IN THE LAB | JANUARY 31, 2012 - Shirley S. Wang
A New Target in Fighting Brain Disease:
Research into how iron, copper, zinc and
other metals work in the brain may help unlock some of the secrets of
diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Iron and copper appear to accumulate beyond
normal levels in the brains of people with these diseases, and a new,
Australian study published Sunday shows reducing excess iron in the
alleviate Alzheimer's-like symptoms—at least in mice.
A genetic mutation related to regulating iron
is linked to ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease. Zinc, on the other hand,
impair memory if its levels get too low or if it gets into a brain
it doesn't belong, as it can with traumatic brain injury.
Research into the complicated, invisible
roles these metals play in brain diseases has lagged behind study of
more-visible proteins that are damaged or clump together in the brains
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's sufferers. But better understanding metals'
the brain could help shed light on a range of medical conditions and
offer a new route for developing treatments, scientists say.
"The field is coming around to the idea
of the cause of Alzheimer's being multifactorial," and disturbed metal
regulation could be one of those factors, says Ralph Nixon, chairman of
Alzheimer Association's medical and scientific advisory council and
the Silberstein Alzheimer's Institute at New York University.
Tiny metal ions—charged particles of the
elements—serve several essential functions in the body, including
chemical reactions to generate energy and preserving the structure of
Strict checks and balances in a healthy body keep metal levels within a
But the biological changes that come with
disease and aging—as opposed to poisoning from outside sources
supplements or metal pans—can knock levels of these metals out of
whack in the
Iron, for instance, is a "double-edged
sword" because it interacts with oxygen to help the body generate
but also can produce free radicals, highly reactive molecules that can
cell damage, says James Connor, professor and vice chairman of
Penn State University in Hershey.
If the body has too little iron, such as with
anemia, the body doesn't generate enough energy to sustain important
But an overabundance of iron accumulated in the brain is toxic.
higher accumulations of metal have been observed in the brains of
Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease than in healthy people of the same
says Ashley Bush, a professor of pathology at the University of
The new study, conducted by Dr. Bush and
colleagues and published in the journal Nature Medicine, examined the
iron in the brains of mice that were bred unable to produce the tau
which helps stabilize the structure of neurons. Tau damage is
Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
As the mice aged, they suffered symptoms
similar to people with both diseases, including impaired short-term
also exhibited an accumulation of iron in their brains. When the
gave them a drug removing excess iron, the symptoms reversed. This
normally functioning tau is necessary for removing iron in the brain,
says. The finding bolsters previous research showing that bringing down
may be a path to new treatments.
"An accumulation of iron in neurons seems
to be a final end-stage event in neurodegeneration, whether it be
or Parkinson's, [or] any [condition] related to tau abnormalities,"
Dr. Bush, who is also a fellow at the university's Mental Health
Other proteins affected in Alzheimer's also
play a role in metal regulation. The amyloid precursor protein is
helping export iron from the brain, according to work published in the
Cell in 2010. Presenilin, another protein that aids in metal uptake, is
disturbed in diseased brains, according to a study published in Journal
Biological Chemistry last year.
Similar findings link copper accumulation and
brain disease, though not as much research has been conducted as with
In addition to iron accrual,
lower-than-normal levels of zinc have been found in patients with
and Parkinson's disease, according to work by George Brewer, an
professor at the University of Michigan, and Edward Fitzgerald at the
at Albany-SUNY, published last year in the American Journal of
Disease and Other Dementias. Dr. Brewer now is a consultant to Adeona
Pharmaceuticals Inc., based in Ann Arbor, Mich., which is developing a
zinc-based treatment for Alzheimer's, he says.
Besides Adeona, a handful of other
biotechnology companies have also been testing experimental
drugs for treatment of Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. But developing such
tricky because it is hard to target metals in specific parts of the
Simply lowering or increasing the amount overall in the body may not be
beneficial, researchers say.
Metals may play a vital role in other brain
Stephen Lippard, a chemistry professor at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and colleagues from Duke
the University of Toronto, found zinc helps neurons communicate in the
hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory. Disturbing
interaction, or ushering zinc into a brain region where it doesn't
could affect memory formation and the occurrence of epileptic seizures,
Dr. Lippard, who studies the role of metal ions in biology,
medicine. Their work was published in September in Neuron.
