Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that damages the brain cells, leading to memory loss and the loss of other mental functions. Alzheimer’s disease is known as being the most common cause of dementia, which is an umbrella term to describe disorders that lead to a persistent decline in thinking, behavioral, and social skills. There is a massive debate on what exactly causes Alzheimer’s disease, with new research coming out almost every month. But can metals present in our environment also play a role in causing Alzheimer’s disease? New research now seems to believe that copper can be a potential culprit in the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Read on to learn more about does copper have a role to play in Alzheimer’s Disease.
Overview of Alzheimer’s Disease
A common neurological disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, has today become one of the leading causes of dementia.(1,2) The condition leads to the death of the brain cells, causing memory loss and decline of cognitive functions. Nearly 60 to 80 percent of all cases of dementia in the United States are caused by Alzheimer’s disease.(3) In fact, in 2013 alone, over 7 million people in the US were diagnosed with dementia, and out of these, five million were given a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.(4) By the year 2050, these numbers are expected to increase exponentially, doubling at a rapid pace.(5,6)
Being a neurodegenerative disease, people with Alzheimer’s first experience mild symptoms, but they start becoming more severe as time progresses. The disease occurs when plaques containing beta-amyloid develop in the brain.(7) As the symptoms worsen, it starts becoming more challenging for patients to recognize people they know, remember recent events, or to reason practically. Eventually, a person with Alzheimer’s disease is likely to require full-time assistance.(8)
Can Copper Have A Role To Play In Alzheimer’s Disease?
A new study has now indicated that copper could be one of the major environmental factors responsible for causing Alzheimer’s disease. However, the results of this new study directly conflict with research presented earlier that showed that copper actually protects against Alzheimer’s.
As experts race to find a proper treatment, and hopefully a cure for Alzheimer’s, the relationship of copper to Alzheimer’s is a much-debated issue.
The study, published in the recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that the build-up of copper in the body increases the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This happens because the copper build-up prevents toxic proteins from exiting the brain.(9,10) Under normal circumstances, the body removes beta-amyloid from the brain with the help of LRP1 or lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1. This protein is present in the lining of the blood vessels of the brain. It binds with the beta-amyloid and helps remove it from the brain.(11)
The research team administered mice low levels of copper. This level was similar to what people are usually exposed to in their environment and food. The study was carried out over a three month period. The researching team found that copper started accumulating in the blood vessels that supplied blood to the brain. At the same time, copper accumulation also interrupted the removal of the toxic protein beta-amyloid. Beta-amyloid is a peptide associated with the plaques that develop in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.(12,13)
The study concluded that over a period of time, the build of copper and its cumulative effect impaired the systems that were responsible for the removal of beta-amyloid from the brain. This disruption is believed to be one of the main factors responsible for causing the protein to build up in the brain and give rise to the plaques that are known to be the biggest identifying marker of Alzheimer’s disease.
People commonly end up ingesting copper in their drinking water that is supplied through copper pipes. Copper is also included in many nutritional supplements and foods such as fruits and vegetables, shellfish, nuts, and even red meats. While people need a certain level of copper for essential nerve functions, maintaining the health of connective tissues, and bone growth, the recent study indicates that too much copper build-up in the body can have an adverse impact on your brain.
These new findings are consistent with other research, including similar studies done in the past by the same research team. These other studies have also indicated in the past that the increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease observed in developed countries is due to the ingestion of inorganic copper, especially from ingesting water being supplied through copper pipes.(14,15)
At the same time, there are some findings that indicate that copper might actually be vital to preventing Alzheimer’s. Let’s take a look at what this opposing research says.
Conflicting Studies and Evidence
Researchers from The Birchall Centre at the UK-based Keele University had released their findings in February 2020 that showed strong evidence that copper actually protected the human brain from the damage caused by beta-amyloid. The researchers also said it was ‘highly unlikely’ that copper can be responsible for the development of brain plaques.(16)
This study was published in the Scientific Reports journal and suggested that people having low levels of copper in their diet were more likely to have plaques form in their brains. The researchers concluded this by testing the interaction between beta-amyloid and copper in a laboratory experiment that stimulated the functioning of the human brain.
With conflicting evidence being found from both studies, there is a need for further testing to confirm which of these theories is correct. However, at the same time, copper is an essential trace element that the body needs for proper functioning. When copper is combined with iron, it helps manufacture red blood cells. Copper is also necessary for maintaining the health of the blood vessels, the immune system, nerves, and bones. This is why it is essential to include certain levels of copper in our daily diets. Without a conclusive result of such studies and proper guidance from your doctor, it would not be advisable to stop the intake of copper.
- Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. 2020. Facts And Figures. [online] Available at: <https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/facts-figures> [Accessed 17 June 2020].
Brookmeyer, R., Evans, D., Hebert, L., Langa, K., Heeringa, S., Plassman, B. and Kukull, W., 2020. National Estimates Of The Prevalence Of Alzheimer’s Disease In The United States.
- 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.alz.org/documents_custom/2016-facts-and-figures.pdf> [Accessed 17 June 2020].
- DeFina, P.A., Moser, R.S., Glenn, M., Lichtenstein, J.D. and Fellus, J., 2013. Alzheimer’s disease clinical and research update for health care practitioners. Journal of aging research, 2013.
- Ott, A., Breteler, M.M., Van Harskamp, F., Claus, J.J., Van Der Cammen, T.J., Grobbee, D.E. and Hofman, A., 1995. Prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia: association with education. The Rotterdam study. Bmj, 310(6985), pp.970-973.
- Evans, D.A., 1990. Estimated prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. The Milbank Quarterly, pp.267-289.
- Shoghi-Jadid, K., Small, G.W., Agdeppa, E.D., Kepe, V., Ercoli, L.M., Siddarth, P., Read, S., Satyamurthy, N., Petric, A., Huang, S.C. and Barrio, J.R., 2002.
- Localization of neurofibrillary tangles and beta-amyloid plaques in the brains of living patients with Alzheimer disease. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 10(1), pp.24-35.
- Chertkow, H. and Bub, D., 1990. Semantic memory loss in Alzheimer-type dementia.
- Bush, A.I., Masters, C.L. and Tanzi, R.E., 2003. Copper, β-amyloid, and Alzheimer’s disease: tapping a sensitive connection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 100(20), pp.11193-11194.
- Pnas.org. 2020. PNAS. [online] Available at: <https://www.pnas.org/> [Accessed 17 June 2020].
- Kanekiyo, T. and Bu, G., 2014. The low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 1 and amyloid-β clearance in Alzheimer’s disease. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 6, p.93.
- Grimmer, T., Riemenschneider, M., Förstl, H., Henriksen, G., Klunk, W.E., Mathis, C.A., Shiga, T., Wester, H.J., Kurz, A. and Drzezga, A., 2009. Beta amyloid in Alzheimer’s disease: increased deposition in brain is reflected in reduced concentration in cerebrospinal fluid. Biological psychiatry, 65(11), pp.927-934.
- Verdile, G., Fuller, S., Atwood, C.S., Laws, S.M., Gandy, S.E. and Martins, R.N., 2004. The role of beta amyloid in Alzheimer’s disease: still a cause of everything or the only one who got caught?. Pharmacological Research, 50(4), pp.397-409.
- Brewer, G.J., 2012. Copper toxicity in Alzheimer’s disease: cognitive loss from ingestion of inorganic copper. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 26(2-3), pp.89-92.
- Urmc.rochester.edu. 2020. Copper Damages Protein That Defends Against Alzheimer’S. [online] Available at: <https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/news/story/1718/copper-damages-protein-that-defends-against-alzheimers.aspx> [Accessed 17 June 2020].
- Mold, M., Ouro-Gnao, L., Wieckowski, B.M. and Exley, C., 2013. Copper prevents amyloid-β 1–42 from forming amyloid fibrils under near-physiological conditions in vitro. Scientific reports, 3, p.1256.