A tantalizing new theory says that an excess of two common minerals—iron and copper—may be behind some cases of Alzheimer’s and heart disease. These minerals are essential for good health, but, says geneticist George J. Brewer, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a surplus may increase oxidant damage to cells, raising the risk of disease. It’s clear that most Americans over 50 get a glut of these minerals (in fact, older men consume more than double the recommended dietary allowance of iron). Are they really making people sick? Not yet known, says nutrition researcher Richard Wood, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst—but he and other experts agree that if you’re over 50, it’s worth taking some easy steps to reduce your intake:
Reconsider your multi habit. Multivitamin formulas designed for adults over 50 are typically free of iron, but “it’s almost impossible to find one without copper,” Dr. Brewer says. Most health benefits for multis are unproven, so it may be safer to skip them if they’re not specifically prescribed by your doctor.
Drain before drinking. Copper plumbing is found in more than 80 percent of houses in this country. But newer pipes—those less than five years old—can leach higher amounts of the mineral into your drinking water. Letting the water run for 15 to 30 seconds first thing in the morning will flush away excess copper. Some filters also reduce levels.
Eat less red meat. You can quickly sail past recommended levels of iron if you eat lots of iron-rich beef, pork, or lamb. Limit yourself to two or three small servings a week.