"It's important that the medical
community continue to be alerted to the connection between metal ions
neurological disease," says Dr. Lippard.
Dr. Connor and his Penn State team have shown
that patients with ALS have a higher rate of mutation in a gene, HFE,
regulates iron absorption. Carriers of the mutation have higher levels
in the brain and a fourfold increase in risk of ALS, according to a
published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences.
They have also been trying to figure out why
the patients with multiple sclerosis lose the protective coating,
myelin, surrounding their axons, the part of the nerve cell that
electrical impulses. The cells responsible for making the myelin have
iron, making them more vulnerable to damage and death, says Dr. Connor.
Metals, Positive and Negative
Several metals play vital roles in the human
body, but diseases can disturb their balance, causing harm.
Normal function: Involved in oxygen
transport; needed to make energy for cells.
In the brain: Excess levels of iron are
linked to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Proteins and mutations
to iron delivery or absorption appear to be connected to Lou Gehrig's
and multiple sclerosis.
Normal function: Helps transport oxygen,
often works in tandem with iron.
In the brain: Wilson disease stops the body
from getting rid of copper, which can cause speech problems, tremors
stiffness. Disruption in copper regulation causes Menkes disease, which
to abnormally low copper levels.
Normal function: Helps make DNA and RNA,
regulates cell death, and plays a role in short-term memory and
In the brain: Low levels or the presence of
the metal in areas of the brain where it isn't normally found are
Toxic towns: People of Mossville 'are like an
Westlake, Louisiana (CNN) -- Gather current and
former Mossville, Louisiana, residents in a room and you're likely to
hear a litany of health problems and a list of friends and relatives
who died young.
"I got cancer. My dad had cancer. In fact, he died of
cancer. It's a lot of people in this area who died of cancer," says
Herman Singleton Jr., 51, who also lost two uncles and an aunt to
Singleton and many others in this predominantly
African-American community in southwest Louisiana suspect the 14
chemical plants nearby have played a role in the cancer and other
diseases they say have ravaged the area.
For decades, Mossville residents have complained about
their health problems to industry, and to state and federal agencies.
Now with a new Environmental Protection Agency administrator outspoken
about her commitment to environmental justice, expectations are growing.
"I'm pretty hopeful now," say Debra Ramirez, 55, who
grew up in Mossville and who lost a sister at 45 of sarcoidosis, an
inflammatory disease. "I do see her trying to do the right thing."
Lisa Jackson, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and
the first African-American administrator of the EPA, this year listed
environmental justice as one of her seven priorities.
And the EPA held a meeting in Mossville last month
formally kicking off a study designed to see if the community qualifies
as a Superfund site, reserved for the most polluted places in the
United States. Superfund site designation would bring federal funding
for cleaning up Mossville.
Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), the local
environmental group, has asked government and industry to relocate
residents who want to leave, offer a free health clinic and lower
emissions from the plants. Superfund relocates residents only as a last
"There are people that are getting sick; there are
people who are dying because of what is happening in our community.
These chemicals are killing us. They will destroy Mossville if nothing
happens," says Dorothy Felix of MEAN.
Thousands of pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and
vinyl chloride are released from the facilities near Mossville each
year, according to the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory.
The industrial boom began in and around Mossville during
World War II. Vinyl chloride makers, refineries, a coal-fired energy
plant and chemical plants now operate in what was once rural country,
rich in agriculture, fishing and hunting.
Robert Bullard, author of "Dumping in Dixie," says it's
no surprise industry chose Mossvillle, an unincorporated community
founded by African Americans in the 1790s.
"What happens is zoning becomes very political, and what
happens is people with power, with lawyers and elected officials who
can fight for them and make decisions for them, oftentimes will get
things placed away from them and placed in locations where other people
live" Bullard says.
Without the power, Bullard says, African-Americans have
borne the brunt of living near industry, landfills and hazardous
"African Americans are more than 79 percent more likely
to live in communities where there are dangerous facilities that pose
health threats," says Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice
Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.
