Metals in the brain – an Alzheimer’s link?
Iron and copper are both essential micronutrients for the human body, usually found bound up within proteins, such as the iron-rich haemoglobin in our blood that is vital for transporting oxygen to our cells.
As tiny nuggets of elemental metal, however, iron and copper can cause damage to our cells, generating reactive forms of oxygen that interfere with cellular biochemistry and even destroy cells.
Researchers from the UK and US recently used STXM, a type of X-ray microscopy, to examine neural plaques taken from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. They found tiny ingots of iron and copper buried deep within the plaques.
These microscopic particles were less than one-thousandth of a millimetre in size, and although incredibly small, the researchers suspect that they could play a role in inflammation and death of the neurons.
Iron in the form of haematite, a magnetic mineral, has been found inside animal and human tissue before, but this is the first time elemental copper has been seen inside human neurons.
It is not yet clear what the discovery means, and whether it could unlock new methods of diagnosis or treatment, but as the world’s population ages and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s rise, every piece of the puzzle is important to understand.
At PIM we have a particular interest in the role of micronutrients and inflammation in our health and wellbeing. Contact us to find out more.