Much mystery surrounds the cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have determinedthat the condition develops due to a mix of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors, according to the National Institute on Aging. The condition, which is an “irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest of tasks of daily living,” mostly affects older adults who are experiencing major changes to the brain. Recently, researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center published their study that showed that consumption of traces of copper, which can be found in certain foods, can contribute to an increased chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In the study, which was published in the August 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers found that consuming copper may lead to a build-up of plaque seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s, according to CBS News. The researchers found that an excess of copper made the brain struggle to get rid of a protein associated with the disorder. The study was conducted on mice, and the mice’s blood brain barrier was disrupted by large amounts of copper.
According to BBC News, the mice that were given more copper in their water also retained more copper in their brain vessels. The build-up of copper interfered with the blood brain barrier, making it difficult for the brain to get rid of beta amyloid, a specific protein that is present in plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’ disease. In addition, the researchers found that the presence of more copper in the mice’s systems also led to the production of more beta amyloid.
Although the results of the study suggest that copper can be harmful, the metal is actually a vital nutrient required by the human body. Sources of dietary copper include meat, shellfish and various fruits and vegetables. Additionally, tap water that flows through copper pipes can contain trace amounts of the metal. As such, the researchers note that further studies will need to be conducted in order to determine the appropriate amount of copper that should be consumed as part of a balanced diet.