Bullard says Jackson has breathed new life into
environmental justice since she took office last year. During the
previous eight years, he says, "environmental justice was non-existent
Over time, Mossville residents became worried emissions
from the plants were affecting their health.
Those fears heightened in 1998 when the federal Agency
for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry tested the blood of 28
Mossville residents and found dioxin levels three times the national
Dioxins are carcinogens. Volcanoes and forest fires
create dioxins naturally. They are also released during vinyl chloride
production, at waste incinerators and by wood processing facilities.
Residents were retested for dioxins in 2001, with
similar results, but in 2006 the agency concluded that residents did
not face a health risk, an assessment echoed by local industry.
"The emissions from the plants are within the standards
set by the various agencies, and they are of a level that they have no
ill effects on the local community," says Larry DeRoussel, executive
director of the Lake Area Industry Alliance.
DeRoussel speaks for local industry. CNN invited all 14
companies to speak on camera. None of them accepted; some said
interviewing DeRoussel would suffice.
DeRoussel points to statistics showing the cancer rate
in Calcasieu Parish, the local county, is not significantly higher than
the state average.
But Wilma Subra, a chemist from New Iberia, Louisiana,
who has worked with Mossville residents, says the statistics are
misleading because the parish covers such a large area, more than 1,000
square miles, and more than 180,000 residents. Mossville is a tiny
fraction of that, with about 375 homes adjacent to the chemical plants.
"The people of Mossville are like an experiment. They
know that they have high levels of dioxin in their blood, and they're
allowed to continue to live there and be exposed," says Subra,
recipient of the MacArthur genius grant in 1999 for her environmental
work with communities.
After the EPA announced its Superfund investigation,
Felix says she's hopeful for the first time in years Mossville will be
"This is the first time I've had a
little hope in EPA," Felix says.
Ltd. manufacturing is GMP
Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Certification Program verifies to
dietary supplements are manufactured according to high standards. The
third-party certification program includes inspections of dietary
manufacturing facilities to determine whether specified performance
on a number of measures—including quality control, cleanliness,
testing of raw materials—are being met.
Research links pesticides with ADHD in children
CHICAGO – A new analysis of U.S. health data links
children's attention-deficit disorder with exposure to common
pesticides used on fruits
While the study couldn't prove that pesticides used in
agriculture contribute to childhood learning problems, experts said the
research is persuasive.
"I would take it quite seriously," said Virginia Rauh of
University, who has studied prenatal exposure to pesticides and
wasn't involved in the new study.
More research will be needed to confirm the tie, she
Children may be especially prone to the health risks of
pesticides because they're still growing and they may consume more pesticide residue than
adults relative to their body
In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that
can be measured in urine. Almost universally, the study found
detectable levels: The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent
of the children.
The kids with higher levels had increased chances of
having ADHD, attention-deficit
hyperactivity disorder, a common problem that causes students to
have trouble in school. The findings were published Monday in
The children may have eaten food treated with
pesticides, breathed it in the air or swallowed it in their drinking water. The
study didn't determine how they were exposed. Experts said it's likely
children who don't live near farms are exposed through what they eat.
"Exposure is practically ubiquitous. We're all exposed,"
said lead author Maryse Bouchard of the University of Montreal.
She said people can limit their exposure by eating
organic produce. Frozen blueberries, strawberries and celery had more
pesticide residue than other foods in one government report.
A 2008 Emory
University study found that in children who switched to
organically grown fruits
and vegetables, urine levels of pesticide compounds dropped to
undetectable or close to undetectable levels.
Because of known dangers of pesticides in humans, the
Protection Agency limits how much residue can stay on food. But
the new study shows it's possible even tiny, allowable amounts of
pesticide may affect brain chemistry, Rauh said.
The exact causes behind the children's reported ADHD
though are unclear. Any number of factors could have caused the
symptoms and the link with pesticides could be by chance.
The new findings are based on one-time urine samples in
1,139 children and interviews with their parents to determine which
children had ADHD. The children, ages 8 to 15, took part in a
government health survey in 2000-2004.
