Is Copper a Culprit in Alzheimer's Disease?

Published Online: Wednesday, October 1, 2003

    A rabbit?s reaction to copper in tap water has researchers believing that the metal may be a contributor to the development of Alzheimer?s disease. Previous research has shown that patients with Alzheimer?s disease tend to have higher levels of copper in their bloodstream. In the new study, researchers added small amounts of copper to the distilled water given to a group of rabbits and compared them with rabbits that drank ordinary distilled water. The results of the study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that after 10 weeks the rabbits that drank the copper water developed more plaques.

    Although the cause of Alzheimer?s disease remains a mystery, doctors think that blockages within the brain known as ?senile plaques? contribute to the illness. Also, the rabbits showed signs of brain damage when they took a test in which a puff of air is blown into their eyes immediately after they hear a tone. Unaffected rabbits learn to close their eyelids when they hear the tone. The rabbits with brain damage, however, failed to remember what to do, according to study coauthor D. Larry Sparks, PhD, a senior scientist at Arizona?s Sun Health Research Institute.

    Because the research is still only preliminary, Dr. Sparks stressed that the study ?needs to be replicated, and we need to find out the exact mechanism of how this happens.?

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