It seems like copper is all the rage right now. A quick stop by any pharmacy shows copper-infused knee, ankle, wrist, and even back braces. Even the ironman of the NFL, Brett Favre, hawks one brand on the TV. If you’re a natural-born skeptic, like me, you probably laugh heartily whenever you see someone buying or wearing one. Soon, though, you find that you own a few of these copper-infused braces. Worse yet, they’re your favorite. Needless to say, copper isn’t just for aching muscles. It’s a vitally important nutrient for our bodies.
We need copper in our bodies in the right places. Researchers have found success treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) with a form of copper with a delivery system.
Early last year, researchers found that an intracellular copper complex called copper-ATSM administered to mice with ALS caused no progression with the disease and prolonged their lives to near normal lengths. Scientists involved in the study at Oregon State University were shocked by how well the copper-ATSM worked in combating the disease.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurological disease that eats away at the nerve cells. The cells lose the ability to send signals to muscles telling them to move in an intended way. It affects both voluntary and involuntary motor functions. Eventually, the muscles weaken. ALS can be inherited, but this familial type represents only about 10 percent of all cases. In most cases, ALS is fatal as people lose the ability to breathe on their own.
With the surprise of the study on mice, researchers started pushing for human trials as soon as possible. Earlier this year, the first phase of human trials began, looking at the safety of the treatment. Everyone expects copper-ATSM to sail through this stage as it is already being used in motor neuron disease and Parkinson’s disease medications, though in lower doses.
Once the first phase is complete, researchers will start testing the effectiveness of copper-ATSM for treating ALS. This phase will last a few years before the third and final trial begins, which compares this treatment against existing treatments. It may be a few years before copper-ATSM is approved by the FDA, but researchers are hopeful.
Researchers and doctors offer up caution to anyone excited about this news: copper supplements do not deliver the copper to the nerve cells the way copper-ATSM does. Taking too much copper can result in severe health conditions. It is possible to get copper poisoning from a relatively modest amount of copper.