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Dec 10, 2013 by DR. MICHAEL MULLAN
The Copper Connection: Does Copper Intake Cause or Contribute to Alzheimer’s?

Dr. Rashid Deane’s new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revisits a variation on the theory that metals in drinking water potentially contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Deane, a research professor in the department of neurosurgery at the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University Of Rochester Medical Center, focuses on the possible correlative link between copper and amyloid plaque buildup. Amyloid is a small protein, and its accumulation in the brain is a sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. In healthy brains, amyloid is broken down by special enzymes or transported from the brain into the bloodstream, where it is apparently harmless. 

Is Copper the New Aluminum?

Copper is a metal that when consumed via drinking water or in food can apparently compromise the amyloid transportation mechanism. The theory is that if the brains to blood transporters are impaired, then amyloid buildup can occur, leading to Alzheimer's disease. Deane's research used mice that were exposed to drinking water dosed with copper. They showed higher rates of the Alzheimer's pathology. 

But pointing the finger at metals is not new in Alzheimer’s research. Twenty years ago the metal du jour was aluminum. A vigorous debate ensued, and the scientific community ultimately concluded that drinking water with trace amounts of aluminum presented no threat to the general public. There were still excessive reactions to these findings. Some people even had their aluminum based fillings extracted. So what does this new study really tell us? 

Amyloid Accumulation and Protein Transporters

First, Deane’s research helps us understand how amyloid accumulates in the brain. We now know more about specific protein transporters and their reaction to certain forms of stress - such as copper. Indeed, the "what" of Alzheimer's is much better understood then the "why." Why is amyloid plaque triggered in the first place? Deane's study suggests that copper consumption may play a role in the case of mice. Extrapolating data from experiments on mice, and applying the results to humans, however, is not advised. 

The Limits of Experimental Data 

Naturally, Deane is well aware of the limitations of his research. No one should be jumping to conclusions even though we invest great hope in any new tool in the fight against Alzheimer's. The direction that the study points to: devising techniques to clear out amyloids from the brain quite possibly the future of Alzheimer therapy. However, there is no epidemiological evidence backing up the claim that decreased levels of copper in food and water correlate to lower rates of Alzheimer’s. But absence of data is not the same as disproving data. More research in this critical area of Alzheimer's needs to be carried out. 

Dr. Michael Mullan, PhD is a biomedical researcher and renowned specialist in the field of Alzheimer's disease research. He is the CEO and president of the Roskamp Institute, a non-profit research organization with the aim of discovering safe therapies for the treatment of diseases affecting the mind.

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