Diabetes affects copper levels, leading to potential health issues

by Barbara Hewitt on December 22, 2017

A build of up of copper in the body’s cells in people with diabetes can hinder the ability to make new healthy blood vessels which can cause a variety of health problems, new research suggests.

Diabetes also makes existing blood vessel walls less flexible, more leaky and more prone to accumulate plaque deposits and scars that impede good blood flow. All of this contributes to a host of problems such as heart attacks, nerve death, poor wound healing and even the loss of limbs.

The scientists from the Vascular Biology Centre at the Augusts University’s Medical College of Georgia in the United States discovered that diabetes alters the healthy copper balance that more typically enables new blood vessel formation.

Dr. Tohru Fukai, a vascular biologist and cardiologist at the university, hopes that treatments that target ATP7A, a copper transporter that normally helps ensure healthy copper levels for a wide variety of functions in our body, may one day help patients with diabetes recover the innate ability to make healthy new blood vessels.

Fellow scientist, Dr. Masuko Ushio-Fukai, also an MCG vascular biologist, explained that normally copper is essential for angiogenesis. ‘But in inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, copper levels within cells become excessive,’ he said.

The research report explains that our bodies have a system to avoid accumulating too much copper. Central to this is ATP7A, a pervasive, natural copper transporter whose primary job is regulating intracellular copper levels. After we consume copper in foods like nuts and whole grains, ATP7A picks it up from the small intestines for transport to the many body tissues that need it.

Normally both ATP7A and copper reside in a portion of the cell called the Golgi apparatus. But when too much copper starts to accumulate for any reason, ATP7A transports it from the Golgi apparatus out to the cell membrane for elimination. In diabetes the balance is off.

Copper is found in a variety of foods such as nuts, poppy and sunflower seeds, chickpeas, organ meats like liver, oysters and wheat bran cereals. Copper supplements are already used to improve wound healing and for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, as well as for a rare copper deficiency, which can cause anaemia since the metal is essential for iron uptake.

There are not currently any drugs known to increase ATP7A levels, so Fukai and Ushio-Fukai’s plan to look at potential future treatments.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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