Doctor's Note

For more on heavy metals in our food supply, check out these videos:
Male Fertility and Diet
Amla and Triphala Tested for Metals
Heavy Metals in Protein Powder Supplements

And check out my other videos on Alzheimer’s disease

For further context, also see my associated blog posts: Harvard’s Meat and Mortality StudiesAlzheimer’s Disease: Up to half of cases potentially preventable; and  Natural Alzheimer’s Treatment.

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  • Rami

    Copper, eh? Hm. I’m a vegan “nutritarian” in the Joel Fuhrman mold. I track my nutritional intake and my copper intake is always 300-500% the RDI. Should I be worried? Mushrooms are very high in copper; I try to have about 100 g a day because they are so high in lysine and B vitamins. Or should I just hope that copper from plants is not well absorbed, so despite the megadoses of copper I am getting, it won’t lead to trouble down the road?

    • Scott

      I, too, am a nutritarian and would like to know if you’ve found an answer to this question

      • Shaylen Snarski

        I wouldn’t worry about getting it from plant foods at all. My theory is trust in nature… Based on everything I’ve read and learned and continue learning, my intuition, and personal experience, whole plant foods are made up in such a way that everything in them works in perfect harmony. Copper is actually essential for us, so we don’t want to not get copper from these foods, we just don’t want to get excess amounts from other sources, and animal flesh clearly poses this threat. Copper is good for your skin among other things (in healthy amounts). We don’t need much and no plant food has levels equal to, or higher than the rda which is 2 mg. I imagine that to ever have to worry about naturally containing copper plant foods, you would have to eat EXTREMELY excessive, gross amounts.
        Also a lot of plant foods high in copper are also high in zinc which competes with copper. And zinc, from what I’ve read, “wins” in this competition. Then with the array of other minerals in these high mineral plant foods, I truly believe these foods are just naturally designed to be absorbed by the body in perfect amounts. Mushrooms and nuts are extremely healthy and excellent ways to get your minerals which is a problem in todays world.
        Getting your essential minerals is also an important way of making sure your body doesn’t hold onto heavy metals. When we’re low in essential minerals, are bodies more readily hold onto heavy metals passing through them as a means to make up for our mineral deficiency.

        • Joy Dancer

          This helped me so much, thank you for the thoughtful and informed answer.

    • sf_jeff

      Is there an RDA for copper or just an RDI?

      • Renee Bornfreund

        RDA for Copper is 900-1,000mcg for adults with an upper limit of 10,000mcg. There has been research supporting theory that copper reduces the bodies ability to clear away toxic proteins in the grain, encouraging clumping. Over time, this could result in Alzheimers. Copper is prevalent in liver, oysters, nuts and seeds, some grains and many nutritarian foods. I agree with DrDon that the human body has mechanisms to avoid problems with copper unless exposure to a large amount over time.
        #Copper, #Alzheimers

  • JJ

    I saw this video about the same time that I took a trip to our local farmer’s market. I asked a person in one booth whether or not his food was organic. He said “such and such is, but such and such is not, but we don’t add pesticides”. I wanted to be clear, and used a phrase that I had seen in another booth: “Oh, you are spray-free?” He said, “No, nobody is spray-free. Nothing would grow if we were spray-free. We just use organically approved sprays, such as copper.”

    Then I saw this video about copper and a potential link to altzheimers. Any thoughts about how much copper is in organic foods and whether or not this should be a concern? And if so, are some organic crops given more copper than others???


    • DrDons

      I don’t worry too much about the amount of copper in organic fruits and vegetables. The human body has mechanisms to avoid problems with copper unless exposure to a large amount over time or in the case of Wilson’s Disease( a rare inherited condition that causes build up of copper in the body).

    • Shaylen Snarski

      Typical lies by people who use sprays… “nothing would grow if we were spray free.” My garden grows abundantly!

  • lilytree

    JJ, that is disturbing information. I did a Google search and found that indeed, copper spraying is a standard organic agricultural practice. Many of our water pipes are also made of copper. Zinc, commonly deficient in vegans, helps keep copper levels from getting too high… Dr. Gregor, what are your thoughts on this? Do you know if we should be concerned here?

