Perhaps you’ve heard about a recent report identifying copper as a possible contributor to Alzheimer's disease: In a study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of Rochester found that mice who were given trace amounts of dietary copper in their water over a three-month period were unable to clear abnormal levels of toxic amyloid protein from their brain.
Copper may also cause inflammation in the brain, and both of these mechanisms likely contribute to the risk of dementia. The scientists also studied human brain cells and found similar changes. The amount of copper given to the mice in these studies was small – only a tenth of the water quality standards set by the EPA. The authors speculate that copper may be a key environmental trigger that initiates Alzheimer’s and enhances its progression. While copper is an essential mineral for human health, assisting with normal bone growth, nerve conduction, and hormone production, in excess it can cause harm to the brain and may also promote the spread of cancer.
Copper is widespread in our food supply; red meat, shellfish, nuts, and many fruits and vegetables contain copper. Copper is also found in our drinking water if that water has been carried in copper pipes. In addition, many nutritional supplements contain copper, including multivitamins.
So what should you do to avoid excess exposure to copper? Try to get copper from your food alone, and avoid other exposures when possible.And read the labels of all of your supplements, especially multivitamins, and be sure to avoid those with copper.
What about other interventions to help lower your risk of Alzheimer’s? Regular exercise, mentally and socially stimulating activities, adequate sleep, stress management and an anti-inflammatory diet all contribute to keeping your brain in tip-top shape. In addition, people with the highest intake and highest blood levels of B vitamins, especially folate and B12, seem to have a lower risk of dementia, though giving B vitamins to patients with Alzheimer’s does not seem to help once dementia has set in.
What about supplements to help the brain for people with cognitive impairment or dementia? There are several on the market now that are very intriguing, and many more that are being studied for their possible benefit in dementia. Here are some that hold promise: