane.  "Copper is essential.  But maybe, just maybe, if we are finding that copper is creating a problem in the brain, we should back off on supplements, look at labels on foods and know how much copper we are putting in our bodies.  We don't need to overdo it."

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soundoff (833 Responses)
  1. Bob

    quit eating pennies!!

    August 19, 2013 at 16:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • AdmRose

      Modern pennies are made of zinc. Eat one of those and you'll wish it were copper.

      August 20, 2013 at 01:17 | Report abuse |
    • william mason

      Si­nce I st­ar­t­ed fre­el­anci­ng I'v­e be­en br­in­gin­g i­n $­9­0 bu­ck­­s/h… I si­­t a­­t ho­me a­n­d i a­m do­in­g m­­y wo­rk fr­om m­y la­pt­op. Th­℮ be­st th­ing i­s th­a­t i g­­et mo­re ti­­me t­­o sp­e­­nt wi­th m­y fa­mily a­n­d wi­th m­y ki­ds a­nd i­n th­e sa­me ti­me i ca­n e­a­rn en­oug­h t­o su­pp­­ort them... Y­ou c­a­n d­o i­t t­oo. St­­art her­e-­-­-­-­>g­i­­g­­2­­5­.­­­ℴ­

      September 15, 2013 at 12:46 | Report abuse |
  2. us_1776

    I do not cook with tap water.


    August 19, 2013 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jzaks

      I don't cook.

      August 20, 2013 at 06:33 | Report abuse |
  3. EdL

    Holy Cow! A new 'study' by a 'researching' professor. How fortunate we are. Stand by for his next one, perhaps next week?

    August 19, 2013 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Unegen

      Still worth an order of magnitude more than your comment.

      August 20, 2013 at 12:28 | Report abuse |
    • davessworks

      Holy cow! That's an ignorant comment.

      August 20, 2013 at 14:57 | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Wizard

      Ignorance is bliss, right Edl?

      August 21, 2013 at 02:31 | Report abuse |
    • Miss Demeanor

      that don't make no sense. yew should join our bible study group... we don't do no thinkin' stuff. Anyways, what good has ever came outa' research work, right? we don't need no research to bring us new medicine and technology. if gawwwd wanted us to invent things he woulda' given folks like yew 'n me intelligence.

      August 21, 2013 at 09:53 | Report abuse |
  4. Boater39

    @us_1776: Yes you do. Even if it is not YOUR tap water, it is the bottling company's tap water....

    August 19, 2013 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. John Holroyd

    This is a deeply flawed argument. It is not too long ago that it was aluminum that was causing the problem. According to the article copper destroys the blood brain barrier which should increase its permeability to beta amyloid thus reducing the levels in the brain and CSF. Beta amyloid is an essential protein for human brain function. Too low a level is almost as bad as too high a level.

    August 19, 2013 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Suk

      So you did the research along with Rashid Deane and analyzed all the data? Strange how your name appears nowhere in the article. Stop being a keyboard-helper to real researchers.

      August 20, 2013 at 18:57 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Well, no; your comparison is deeply flawed. Aluminum was implicated in Alzheimer's by a single study back in the late 70s/early 80s, and the notion was dismissed almost immediately. Corroborating evidence has been very thin on the ground, and very few researchers believe aluminum exposure is implicated in Alzheimer's at all.

      You can thank an hysterical, Luddite public for perpetuating this urban myth.

      August 21, 2013 at 05:11 | Report abuse |
  6. ws

    Our family has mutation of the MTHFR gene. Because of it we cannot rid ourselves of environmental toxins including heavy metals. That includes copper. They all build up and make us sick. So for us heavy metal poisoning, copper toxicity not only causes physical, emotional, mental, developmental, reproductive, etc problems it also mimcs health problems. You treat the mutation and heavy metal toxicity and the problems it causes clear up including mimicked alzhemiers. 40% of the population has a mutation of this gene. Maybe with this article someday other things like our mutations will wake up mainstream medicine.

    August 19, 2013 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Stimpy

      MTHFR - mother fvcker gene? No wonder you've got problems.

      August 20, 2013 at 22:59 | Report abuse |
    • SixDegrees

      Although there is such a gene, your hysterical descriptions of it, its effects and prevalence are pure quackery.

      August 21, 2013 at 05:15 | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Demento

      Wait a minute. Quackery, you said? Now you're telling me this comes from DUCKS?

      September 4, 2013 at 03:24 | Report abuse |
  7. andrew

    Any essential nutrient, vitamin, protein, molecule, while having an ASSOCIATION with a dysfunction, cannot be blamed for it.

    Like copper, cholesterol is essential to good health. Your body makes it if you don't eat enough. But cholesterol has been vilified and made to appear to be poisonous, and anti-cholesterol drugs have made the medical, industrial complex billions of dollars.

    Pritikin, NOT a doctor or researcher, discovered the ASSOCIATION of cholesterol with heart attack. It was the success of his therapy that made the mainstream medical community take notice. But they didn't stop to think that it was Pritikin's protocol that reduced heart attacks, NOT the reduction in cholesterol that made the difference. High cholesterol is a MARKER for heart disease, NOT the cause.

    The cause is INFLAMMATION of major arteries feeding the heart. These are the most stressed tissues in the body. What is CAUSING the inflammation. Some studies point to a sub-clinical deficiency of Vitamin C. Most of us get enough to prevent scurvy but that disease is a CATASTROPHIC deficiency. Enough Vitamin C to prevent scurvy is NOT OPTIMUM.