    • Shaylen Snarski

      Sucks living in such an unnatural world… at the same time though, we’re so lucky to have access to so many beneficial plant foods containing so many antioxidants, nutrients, etc. that help balance all these things.
      I’d be interested to see this question answered. But I along with millions of others enjoy organic fruits and veggies in abundance, each day, and I’ve never experienced or heard of any problems. In fact, these are the people who are the healthiest, and I’ve never looked or felt so good since eating this way.

  • sonarlily

    Dr. Greger, what about copper IUD’s? I can’t find any studies about this this; just anecdotal information. I’m thinking about getting mine removed because of the copper toxicity issue, though I have no other pressing reason to do so. :(

    • DrDons

      All forms of contraception contain risk and have to weighed against the risk of pregnancy. I also couldn’t find any studies on it. There is a free online review article on the copper IUD’s available through PubMed if you are interested. The article is by Bliss Kaneshiro and Tod Aeby, Long-term safety, efficacy, and patient acceptability of the intrauterine Copper T-380A contraceptive device Int J Womens Health. 2010; 2: 211–220. The article doesn’t mention any systemic difficulties with the copper. Hope this helps. Be well.

  • KDahlin

    I found this paper: “Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia in developing
    countries: prevalence, management, and risk factors” published in The Lancet in 2008 and it has a map showing distribution of Alzheimer’s Disease in the world. It does show that it’s low in India and a few other places but the authors of this paper describe it as being absent in the developing countries, which is clearly not the case. I’m confused. These authors got their information from a paper by Waldman and Lamb. I guess I’ll try and track that down.

  • Mike

    Dr Greger:  Love the site and love the info–it’s inspiring my wife and me to make healthier choices (we’re both long time vegans for moral reasons).  I’m concerned about how strongly you state that Alzheimer’s is a first world problem or one that did not exist prior to 100 years ago.  I can’t imagine the level of evidence that would be required to back up such strong assertions.  My wife’s Grandmother died of Alzheimer’s.  She was born and raised in Trinidad and was a life time lacto vegetarian.  Her family moved her to Canada for medical care when she was in her 70s because she had become senile and was unable to live on her own.  In Canada she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.   It’s not unheard of for elderly people in Trinidad who have limited access to medical care to become senile.  Many of them probably have undiagnosed Alzheimer’s.  

    • Mike

      Correction on the diet listed above–I got the sides of the family mixed up.  My paternal Grandmother in law was not a vegetarian.  

  • Michael Greger M.D.
  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some context, please check out my associated blog post Harvard’s Meat and Mortality Studies!

  • Regulation of Brain Iron and Copper Homeostasis by Brain Barrier Systems: Implication in Neurodegenerative Diseases.Pharmacol Ther. 2012 February; 133(2): 177–188.

  • Some critics of veganism say that vegan diets have too much copper
    (potentially leading to copper toxicity) and also that there is not
    enough zinc in vegan diets to offset the copper intake. Is there any
    validity to this?

    • Shaylen Snarski

      I’ve been reading a lot about copper and zinc lately and haven’t heard this at all. I also know a ton of vegans (through activism, it is a huge and amazing community) and this issue has never once come up. There are lots of great plant sources of zinc. I’ve recently started consuming more beans and seeds to increase my zinc levels. Previously to doing that, I never had an issue with copper.

  • Rakim Dejuan Westmoreland

    is there a significantly higher concentration of copper in low quality meat products versus “good” quality meats?

  • TheGardenAddict .

    all heavy metals can lead to increased oxidative stress in the brain, not just copper. Aluminum is also much more prevalent in our environment. Some believe it due to chemtrails where aluminum and barium particulates are sprayed into the air. Also, vaccines and antiperspirants contain aluminum. Seems like all diseases are caused by eating meat, according you Dr. Greger. Since meat is higher in zinc, it may also help to chelate excess copper from our bodies. Meat is not necessary to do this, other foods are high in zinc, such as oysters, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate. Personally, I take supplements. Zinc is necessary to rid the body of excess copper and excess heavy metals. Glutathione also protects us from heavy metals.

