Copper, Iron, and Aluminum and Alzheimers Disease

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Studies Show That Various Metals May Contribute To Dementia!

High Levels Of Copper, Iron, And Aluminum May Cause An Imbalance Of Brain Chemicals.

There is interesting scientific data that implicates various metals in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. High levels of copper, aluminum, and iron all may contribute to amyloid plaque formation or may cause an imbalance of brain chemicals, sensitizing the brain to other contributory causes.


Copper is an essential trace element; it is a critical functional component in a number of essential enzyme systems that regulate energy production, connective tissue formation, and the metabolism of neurotransmitters. However, a little too much copper can be harmful. You can ingest too much copper from contaminated water supplies, environmental pollution, or vitamin/ mineral supplements.

Copper has been linked to Alzheimer’s in several different studies. Excess copper in combination with a high cholesterol diet or saturated fat diet may be especially harmful. In a study of 3,718 participants aged 65 years and older, high dietary intake of copper (red meat is high in copper) in conjunction with a diet high in saturated and trans fats was associated with accelerated cognitive decline. In this study, copper intake was not associated with cognitive change among persons whose diets were not high in saturated fat.1

Recent research has shown that beta-amyloid peptides form a complex with copper ions in the aging brain. The substrate for this chemical reaction is cholesterol, which is abundant in the brain and in amyloid plaques. The beta-amyloid/copper complexes convert cholesterol into a cell-death-enhancing toxin that is elevated in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.2

Given these connections between copper and mental health, it makes sense to avoid consuming excess copper from dietary supplements. The body cannot effectively excrete this mineral when taken in amounts higher than that found in the diet.


Excess iron also can be toxic to brain cells. Iron can increase damage caused by oxidation and free radical formation, and iron has been shown to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 3 Iron supplements should not be taken unless prescribed by a doctor for a specific deficiency as it is difficult for the body to remove excess iron. Red meat is rich in copper and iron, which is another reason why meat eating is linked to dementia.


Some studies have shown increased levels of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Much research has focused on the role of aluminum in the development of this disease, but at this point, its role still is not clearly defined. Most researchers no longer regard aluminum as a major risk factor. It may, however, be a concern for some people whose bodies have difficulties handling foods containing metals such as copper, iron, and aluminum.

There has been speculation about the leaching of aluminum from cookware and beverage cans. Even if aluminum were clearly implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s, these means of exposure contribute only a very small percentage of the average person’s intake of aluminum.4 Most aluminum comes from processed foods and antacids.


1. Morris MC, Evan DA, Tangney C, et al.Arch Neurol 2006;63:1085-1088.

2. Puglielli L, Friedlich A, et al. “Alzheimer’s disease B-amyloid activity mimics cholesterol oxidase.” J Clin Invest2005;115:2556-2563. University of Rochester Medical Center (2007, November 8) “Copper damages protein that defends against Alzheimer’s.” Science Daily

3. Bartzokis G, Sultzer D, Cummings J, et al. “In vivo evaluation of brain iron in Alzheimer’s disease using magnetic resonance imaging.” Arch Gen Psychiatry 2000;57:47-53.

4. National Institute of Environmental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Environment, Health and Safety Online; Alzheimer’s & Aluminum; date accessed January 14, 2007.

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