    Animals that make their own vitamin C. make up to 5 GRAMS a DAY. How much do we get a day? RDA is woefully inadequate.

    Cholesterol is harnessed by the body to patch, stressed arteries that could bleed out if platelets don't do the job adequately. That cholesterol patches keep building up doesn't mean cholesterol is bad for you. the cholesterol is desperately trying to keep you alive. But as the NEED for that patch is never addressed, the build up continues until an artery clogs up due to a clot or even arterial spasms due to stress and other factors.

    August 19, 2013 at 20:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MS OF NY

      Andrew, That was very informative. Can you pls provide some references where I can read more about it? Thx.

      September 6, 2013 at 09:51 | Report abuse |
  8. andrew

    To WS.

    Consider doing CHELATION therapy to rid yourself of toxic, metals. This was developed some 60 years ago to help indusrial workers rid themselves of toxic build up of lead. None of those people necessarily had any genetic abnormality.

    August 19, 2013 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mr. Wizard

      Before you have chelton therapy done you better make sure the person doing it knows 100% what he or she is doing or it could kill you.

      August 21, 2013 at 02:36 | Report abuse |
    • I call BS

      Chelation therapy is hoakum, pure and simple. It doesn't work and it can be dangerous. Stop spamming about it.

      August 25, 2013 at 17:32 | Report abuse |
  9. Jessica

    What about someone with Wilsons disease where the body has an abundance of copper. Is the incidence getting Alzheimers disease higher for this person??

    August 19, 2013 at 22:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Bill

    IP6 (inositol hexaphosphate) is the best, most benign and cheapest copper chelator you're likely to find.

    I believe NAC (N-Acetylcysteine) also chelates copper.

    Both are "empty stomach" supplements, so take at least 30 minutes before meals with at least 8 ounces of water if you try either of these.

    Do your homework before trying any supplement and run them past your doctor for safety. Chelation is safe and effective when done slowly.

    August 19, 2013 at 23:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. BASHIR

    Can we just say aging (using coffer for "long period of time")?

    August 20, 2013 at 00:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. DyeDiet

    As almost always, the solution is SIMPLE: Eat real human food and drink pure water.
    From the other hand main principle of toxicology is known for centuries – Anything is TOXIC, dosage separate vitamin from toxin.

    August 20, 2013 at 03:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. abcd1

    there goes the eight glass of water daily requirement you need daily

    August 20, 2013 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gladr

      The eight glasses of water is a myth and has been debunked countless times.

      September 21, 2013 at 00:13 | Report abuse |
  14. SixDegrees

    These studies were performed on mice that produce abnormal amounts of amyloid proteins due to their genetics. I've read through the published work twice, and can't find any mention of how many mice were involved, although it's possible I missed that rather critical bit of information. In any case, similar studies done in humans have shown exactly the opposite effect – a slight increase in Alzheimer's in patients with low copper levels.

    August 20, 2013 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. E

    Great. Now water is bad for you too. I give up.

    August 20, 2013 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Demento

      You haven't been listening to Diana Nyad:

      "Never, ever give up."


      September 4, 2013 at 03:28 | Report abuse |
  16. JustaGuy

    Don't worry, be happy, smoke weed !

    August 20, 2013 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. boungiorno

    what about- pennies jewelry -pots pans- make up – house art paint-

    August 20, 2013 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. broughttou

    I bet the aluminum industry funded this study...

    August 20, 2013 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Gail

    I'll take this study with a grain of salt. In the 80's we were supposed to believe that aluminum cooking pans were the cause of Alzheimer's.

    August 20, 2013 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Tom

    Wasn't it aluminum that triggered it a few years ago? Wait! I know, everyone who every got Alzheimer's has been breathing oxygen! That must be it!

    August 20, 2013 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. dadguy

    wow! Now I know why bullets are so deadly!

    August 21, 2013 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Manohar Rao Vangoori

    We use water stored in copper Jars;does it mean We should switch to some other Jar Material?

    August 21, 2013 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dawn Canfield

    I wonder if any studies have been done on those that have Wilson's Disease and the correlation between those individuals and their incidence of Alzheimers?

    August 21, 2013 at 07:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. So.

    So, if you already have Wilson's Disease, you are probably screwed, for sure?

    August 29, 2013 at 08:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Woody

      Maybe yes, maybe no.

      But if you've got a Wilson GLOVE, you can still play shortstop.

      September 4, 2013 at 03:32 | Report abuse |
  25. Bryan

    The article reports nothing at all new. Similar research was reported nearly a decade ago:

    Bellingham SA, Lahiri DK, Maloney B, La Fontaine S, Multhaup G, Camakaris J.
    J Biol Chem. 2004 May 7;279(19):20378-86. Epub 2004 Feb 25.
    Copper depletion down-regulates expression of the Alzheimer's disease amyloid-beta precursor protein gene.

    September 4, 2013 at 12:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. EC

    Copper is not only found in drinking water and red meats, but also legumes, nuts, grains, fruits, shellfish, and avocado. I wonder how much copper is needed to cause damage to the blood brain barrier and allow for the formation of beta-amyloid plaques? Also, why does it take so long for copper to damage the BBB?

    September 19, 2013 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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    September 23, 2013 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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