  • Darryl

    Just published:

    Singh, Itender, et al. “Low levels of copper disrupt brain amyloid-β homeostasis by altering its production and clearance.” PNAS 110.36 (2013): 14771-14776.PDF

  • Teale Niles
    This article says to drastically reduce carbohydrates in our diet to avoid dementia. This would of course mean increasing meat intake in order to get adequate calories. How do I know if this research is valid? How do we know it’s not just PROCESSED grains that are harmful? If I keep eating my steal cut oats with flax and fruit and avoid flour and sugar produces, will I really still be at risk for Alzheimer’s? I get 60-80% of my calories from carbs. Often I’m eating 10x the amount of carbs this MD suggests. And perhaps the issue is really our omega fatty acid balance. We know our diets are too high in Omega 6 and lacking Omega 3. This doctor has me puzzled. I do avoid gluten. But only because I did an ellimination diet and found out it triggers my excema. For those who are not allergic to it (sure wish I wasn’t) I think wheat can be a totally wholesome food. Also, he talks about aerobics, but what about weight lifting? How can we do that much aerobic exercise without carbs? And resistance training is just as important isn’t it? Aerobics without weights could cause us to have a lower metabolism, couldn’t it? And if we ever went back to eating carbs we would likely start putting on the pounds. That’s definitely a health risk. What would be a helpful way for me to interperate this article? Thank you for your help!!

    • Thea

      Teale Niles: I highly recommend that you take a look at the book, Power Food For the Brain by Neal Barnard.

      Dr. Barnard addresses Alzheimers as well as other memory and dementia issues. Dr. Barnard is a very respectable author who has been both studying and doing nutrition research for years and years. I can tell you that he doesn’t tell people to cut back on “carbs”. Also, in addition to diet, the book has a section which addresses physical exercises.

      Hope that helps!

    • lyla cavanaugh

      I would stay away from weight lifting as you could get hemoroids. Aerobics is safe, stick mostly to low impact. It does not lower motabolism, but increases the rate at which you will burn calories at rest.

      • David Johnson

        I don’t agree — in my view, weight lifting/strength training should be part of one’s exercise program. It has many benefits e.g. strengthening bones, preventing muscle loss, increasing the number of mitochondria in muscles (reudcing odds of insulin resistance), generally increasing the odds one will stay functionally independent as one ages (I’m 68 so that is an issue for me). I have been lifting weights for decades and never had a problem of it causing hemorrhoids. Of course one should exercise within one’s tolerance and use proper technique, which means **not holding one’s breath”. Beginners should get instruction in proper technique and advice on a sensible program. Here’s the url to a reasonable discussion of this topic

  • Flo

    Now Carbohydrates? What’s a person to do or believe? Is this a fact? partial fact? or fiction?

    • Thea

      Flo: Concerning “What’s a person to do or believe?”
      I think the first thing to understand is that Dr. Oz’s show is great entertainment, not good medical information. The information on the show constantly contradicts itself, sometimes even within the same show. It is a good platform for people to advertize their message and products, but the information is not vetted in any responsible way.

      I highly recommend the following book for knowing the latest credible information about avoiding alzehimers and having all-around good brain health:

      “Power Foods For The brain” by Dr. Neal Barnard.

      Good luck.

  • Skeptic

    Could you comment on this journal article?

    Roberts R, Roberts L, Petersen R, et al. Relative Intake of Macronutrients Impacts Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment or Dementia. Journal Of Alzheimer’s Disease [serial online]. December 26, 2012;32(2):329-339. Available from: Academic Search Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed February 15, 2014.

    It seems to suggest that diets high in carbs encourage Alzheimer’s?


    • David Johnson

      Just saw this and don’t know if anyone is still interested. But note the conclusion pointed out that “A possible explanation for the association of carbohydrate intake with MCI is that elderly
      subjects with a high % carbohydrate intake may consume more foods with a high glycemic
      index. Indeed, subjects in our study with the highest % carbohydrate intake also had the
      highest intake of sugars and fruit (which are high in sugar content) but not vegetables, and
      the lowest intake of fat and protein.” They also mention possible reverse causation as those developing dementia/MCI apparently eat a lot of sugary foods.

