Zinc and Alzheimer’s


A new laboratory finding suggests that excess zinc may be implicated in triggering the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The experimental results were reported in last week’s issue of Science.

Researchers added minute amounts of zinc to solutions containing chemicals normally found in the brain. The mineral apparently caused amyloid plaques to form; such glue-like clumps are one of the main hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

Similar experiments with other minerals did not produce amyloid plaques in the laboratory. Of particular interest was aluminum, which has been implicated in some previous studies as potentially being involved in Alzheimer’s disease; aluminum did not cause clumps to form.

Previous studies of Alzheimer’s patients had found elevated levels of the mineral in two places. In one, excess zinc was found in cerebrospinal fluid of demented patients. In the other, particularly high levels of zinc were found in the hippocampus of Alzheimer’s patients, an area of the brain known to be involved in the recording of memories.

Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, chief researcher in the new study on zinc, was quick to note that his study does nothing more than increase the suspicion about zinc. Further research is necessary, he notes, before recommendations can be made about dietary changes. Small amounts of zinc are required for various metabolic processes in the body, and zinc deficiency could lead to slow wound healing, loss of appetite and other problems. Zinc is found naturally in meats, eggs and shellfish.

One of the concerns raised by this new research is the occasional use of massive zinc supplements to treat a variety of illnesses. Some practitioners recommend zinc to prevent prostate cancer and macular degeneration, for instance. Some controversial reports even have suggested that zinc may improve the immune system and increase mental alertness in the elderly.

In fact, one reason Dr. Tanzi began the current study of the effects of zinc was his familiarity with an unpublished study in Australia. In 1992, researchers in Melbourne sought to test theories that zinc might actually improve mental functioning among Alzheimer’s patients. Five patients suffering from dementia were given zinc supplements; within four days their cognitive functioning had deteriorated so markedly that the study was halted.

Even armed with the Australian research results, Dr. Tanzi still cautions against over-reaction. He notes that zinc is already known to be dangerous in large doses, and speculates that Alzheimer’s patients may simply be unusually susceptible to its toxic effects. Still, the results of these two studies may caution against the practice of using megadoses of zinc; some doctors prescribe up to fifteen times the recommended daily allowance of fifteen milligrams for macular degeneration patients. Dr. Tanzi’s group now plans to test such patients for increased Alzheimer’s risk.

Fleming & Curti, P.L.C.

Elder Law Issues publisher Robert Fleming and long-time Tucson attorney Thomas Curti have formed a law partnership. Fleming and Curti have shared space in their jointly-owned office building in the “snob hollow” neighborhood downtown for over two years, and have had a long professional association prior to this recent change. In fact, the two were law school classmates in the early 1970s.

The focus of the firm will continue to be Elder Law and related issues, but with the ability to work in business, real estate and personal injury law. Addresses and telephone numbers are unchanged.

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