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Excess Iron and Copper Contribute to Chronic Disease and Aging

Both iron and copper serve vital functions, but as we age excess stores of these metals may build and become toxic. A report from the American Chemical Society1 suggests that iron and copper toxicity are unrecognized but significant threats to public health, in particular for adults over the age of 50.

Iron is crucial for oxygen transport and the proper function of several enzymes and proteins. Similarly, copper is also a component of enzymes that catalyze important reactions in several of the body’s cells and tissues. The human body evolved to store excess iron and copper to fuel these vital processes in case of extreme conditions like bleeding or famine, but their accumulation over time may be detrimental because both metals are involved in the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).

It is now generally accepted that oxidative damage, a byproduct of oxygen-dependent energy production, contributes to chronic diseases and aging.

Oxidation of LDL cholesterol is one of the initial steps of atherosclerotic plaque development. Epidemiological associations between body stores of each of these metals and atherosclerosis have been found, and this is thought to be due to ROS production.2

Oxidative damage and depletion of the brain’s natural antioxidant defenses are implicated in the neurodegeneration associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Because the brain uses more oxygen and produces more energy than any other organ, it is the most vulnerable organ to oxidative damage. The high iron content of the brain, even higher in those with excessive iron stores, makes the brain even more vulnerable to oxidative stress.3

In people at least 65 years of age who consumed diets high in saturated and trans fats, copper intake was associated with accelerated cognitive decline. Copper bound to cholesterol is also commonly found in the ß-amyloid plaques characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.4

Excess quantities of these metals primarily come from meat, followed by multivitamin/multimineral supplements. Copper in supplements and drinking water is even more toxic than copper derived from food sources.1 The author of this new report has outlined steps that we can take to limit our exposure to copper and iron, including:

  • Avoiding or minimizing red meat consumption
  • Avoiding drinking water from copper pipes
  • Choosing a multivitamin that does not contain copper and iron (unless a need for iron exists, such as with deficiency, menstrual bleeding or pregnancy)

References:
1. American Chemical Society (2010, January 22). Consumers over age 50 should consider cutting copper and iron intake, report suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/01/100120113553.htm
Brewer GJ. Risks of Copper and Iron Toxicity during Aging in Humans. Chem Res Toxicol. 2009 Dec 7. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Brewer GJ. Iron and Copper Toxicity in Diseases of Aging, Particularly Atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease. Exp Biol Med 232 (2): 323. 2007
3. Kidd PM. Neurodegeneration from Mitochondrial Insufficiency: Nutrients, Stem Cells, Growth Factors, and Prospects for Brain Rebuilding Using Integrative Management. Alternative Medicine Review 2005;10(4):268-293
4. Morris MC et al. Dietary copper and high saturated and trans fat intakes associated with cognitive decline. Arch Neurol. 2006 Aug;63(8):1085-8.

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