The Killer in Your Food That’s Causing Alzheimer’s?

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160930771It wasn’t too long ago that scientists discovered that drinking water that had passed through lead pipes wasn’t the best for our health. Lead is a toxin that has been linked to a number of adverse health effects. As is often the case with toxic substances, babies and children are affected more deeply than adults. Children exposed to lead through drinking water can experience developmental delays and have difficulty learning. As for adults, lead that accumulates in the body over time can cause blood pressure to go up and usher in kidney problems.

Source water doesn’t usually contain any lead. The problem with too much lead entering the body occurs when pipes made from lead start to corrode. Even copper pipes can be soldered with lead, and can be a source of lead poisoning. Most houses built before 1986 likely contain some lead piping. Brass or chrome-plated faucets have also been found to be a source of lead contamination. These fittings can leach significant amounts of lead into tap water, especially when the water is hot.

Many people have done their homework around the possible toxic effects of lead pipes and have installed copper pipes instead. New homes are now built with copper piping or PVC. Copper pipes are expensive, but at least they won’t corrode and leach lead into your tap water.

However—and this is a bit of bad news for everyone who has invested in copper piping—this metal potentially has its own adverse health effects, according to a study recently performed in the U.S.

A research team discovered that when high amounts of copper were found in the brain, it struggled to perform basic preventative functions. Instead of being able to get rid of harmful proteins that can trigger symptoms of dementia, a copper-laden brain seems to be unable to perform the task. Copper somehow interfered with the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and the brain wasn’t able to remove the proteins. Copper also triggered an increase in production of these harmful proteins.

The silver lining in all of this is that in previous studies, copper has been found to be beneficial in small amounts. Human brains with lower levels of copper—below what is considered essential in the diet—had higher amounts of beta amyloid plaques. In fact, lower total copper was associated with aging and Alzheimer’s.

Is copper good or bad for you? Researchers still aren’t sure if normal exposure to copper is OK for the brain. It could be that it is only excessive copper that is linked to Alzheimer’s progression. More studies need to be conducted to understand exactly what role copper plays in the brain.

In North America, the recommended intake for copper is 900 micrograms/day for adults. Going above this or below this may have consequences in terms of your health. Copper is needed by your body to support proper functioning of your organs and metabolic processes. Trace amounts of copper can be found in many foods, including seafood, organ meats, whole grains, beans, lentils, and chocolate.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Gallagher, J., “Copper linked to Alzheimer’s disease,” BBC News Health web site, August 19, 2013; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-23755037, last accessed August 29, 2013.
Singh, I., et al., “Low levels of copper disrupt brain amyloid-β homeostasis by altering its production and clearance,” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. Aug 19, 2013.
Kouamou, E., et al., “An uncommon etiology of anemia: copper deficiency,” Ann Biol Clin (Paris). August 1, 2013; 71(4): 481-484.

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