Copper may play a role in Alzheimer's disease

August 19, 2003 in Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Copper may play a role in Alzheimer's disease

How much copper you take in could influence your risk of Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers reported this month.

Their studies have only been done in rabbits so far, but raise important questions about the amount of copper allowed into the water supply. Rabbits that drank distilled water did not develop an animal version of Alzheimer’s disease, but when ordinary tap water containing copper was given to them, they did.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a maximum contaminant level goal for copper in drinking water of 1.3 parts per million. Levels in the rabbits' drinking water were well below that. The research work was done in a rabbit model of Alzheimer's disease. The rabbits develop symptoms and physical signs of the condition when fed a high-cholesterol diet.

It’s thought that copper somehow interferes with the body's ability to clear the amyloid-beta protein that is an important component of the senile plaques that clog up the brain of an Alzheimer's disease patient. If there is no copper in the water, then the amyloid beta is shuttled to the blood for clearance.

Genetic as well as environmental causes seem to contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but the precise cause is still unclear.

These researchers have been working with rabbit models of Alzheimer's disease for years. Every time they fed a rabbit cholesterol, it got Alzheimer's pathology.

That is, until the lab moved locations. It turns out the rabbits there were given distilled water, while all the other research animals Sparks had worked with got tap water. They analyzed the tap water from previous labs and found it contained copper. When the rabbits at the new location were fed tap water, they also developed Alzheimer's symptoms.

When Sparks added copper to the distilled water and gave the rabbits cholesterol, they also developed Alzheimer's-like symptoms and brain lesions.

This does not mean that copper pipes are bad. However, acid in the water can cause copper to leach out.

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.