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Copper cognition

You need a little copper in your diet. But just a little – never a lot – because too much copper promotes formation of free radicals. About 2 mg of copper daily is all that most of us need to help prevent anemia, osteoporosis and age-related macular degeneration.

That said, it appears that a little copper intake may contribute to cognitive decline when combined with two common dietary fats. But don’t blame the copper, blame the fats. In particular, blame the fat that’s a strong contender for Public Enemy Number One in the world of nutrition.

Adding years

According to researchers at Chicago’s Rush Institute for Healthy Aging, animal studies indicate that neurodegenerative diseases may be associated with higher intakes of dietary fats and copper. They address this link in a study titled the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), published in the August 2006 issue of the Archives of Neurology.


  • More than 3,700 subjects, 65 years and older, were recruited for the six-year CHAP study
  • Food frequency questionnaires and four different cognitive function tests were administered in-home at the outset of the study, at year three, and again at the end of the sixth year
  • Results showed that higher copper intake was generally associated with better cognitive function, compared to subjects with low copper intake
  • A combined high intake of copper, saturated fats and trans fats was linked with a significant increase in the rate of cognitive decline – an estimated equivalent of adding as much as 19 years to a subjects age

Subjects with the highest copper intake consumed at least 1.6 mg per day, mostly through multivitamin use. Two mg of copper is the recommended daily intake in the U.S. The main dietary sources of copper include beef liver, Brazil nuts, peanuts and sunflower seeds.

Dangerous loophole

The Rush Institute team also notes that cognitive decline was not significant in subjects with high copper intake and high intake of just one of the two fats. Soif you’re going to rid your diet of one of these fats, which should you choose? No contest: Dump the trans fats. But this is easier said than done because trans fats are commonly found in a wide variety of processed food products such as crackers, cookies, pastries and fried foods.

In many e-Alerts I’ve addressed the potential health consequences of trans fat intake. A large body of research has shown trans fat consumption to be strongly associated with a higher risk of artery damage, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and some cancers. This is one dietary topic on which virtually all nutritionists are in agreement.

But don’t be fooled by products whose packages claim, “zero trans fats.” This is common knowledge among many HSI members, but it bears repeating: The FDA allows food manufacturers to claim “zero trans fats” if the product contains less than half a gram of trans fats per serving.

I’m convinced that this little deception will one day be seen as early 21st Century bureaucratic insanity. Simply put: It’s an FDA loophole that benefits food producers and helps promote disease.

Forget everything you’ve heard

But what about saturated fats? Aren’t they just as dangerous as trans fats?

In a word: No. Here’s William Campbell Douglass II, M.D., on saturated fats: “Countless studies show that the MORE animal fats people eat, the better their heart health. Need some proof from the real world? The African Masai, North American Eskimos, Japanese, Greeks, Okinawans, and our good friends the French all consume diets that are extremely high (by mainstream American standards) in saturated animal fats. Yet these people enjoy astonishingly low rates of heart disease, hypertension, and coronary events.”