The Developed World and Alzheimer’s

Ever since the rise of Alzheimer’s disease within the past 50 years, scientists have been trying to figure out what caused this explosion. Before the early 1900s the disease was either not recorded or simply nonexistent. The case of Alzheimer’s is especially interesting because although we are familiar with it, it is very new in developing countries. With any new disease phenomenon, researchers look at what factors in society changed in order to bring about the disease. Because of the recent appearance of the disease in developing nations and the birth of the disease in America around the time of our development, scientists have linked the cause of Alzheimer’s to external biofactors. In other words, they have hypothesized that a major risk factor drastically changed between pre-development and development.

Factors Believed to be Causing Alzheimer’s Disease

Based on this premise, scientists have determined two factors that have changed since development. They have found excess copper causes neuronal toxicity and also that a zinc deficiency causes neuronal death. The excess inorganic copper in Alzheimer’s patients is believed to be coming from copper plumbing—leaching into drinking water. As plumbing becomes more sophisticated, copper is used less, but much of America’s infrastructure has not been updated in quite some time. Also, Alzheimer’s patients, when compared against age-matched controls, are deficient in zinc. Zinc deficiency, rather than coming from infrastructure comes from a lack of zinc in the diet. Oysters, beef, lamb, toasted wheat germ, spinach, cocoa, pumpkin or squash seeds, and nuts are just some examples of foods rich in zinc.

Zinc and Alzheimer’s

Zinc is very important for healthy brain function and a lack of it causes neuronal death. About twenty years ago, a non-blinded study showed improvement in Alzheimer’s patients with zinc therapy, and similarly, in a small-blinded study, researchers found six months of zinc supplements significantly reduced free copper levels and increased neuronal health. As a result, it has been theorized that because zinc lowers copper toxicity, increases brain health, or both, it could be effective against Alzheimer’s.

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