Zinc Deficiency May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s
Scientists have struggled to unravel the mystery of Alzheimer’s disease for decades. The brain disease is characterized by loss of memory, confusion, dementia, and eventually death. Technically, Alzheimer’s is only diagnosed after death, by examining the brain. Autopsy invariably reveals that certain proteins in the brain have clumped together, damaging brain cells and severely interfering with brain function. The manner in which proteins are folded determines their ability to function; alterations in the way certain proteins are folded is a hallmark of the disease.
Many theories have been proposed to explain the causes of Alzheimer’s. At one time, investigators feared that aluminum somehow plays a role. That theory has fallen out of favor, but no one is certain. Now, however, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison say they’ve identified another metallic element that may play a key role in Alzheimer’s: zinc. But it’s not too much zinc that causes problems, say researchers. It’s too little.
Zinc is an essential trace element that’s integral to many different proteins in the body. It’s important for proper immune system function, for instance. The Wisconsin scientists say that too little zinc may be responsible for the development of Alzheimer’s, because zinc enables certain proteins to hold their functional shapes. Inadequate zinc may allow these proteins to collapse, and clump together.
Good dietary sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, nuts, seafood (oysters, crab and lobsters) and beans. The body can’t store zinc, so you need some every day. If you’re vegetarian, please note that you may require more dietary zinc than non-vegetarians, because it’s more difficult for the body to absorb vegetarian sources of the mineral.
Macdiarmid CW, Taggart J, Kerdsomboon K, Kubisiak M, Panascharoen S, Schelble K, et al. Peroxiredoxin chaperone activity is critical for protein homeostasis in zinc-deficient yeast. J Biol Chem. 2013 Sep 10. [Epub ahead of print]