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, (full pdf article) 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., associated professor at the Institute for Healthy Aging at Rush University Medical Center, and her 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.