Copper from Water Pipes is Toxic to the Brain
and may be a cause of Alzheimer's disease
Is Poisonous Inorganic Copper from Water Pipes the cause of the Alzheimer’s Epidemic?
-© Holistic Functional Medicine Practitioner-
This page is an excerpt from my forthcoming book on preventing and reversing cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer's disease.
I think it’s really important to spread the word about copper toxicity (from copper water pipes) probably being a major causative factor for Alzheimer’s disease, unfortunately this potentially important theory receives very little publicity or mainstream medical attention so I’m going to explain it at length.
Copper is an essential micro-nutrient like iron or zinc essential for many processes in the body, I’ve seen some poorly written information online saying scientists can’t make up their mind some say copper is protective for the brain and other say it causes Alzheimer’s disease, the contradiction however is actually pretty straightforward: there are 2 types of copper, the organic copper found in food is nutritious and the inorganic copper found in copper pipes is highly toxic to the brain, it’s critically important to understand the difference.
The copper that occurs in food (also known as monovalent copper or copper-1 is bound to organic molecules in the food we eat (plant or animal) and is how we should obtain the essential copper we need. This type of copper is picked up by specific transporter enzymes in our intestines (Ctr 1), carried to the liver and then to the rest of the body where it’s needed; these transporter enzymes carry the organically bound copper through safe channels. The other type of copper is called inorganic copper (also known as divalent copper or copper-2) and is not organically bound to food molecules. This is the type of metallic copper found in the copper pipes in our homes and when we ingest inorganic copper it bypasses the liver and enters the blood directly, it is not picked up by the copper transporter enzymes in our intestines and liver, it is not passed through safe channels and floats freely in our blood. Unfortunately inorganic copper can readily enter the brain where it is exquisitely toxic to our neurones.
Copper is needed for AB formation along with zinc and iron and becomes concentrated in AB, inorganic copper may either accelerate the formation of AB or increase the oxidative toxicity of AB or both; either way the accumulation of inorganic copper in the brain looks like a causal agent in Alzheimer’s disease. You can find it said that copper is neuro-protective but it’s important to remember that there’s 2 types of copper the organic copper that’s an essential nutrient and inorganic copper which is neuro-toxic.
The inorganic copper toxicity hypothesis of Alzheimer’s points out that this disease was extremely rare before 1900 whereupon its prevalence began to rise and has exploded to epidemic proportions over the last 50 years. It’s true that doctors prior to 1900 did not have MRI scanners and that there were less elderly people however the external signs of Alzheimer’s disease can be fairly easily observed and the doctors of the day did keep records and rarely reported anything resembling Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly people of the day, suggesting this modern epidemic is due to some new causative agent we have introduced over the last hundred years and it looks possible that inorganic copper could be the culprit for at least one of the culprits[i].
The rise in the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease closely parallels the rise in the use of copper plumbing[ii][iii], furthermore animal studies where trace amount of inorganic copper were added to the drinking water markedly worsened Alzheimer’s disease[iv].
When I first heard this I thought could it really be true could we have made such a tragic mistake by installing copper piping and literally poisoning millions of brains around the world? Could something so simple be a significant cause? Could we have spent so much money on research into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease and really overlooked copper toxicity? And I think the answer to all of these is absolutely yes, it’s very easy with the benefit of hindsight to look back at say the ancient Romans using lead pipes and judge them as being ignorant but we were still using lead containing paints until the 1960s and asbestos until the 1970s so it’s absolutely possible that we made a mistake in choosing installing copper piping to supply our drinking water. It’s completely conceivable that it’s only now that were beginning to see the full extent of the toxic effect of a lifelong of consuming tap water containing trace amounts of inorganic copper, the people in their 70s, 80s and 90s with Alzheimer’s will have been consuming tap water from copper plumbing for 70, 80 or 90 years; we wouldn’t have known it was going to cause an epidemic until the epidemic manifested.
With regard to something so simple being overlooked despite intensive research into the causes of Alzheimer’s disease this is also entirely conceivable. We may eventually recognise that tap water from copper pipes is poisonous to the brain in the same way that we recognised the issues with lead paint and asbestos however it’s not going to be driven by the huge budgets poured into looking for a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, why would a company invest huge amounts of money into something that couldn’t make a return.
If inorganic copper from tap water does turn out to be contributing to Alzheimer’s disease it’s actually really easy to do something about, all you have to do is simply filter your tap water or use bottled water for your cooking and drinking. I’ve noticed the increasing use of plastic plumbing in place of copper possibly because of the high price of copper but personally I would rather stick with the copper plumbing and run my tap water through a filter to remove the copper than switch to plastic piping and experiment with the long-term effects of plastic plumbing on my health, a water distiller would remove 100% of the inorganic copper and a reverse osmosis unit would remove close to that however the basic water filter could be expected to remove 95% of the inorganic copper as long as you regularly renew the filter as recommended, I use the Santevia Enhanced Water Filter System. I have been unable to find any reliable information on whether or not inorganic copper can be absorbed in significant amounts directly through the skin when we bath and shower, you can install a whole-house water filter but until I obtain evidence that through the skin (transdermal) absorption is a problem I’m not concerning myself with this.
The other thing we can do to protect ourselves from the toxic effects of copper is to maintain high levels of zinc in the diet which antagonises copper build-up, vegetarian diets in particular are notable for their general lack of zinc so I recommend non-meat eaters in particular to always supplement zinc.
Finally if you take a multi-mineral containing copper check that the copper is organically bound such as an amino acid chelate and not simply inorganic copper if it just says copper and doesn’t specify which type of copper avoid it.
[i] Alzheimer’s disease causation by copper toxicity and treatment with zinc George J. Brewer Department of Human Genetics, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, MI, USA PMID: 24860501 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC4030141
[ii] Chem Res Toxicol. 2017 Mar 20;30(3):763-768. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00373. Epub 2017 Mar 3. Copper-2 Hypothesis for Causation of the Current Alzheimer's Disease Epidemic Together with Dietary Changes That Enhance the Epidemic. Brewer GJ1.
[iii] Front Aging Neurosci. 2014; 6: 92. Published online 2014 May 16. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00092 PMCID: PMC4030141 Alzheimer’s disease causation by copper toxicity and treatment with zinc George J. Brewer
[iv] J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2012 Jun;26(2-3):89-92. doi: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2012.04.019. Epub 2012 Jun 4. Copper toxicity in Alzheimer's disease: cognitive loss from ingestion of inorganic copper. Brewer GJ1.
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