  • bruxe

    At the following link: studies of elderly people yielded results enough for these researchers to say:

    >> We discovered that 10 blood lipids [fats] predicted
    >> whether someone would go on to develop cognitive
    >> impairment or Alzheimer’s.

    What I am wondering is if Dr. Greger has heard about this and if there is any way to associate these 10 blood lipids with animal fats?

  • Healthy

    How about aluminum ending up in the brain from all the acid drinks which include soft drinks and beer which are provided from the aluminum in aluminum cans? Whether it is copper, iron, and/or aluminum, metals do not do justice to the brain and are difficult to get out. Correct me if I am wrong!

  • Ligia

    Of course there was no evidence of Alzheimer’s 100 years ago, since it was only discovered in 1906!

    • lyla cavanaugh

      Many elderly sure had symptoms that looked a lot like Alzheimer’s in 1965. But that was way before it was being widely diagnosed.

  • Carol Garden

    What is a safe alternative to copper water pipes?

    • jj

      This is what is used for water pipes. Does any of it sound safe?
      … the most commonly used materials for drinking-water supply piping are galvanized steel or iron, copper, polybutylene, unplasticized polyvinylchloride (PVC), chlorinated polyvinylchloride (CPVC) and polyethylene (PE).

  • Carlo

    Prof. Woodrow Monte’s website >< has an extensive list of research studies regarding the effects of methanol and its metabolite formaldehyde in our modern diet. According to Monte and his colleagues, areas of the world that have the highest incidences of DOC (Diseases of Civilization) such as Alzheimer's, MS, Cancer, Autism, etc, are likely to consume or use tobacco products, diet products, canned foods and smoked meats. Lifestyles in the Blue Zones probably don't include too many of those products. To eliminate as many DOC's as possible is it worth it to ride into the "Blue" on a plant-based diet?
    Yeah, think I'll sit in the no-smoking section and cut the methanol and formaldehyde please!

  • cyndishisara

    Alzheimer’s might have multiple causes. One might be the modern stressed out lifestyle. Sleep deprivation might be the clearest link.:

  • Judy Fields Davis

    thanks so much!

  • sf_jeff

    What about Aluminum and Autism? Is there a connection there?

    • cyndishisara

      Sleep is the key toward detoxification. So yes, aluminum bight be involved as it needs to be detoxified. That is why I said watch the video. I am not sure about Autism. I will investigate.

  • Rodrigo Cardoso

    Spraying Bordeaux Mixture – copper(II) sulfate (CuSO 4) and slaked lime (Ca (OH) – is a very common use in agriculture in Portugal. Potatoes and tomatoes get fungus and one looses the crop very fast if not sprayed. Especially when close to the coast line. A common characteristic is to see the tomatoes in a blue colour.

  • Liz Darianne

    Isnt a vegetarian diet high in copper and low in zinc anyway? Isnt that a bad thing for cognitive impairment problems?

  • Liz

    Vegan diets tend to be very high in copper and lower in zinc generally, why wouldn’t this video mention this? This bothers me. Can I get a brief explanation?

  • Isabel

    What about sugar?? There is no mention here about the rise in sugar consumption and how Alzheimer’s is considered diabetes type 3…???

  • Wings

    What about copper bracelets & braces/sleeves for arthritis?

  • AuroraW

    Interesting theory, thank you. Has anyone studied Alzheimer’s in plumbers? They are frequently exposed to copper and copper dust (cutting or grinding pipes).

  • Louis

    Many people in developing countries store their less than desirable water in copper vessels as a means of reducing bacterial count. These people don’t seem to be suffering from Alzheimer’s to the same degree as North Americans.
    In your video on the use of Saffron for Alzheimer’s, notice the year when Alzheimer’s takes off… 1979. Glyphosate-based Round-Up was introduced in 1974 and quickly became one of the most widely-used herbicides as of 1980.
    A good amount of neurotransmitters are produced by gut bacteria. Glyphosate in known to induce gut dysbiosis and permeability. Perhaps it affects Blood-Brain permeability as well.
    Before copper plumbing, we had lead pipes. Despite drinking and bathing in copper and lead throughout much of the Twentieth Century, Alzheimer’s was still not prevalent until Glyphosate was introduced.
    Glyphosate should be at the top of your list.