Countless vitamins and minerals work together to keep your brain going strong, but when those micronutrients become unbalanced, your cognitive health can be at risk.
Heavy metals like mercury, cadmium, and lead cross the blood-brain barrier, set up shop in brain tissue, and destroy brain cell function.
But lesser known is the increased risk of brain damage and cognitive decline caused by a high intake of essential minerals like copper.
It’s true; your body and brain need tiny amounts of the trace mineral copper to thrive because it’s vital for many systems such as skeletal, hormone, energy, and nerve function. However, it’s all about balance, so too much or too little of this important metal can put your brain cells in danger. In 2013, researchers found that excess copper promotes Alzheimer’s and can even perpetuate its progression. This study concluded that copper in drinking water at only 10% of the EPA’s water quality standards can lead to toxic buildup of a protein called amyloid beta, a signature of Alzheimer’s.
Of course, nothing is cut and dried in health care. Other studies have found that post-mortem analyses of Alzheimer’s brains contained deficient amounts of copper, even though blood levels throughout the body were normal. This points to a poor regulation of copper in the brain, which may be related to the cause or effect of the disease process. This also correlates to research that has found excessive levels of zinc in brains of those with Alzheimer’s. Zinc and copper work together but can also compete for absorption, so too much of one can affect the level of the other. The takeaway is that the brain needs healthy and balanced amounts of minerals to thrive.
Safeguarding the brain means alleviating sources of excessive metals, avoiding things that disrupt the ratio, and eating a diet that’s balanced in micronutrients.
Follow these three guidelines, and you’ll make big strides in protecting your brain.
1. Pay Attention to Plumbing
The copper from water pipes can leak into your drinking water. If you have copper pipes, get your water tested, and if your levels are high, consider an NSF-certified water filter under NSF/ANSI 53 to reduce levels below EPA standards. To this end, copper-coated food containers or copper-lined pots and pans are extremely dangerous and should be avoided to prevent toxicity.
2. Avoiding Animal Products?
While a plant-based diet can offer many health benefits and can easily provide enough copper, small amounts of meat and eggs are the best way to hit a healthy zinc intake. Zinc is less accessible to our bodies when it comes in plant foods and is more easily absorbed from animal foods. Zinc in plants is bound to proteins, so while you may be eating plenty of zinc, your body may not be able to use it.
3. Rethink Your Medicine Cabinet
Certain antibiotics can interfere with your zinc intake, which means you may end up with excess levels of copper. But that’s not all. Even prolonged use of diuretics for blood pressure can increase the urinary output of zinc. If you must take any long-term medication, make sure to look up the micronutrient interactions and discuss them with your functional medicine doctor.
Copper and zinc balance are two of the many considerations crucial to preventing and treating cognitive decline. As you can see from this tricky balance, there are many factors that can drive your brain towards a diseased state. That’s why I use comprehensive screening tools to assess each of my patient’s cognitive health risks. With that information at our fingertips, we can create an effective protocol to support optimal brain function.