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Dangers of Copper In Drinking Water

Copper - Scientists have claimed people should remove old copper pipes from their homes or install special filters because the metal has been shown to build up in their bodies and cause serious health problems.

Lead researcher George Brewer said the study had wide ranging implications for health authorities.

'Their toxicities are so general in the population that they are a looming public health problem in diseases of aging and in the aging process itself,' he said.

Mr Brewer said diseases of Alzheimer's disease and heart disease were made worse by excess copper and iron.  

'A very disturbing finding of this study is that in the general population those in the highest fifth of copper intake, if they are also eating a relatively high fat diet, lose their brain function at over three times the normal rate,' he said. 

Tiny traces of copper from pipes mix with tap water and are then consumed. Over a long period of time this leads to a build-up of copper in your body, which in turn leads to Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and diabetes because your body cannot process the metal.

How does copper get into my drinking water?
The major sources of copper in drinking water are corrosion of household plumbing systems; and erosion of natural deposits. Copper enters the water (“leaches”) through contact with the plumbing. Copper leaches into water through corrosion – a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. Copper can leach into water primarily from pipes, but fixtures and faucets (brass), and fittings can also be a source.  The amount of copper in your water also depends on the types and amounts of minerals in the water, how long the water stays in the pipes, the amount of wear in the pipes, the water’s acidity and its temperature.

Copper and Your Brain

Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase some 70 percent in coming years. Over five million people are affected today and it is estimated that this number will increase to eight million by 2030.

For many years, scientists have believed that Alzheimer’s was due to protein clumps in the brain, which pointed to metals -- mainly aluminum -- as the main offender.

However, another theory suggests that accumulated metals (zinc and copper) mix abnormally with a protein called beta amyloid in the brain, which oxidizes and destroys your body’s nerve cells.

Emerging evidence

A number of recent studies have begun to uncover some of the mechanisms by which excess copper can produce chronic health problems. A 2008 study conducted by researchers from the University of Miami School of Medicine and published in the journal Laboratory Investigation confirms that copper produces both oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the nervous system. This may partially explain copper's role in brain diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to Wilson's disease (a genetic condition characterized by copper accumulation in tissues, liver disease and neurological or psychiatric dysfunction) and even prion conditions such as mad cow disease.

More recently, researchers from the University of Rochester found that even ordinary dietary doses of copper may directly contribute on multiple levels to the development of Alzheimer's disease. They found that copper induces inflammation in the brain, damages the blood-brain barrier (making it more difficult for the brain to flush out toxic materials) and encourages the brain to form clumps of toxic amyloid beta proteins.

Another recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that copper - while apparently not carcinogenic - actively promotes tumor growth in patients who have already developed cancer.

Other Health Problems Linked to Copper

Elevated levels of copper have been linked to a wide range of health issues and disorders, including:

  • Gastrointestinal complaints (abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting)

  • Liver damage

  • Schizophrenia

  • Hypertension

  • Stuttering

  • Fatigue

  • Headaches

  • Muscle and joint pain

  • Autism

  • Childhood hyperactivity

  • Depression

  • Insomnia

  • Senility

  • Premenstrual syndrome

If you’re expecting a child, you can potentially double the level of copper in your body during your pregnancy, and it can take months after delivery for the levels to return to normal. Copper toxicity may be a cause of postpartum depression.

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