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Copper Tied to Alzheimer’s Disease

Update Date: Aug 20, 2013 09:18 AM EDT

Over the past several years, researchers have been focused on finding risk factors that contribute to Alzheimer's disease. Since there is currently no cure for the neurodegenerative illness, preventing the illness or at least slowing it down are two very important treatments for people who are high-risk for Alzheimer's. In a new study, researchers identified another risk factor, copper. The researchers are reporting that too much exposure to copper, particularly from one's diet, could increase one's risk of Alzheimer's disease.

From previous studies, researchers have suggested that copper could be beneficial for brain functions. In this recent study, however, researchers from the University of Rochester located in New York found that too much copper could be detrimental to the brain's shielding, which is the blood barrier in the brain. For this study, the team used mouse models and fed them copper through their water source. The research team discovered that the extra copper started to build up in the brain's blood vessels. The researchers stated that this buildup was detrimental to the barrier function in the brain. Due to the buildup, the brain had a more difficult time removing beta amyloid, a protein in the brain. Researchers from previous studies have tied amyloid buildup in the brain to Alzheimer's.

"It is clear that, over time, copper's cumulative effect is to impair the systems by which amyloid beta is removed form the brain," Dr. Rashid Deane, the lead researcher said according to BBC News. "It's a double whammy of increased production and decreased clearance of amyloid protein."

Since copper is an important part of one's diet, the researchers stated that avoiding foods that contain copper is not the clear-cut solution to preventing Alzheimer's. Foods that contain copper include shellfish, nuts, red meat, vegetables and fruits. Copper can also be consumed through drinking water. The team recommends that people do not consume excess amount of copper from items such as supplements.

"The key will be striking the right balance between too much and too little copper consumption," Deane explained according to the LA Times. "Right now, we cannot say what the right level will be. But diet may one day play an important role in regulating this process."

Earlier this week, two non-invasive retinal testing devices started their clinical trials. The devices work to detect Alzheimer's before symptoms would even manifest by recording the levels of amyloid plaque deposits in the eye. If the trials are effective, two new screening techniques for Alzheimer's could be available.

This study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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