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Health News Archive 584 - Heart Health
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Copper May Ease an Ailing Heart

A new animal study adds to evidence that including more copper, along with a well-balanced diet, offsets the effects of stress on an overworked heart by preventing its enlargement. The study appears in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Retired physiologist Jack Saari participated in the study while with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota. Lead author Y. James Kang conducted the study at the University of Louisville Medical Center in Kentucky.

Copper is an essential trace element that acts as a cofactor for the physiological function of many proteins. Tiny amounts are contained in hundreds of copper-dependent proteins that perform essential biological functions in animals and humans.

Hypertrophy is an increase in the size of a tissue or organ. For the study, the researchers challenged two groups of mice for two months, resulting in cardiac hypertrophy—a condition in which the heart becomes bigger followed by disease. Enlarged hearts often occur in response to elevated blood pressure.

Both groups were fed the equivalent of the recommended dietary amount of copper for adults for the entire two months. But after the first month, the test group's diet was increased to contain the equivalent of three times the human recommended amount of dietary copper—an amount that was still just one-third of the equivalent safe upper limit for humans.

By four weeks, heart disease developed in all the mice, and by eight weeks, heart failure developed in the control mice. But the hearts of the mice receiving the extra copper returned to normal size and function, despite the fact that the cardiac challenge continued throughout the eight-week period.

In human hypertrophic heart disease, enlarged heart muscle leads to shortness of breath during exertion, discomfort caused by reduced blood supply to the heart muscle and/or abnormal heart rhythms.

Confirmational, controlled human research studies are needed in which volunteers with hypertrophic heart disease consume copper-rich diets. But this mouse study suggests that consuming more copper in the diet may help people with hypertrophic, or thickened, heart muscle conditions.

Researchers concluded: "The human equivalent of the beneficial dose of copper used in this study is 3.0 mg/day. The current recommended daily intake for humans, however, is only 0.9 mg/day. Increasing copper intake may be a cheap way to reduce mortality associated with heart disease."

For Medical Professionals:

Copper-carrying proteins disarm oxygen radicals and power electron transport. Humans with copper deficiency have increased cholesterol levels, clot formation, oxidative tissue damage, and heart disease. Cardiac tissue biopsies of heart attack victims show a great reduction in copper levels.

In mice with stress-induced heart disease, the team now shows, increased heart size and decreased heart function can both be restored to normal levels by a small increase in the daily intake of copper, even when the stress stimulus is maintained. But without the copper supplement, stressed mice suffer heart failure after two months.

The authors show that mice receiving dietary copper supplements have increased activity of a transcription factor called HIF-1, leading to increased production of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) protein, which promotes angiogenesis. Blocking VEGF activity inhibits the ability of copper to reverse heart enlargement and dysfunction. It is not clear, however, how angiogenesis helps decrease muscle mass or how copper gets pushed out of the heart during stress.

Source: Youchun Jiang, Corey Reynolds, Chang Xiao, Wenke Feng, Zhanxiang Zhou, Walter Rodriguez, Suresh C. Tyagi, John W. Eaton, Jack T. Saari, and Y. James Kang; Dietary copper supplementation reverses hypertrophic cardiomyopathy induced by chronic pressure overload in mice. J. Exp. Med. 2007 204: 657-666. Published online Mar 5 2007, 10.1084/jem.20061943.

Adapted with exclusive permission of ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

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