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High-fat, copper-rich diets associated with increased
rates of cognitive decline in older adults
Among older adults whose diets are high in
saturated and trans fats, a high intake of copper may be associated
with an accelerated rate of decline in thinking, learning and memory
abilities, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of
Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Although copper, zinc and iron are essential for
brain development and function, an imbalance of these metals
may play a role in the development of brain plaques
associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Previous studies have
also linked fat intake, especially that of saturated and
trans fats, to Alzheimer's disease and other forms of
cognitive difficulties, according to background information
in the article.
One recent animal study found that the
consumption of copper in drinking water could amplify the
degenerative effects of a high-fat diet on rabbit brains.
Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., Rush University
Medical Center, Chicago, and colleagues assessed the connection
between dietary fat and dietary copper intake in 3,718 Chicago
residents age 65 years and older. Participants underwent cognitive
testing at the beginning of the study, after three years and after
six years. An average of one year after the study began, they filled
out a questionnaire about their diets. The dietary recommended
allowance of copper for adults is .9 milligrams per day. Organ
meats, such as liver, and shellfish are the foods with the highest
copper levels, followed by nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains,
potatoes, chocolate and some fruits. Copper pipes may also add trace
amounts of the metal to drinking water.
Cognitive abilities declined in all participants
as they aged. Overall, copper intake was not associated with the
rate of this decline. However, among the 604 individuals (16.2
percent of the study group) who consumed the most saturated and
trans fats, cognitive function deteriorated more rapidly with the
more copper they had in their diets. "The increase in rate for the
high-fat consumers whose total copper intake was in the top 20
percent (greater than or equal to 1.6 milligrams per day) was
equivalent to 19 more years of age," the authors write.
Other metals assessed in this study, iron and
zinc, did not show any effects on cognitive decline in interaction
with a high-fat diet. Previous studies have found higher levels of
copper in the blood of patients with Alzheimer's disease, and
medications that bind with copper to block its effects have shown
promise treating patients with the condition.
"This finding of accelerated cognitive decline
among persons whose diets were high in copper and saturated and
trans fats must be viewed with caution," the authors conclude. "The
supporting evidence on this topic is limited. The strength of the
association and the potential impact on public health warrant