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Abnormal Zinc and Copper, Not Aluminum, Linked to Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's is a degenerative brain disease, affecting about 4 million Americans in the United States alone. Although not considered part of normal aging, Alzheimer's attacks mostly elderly people. About 1 percent of those age 65 show symptoms, a rate that surges to nearly 50 percent by age 85. Its main feature is memory loss, but in advanced stages the disease erodes personality, judgment, powers of speech and the ability to perform the functions of daily living. The brains of Alzheimer's victims, when examined at autopsy, appear speckled with two kinds of abnormal protein. One is beta amyloid clumps between brain cells, known as plaques. The other is neurofibrillary tangles, or protein strands that look like knotted skeins of yarn, inside cells.

A Harvard researcher believes that the real culprit in Alzheimer's is a copper and zinc buildup in the brain. The accumulated zinc and copper mix abnormally with a protein called beta amyloid in the brain, oxidizing--literally rusting--and destroying nerve cells. Interestingly, he never saw aluminum as a culprit in the disease. He believes that the amyloid protein plays a helpful role in the brain: absorbing metals like a sponge. But in Alzheimer's victims, he contends, the metals overwhelm the protein. He believes that copper mixes abnormally with amyloid, releasing hydrogen peroxide and other toxic chemicals that damage the nearby cells. Some of that protein breaks free, becomes "rogue" amyloid, and mixes with zinc to form clumps that leak more hydrogen peroxide. Thus he indicts metals as the real culprits.

This researcher was largely discreditd for many years, but now that he is on the trail of a drug that absorbs his culprits--the excess copper and zinc--and dissolves the protein clumps in the brains of experimental animals he is getting real media exposure. He is using a dysentery drug with a history of toxic side effects. The drug, Clioquinol, has a disastrous history. It was introduced in the 1930s by Swiss drug giant Ciba-Geigy AG, as a treatment for amoebic dysentery, a potentially deadly intestinal ailment. The drug was later promoted in Japan for all types of stomach trouble. By 1970, however, nearly 10,000 people who had been treated with the drug, mostly in Japan, developed paralysis or blindness. Some scientists believe the adverse effects might have been influenced by a vitamin B-12 deficiency in the postwar Japanese diet. So the researcher added vitamin B-12 supplements to the Clioquinol in the Alzheimer's study and that did the trick.

I posted this information as it seems to be quite a radical departure from traditional Alzheimer's research. However, if you are concerned about Alzheimer's please review one of my most popular blog entries to date on what you can do to prevent this devastating disease now.

USA Today December 26, 2003