As reported by their parents, about 150 children in the
study either showed the severe inattention, hyperactivity and
impulsivity characteristic of ADHD, or were taking drugs to treat it.
The study dealt with one common type of pesticide called
organophosphates. Levels of six pesticide compounds were measured. For
the most frequent compound detected, 20 percent of the children with
above-average levels had ADHD. In children with no detectable amount in
their urine, 10 percent had ADHD.
"This is a well conducted study," said Dr. Lynn Goldman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
School of Public Health and a former EPA administrator.
Relying on one urine sample for each child, instead of
multiple samples over time, wasn't ideal, Goldman said.
The study provides more evidence that the government
should encourage farmers to switch to organic methods, said Margaret
Reeves, senior scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, an advocacy
group that's been working to end the use of many pesticides.
"It's unpardonable to allow this exposure to continue,"
6 Risky Chemicals You're Carrying in Your Body
In the most comprehensive testing to
date, the CDC finds Americans are exposed to 212 chemicals. Here's how
to avoid six of the riskiest.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
released its latest assessment of the chemicals we're all carrying
around in our bodies. The biomonitoring study is the most comprehensive in
the world, measuring 212 chemicals in the blood and urine of 8,000
Americans. That's more than 40% more chemicals than have ever been
tested for before.
The results: You can find 212 chemicals in the blood and
urine of Americans if you look for them.
But what does it mean for your health? The CDC
highlighted a few chemicals because they are both widespread -- found
in all or most people tested -- and potentially harmful. Here's a look
at what they are and how you can try to avoid them.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers
Better known as "flame retardants" PBDEs are used widely in all sorts
of goods -- from foam furniture to electronics -- to reduce fire risk.
They also accumulate in human fat, and some studies suggest they may
harm the liver and kidneys as well as the neurological system. Some
states, including California, Washington and Maine, have restricted the
use of certain PBDEs deemed the highest health risk. Short of such
bans, avoiding them is difficult because the chemicals are integrated
into so many common products.
BPA, which is found in many plastics, in the lining of cans and even
coating many sales receipts, was found in more than 90% of Americans
tested. The health concerns about BPA are many and growing. While
BPA-free products are available, it can be difficult to choose them
unless you do research ahead of time. The Daily Green has a list
of many products containing BPA to help.
PFOA and other perfluorinated chemicals found in most Americans are
used to create heat-resistant and non-stick coatings on cookware, as
well as grease-resistant
food packaging and stain-resistant clothing. Studies have linked
these chemicals to a range of health problems, including infertility in
women, and to liver, immune system, developmental and reproductive
problems in lab animals. Avoiding them can be difficult, but avoiding
products that contain them is a first step.
Formed when carbohydrates are cooked at high temperatures (French fries
anyone?) and as a byproduct of tobacco smoke, acrylamide and its
metabolites are extremely common in Americans. While the risks of
low-level exposure aren't well known, high-level exposure has caused
cancer and neurological problems in lab animals and workers,
respectively. Avoiding it in food comes down to food choice, storage and preparation, according to
the Food and Drug Administration. Examples include boiling or baking
potatoes, rather than frying them, or soaking them in water before
frying; toasting bread only lightly; and moderating the drinking of
coffee, which gets acrylamide in the roasting process.
The main source of mercury -- a potent neurotoxin that can lead to
permanent brain damage if young children or fetuses are exposed --
continues to be contaminated fish. To avoid mercury, you have to
educate yourself about which
fish are safe. Several
guides exist to help make a smart choice at the fish counter.
This gasoline additive has been phased out of use in the U.S., in favor
of ethanol, but it still can be detected widely in American's bodies.
(It has contaminated many drinking water supplies.) While the health
risks are not well defined, studies have linked it to a variety of
potential problems, including neurological and reproductive damage.
The good news in the CDC report is that effective
regulation can really reduce harmful exposures to chemicals. Testing
reveals that secondhand smoke exposure has declined 70%, for instance,
and lead poisoning (as defined by the CDC; some scientists think the
acceptable level is too high) now affects less than 2% of children aged
The bad news is that, not only are Americans being
exposed to many potentially harmful chemicals, in mixtures that are
totally untested, but even this most comprehensive testing regimen
accounts for less than 1% of the chemicals most Americans are exposed
to regularly. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified at
least 6,000 chemicals that Americans are routinely exposed to.
