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Major Cognitive Decline of 19 Years Linked to High Fat, High Copper Diet

Aug 22, 2006

A diet high in saturated and trans fats, coupled with a high intake of copper may be associated with a significantly accelerated rate of cognitive decline in older adults, a new study suggests.
Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found high amounts of dietary saturated and trans fats and total copper intake of 1.6 mg/day or more had an impact on an individual’s cognitive function that was the equivalent of adding 19 years to their age.principal investigator Martha Clare Morris, ScD stated that, "We didn’t find copper was harmful at all in people who did not have this high-fat diet. But the combination of the two had a significant detrimental effect,".

Previous research has shown a 2- to 3-fold increased risk for Alzheimer’s Disease and cognitive decline in individuals whose diets are high in saturated and trans fats and low in unhydrogenated unsaturated fats.

However, said Dr. Morris, an "accidental" discovery in a previous animal study conducted by Dr. D. Larry Sparks revealed that among rabbits who were on a hypercholesterolemic diet those who drank distilled water with trace amounts of copper had an accelerated decline in memory function compared with rabbits who drank distilled water only. Furthermore, at autopsy, there was substantial accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brains of rabbits that drank the distilled plus copper water.

These findings, said Dr. Morris, led her to examine whether high copper consumption in conjunction with a diet high in saturated and trans fats increases the risk for cognitive decline in humans.

Participants from the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), a large ongoing community-based study of more than 9000 adults aged 65 years and older were included in the study. All subjects underwent cognitive testing and completed a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) that included questions about vitamin supplementation 1 year after baseline. In addition to copper, the investigators also looked at the potential detrimental effects of zinc and iron intake.

Reassessments of cognitive function were conducted at 3- and 6-year follow-up interviews.

The final analysis included 3718 persons with a median follow-up of 5.5 years. Not surprisingly, the investigators found that on average cognitive abilities declined with age. However, among the 604 (16.2%) individuals with the highest intake of saturated and trans fats, cognitive function deteriorated more rapidly with higher copper consumption.

According to the study, there was a 143% increase in the rate of decline among persons on high-fat diets in the highest quintile of total copper intake compared with those in the lowest quintile. But, Dr. Morris said, there was no association between cognitive decline and copper intake among those with a low consumption of saturated and trans fats.

In addition, Dr. Morris said, cognitive decline was observed among subjects in the high-fat group who also took vitamin supplements containing copper compared with nonsupplement users.

"We’re at a very early stage in this research, but this study gives us one more reason to limit the intake of saturated and trans fats," said Dr. Morris.

Practice Pearls
· Overall, copper, zinc, and iron dietary intakes are not associated with cognitive decline in persons older than 65 years.
· In persons older than 65 years whose saturated and trans fat intakes are high, copper consumption in the highest compared with the lowest quintile is associated with a higher rate of decline of cognitive function of 143%.
Arch Neurol. 2006;63:1085-1088.

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