Until and unless U.S. regulation of chemicals changes,
chemicals will continue to be used in commerce before rigorous safety
testing. That means it's up to consumers to avoid chemicals they deem
Study: Chemicals, pollutants found in newborns
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Chemicals from cosmetics, perfumes and other fragrances
were detected along with dozens of other industrial compounds in the
umbilical cords of African American, Asian and Latino infants in the
United States, according to a national study released Wednesday.
Laboratory tests paid for by the nonprofit Environmental
Working Group and Rachel's Network found 232 chemicals and pollutants
in the umbilical cords of the 10 babies tested in five states between
December 2007 and June 2008.
'Not a surprise'
"It is not a surprise because studies for many years
have shown synthetic and industrial chemicals in humans, but it is
particularly concerning that the developing fetus is being exposed,"
said Megan Schwarzman, a family physician at San Francisco General
Hospital and a research scientist in environmental public health at UC
Berkeley. "This is a particularly vulnerable time, and there is no
reason for the chemicals to be there."
It was the 11th time the working group has conducted
laboratory tests of human blood for chemicals in household and
industrial products. Overall, the working group, which focuses on
environmental health issues, found 414 chemicals and pollutants in 186
people of all ages and races, including Caucasians.
The latest study was the first time newborns of minority
mothers were exclusively tested.
Representatives of the study group
admitted that the sample of newborns from California, Michigan,
Florida, Massachusetts and Wisconsin was too small for them to draw any
definitive conclusions about race. The results are nevertheless likely
to provide new ammunition in the effort to tighten regulations of
consumer products and force cosmetic companies to list their
Seven of the 10 babies had in their umbilical cord blood
synthetic musks known as Galaxolide and Tonalide, which are toxic to
aquatic life and have been shown in preliminary studies to cause
The musk is used in scented soaps, perfumes and
colognes, indicating the infants were contaminated by cosmetics their
"It means the chemicals are crossing the placenta and
getting into babies in the womb," said Stacy Malkan, a member of San
Francisco's Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the author of "Not Just a
Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry."
Another chemical found in the umbilical cords was
bisphenol A, or BPA, a synthetic estrogen used in plastics that has
been linked to breast cancer and hormonal problems. A study of Chinese
factory workers released last month found an increased risk of sexual
dysfunction from exposure to large amounts of the chemical.
It was the first time the synthetic musks and BPA were
found in newborns.
Products used in flame retardants, rocket fuels, on
frying pans and in computer circuit boards were found in the infants in
addition to lead, mercury and known carcinogens, according to the study.
Despite this stark evidence of contamination, cosmetics
companies do not have to list synthetic chemicals in their products
because fragrances are considered trade secrets.
"You won't find these chemicals on the label of your
favorite perfume because companies don't have to tell us what is in a
fragrance," Malkan said. "That's just wrong. Consumers have the right
to know what chemicals we are putting into our bodies."
On Wednesday, California and 12 other states issued a
joint statement saying federal laws designed to protect the public from
toxic chemicals are too weak. The statement asked for changes that
would protect vulnerable populations by identifying and regulating the
chemicals in consumer products.
The cosmetic industry and petrochemical companies have
fought efforts in Congress to reform cosmetic industry regulations,
which were first drawn up in 1938 and have remained virtually unchanged.
Both the House and Senate are considering bills to ban
bisphenol A in food and beverage containers. The bills, by Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., would protect
pregnant women, their children and other consumers from the
hormone-disrupting chemical that is used in plastic baby bottles, food
containers and in the lining of food cans.
The Environmental Working Group study urges immediate
action to prevent further exposure to chemicals.
"Each time we look for the latest chemical of concern in
infant cord blood, we find it," said Anila Jacob, the group's senior
scientist and co-author of the report. "Our results strongly suggest
that the health of all children is threatened by trace amounts of
hundreds of synthetic chemicals coursing through their bodies from the
earliest stages of life."
High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury
Wednesday, January 28, 2009