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Copper, magnesium, zinc levels tied to mortality

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, May 13 (Reuters) French researchers have identified links between levels of three metals in the body and the risk of death from cancer or heart disease.

Dr Nathalie Leone of the Lille Pasteur Institute and colleagues found men with high copper levels had an increased risk of dying over an 18-year period, while high magnesium levels were associated with reduced mortality risk. Low zinc levels seem to add to the effect of the other two elements.

However, the researchers note, it remains unclear whether these metals are actually responsible for these effects or simply markers for cancer or heart disease.

Zinc, copper and magnesium play a number of key roles in the body, for example in the immune response, inflammation and oxidative stress, Leone and her colleagues write in the research journal Epidemiology. To investigate the relationship between body levels of these elements and mortality, the researchers followed 4,035 men aged 30 to 60 for 18 years.

During follow-up, 339 men died, including 176 from cancer and 56 from heart disease.

Men with the highest copper levels at the study's outset had a 50 per cent increased risk of death from any cause, and a 40 per cent greater risk of dying from cancer, compared to men with the lowest levels.

On the other hand, those with the highest magnesium levels had a 40 per cent to 50 per cent reduced risk of death compared to those with the lowest levels.

Low zinc levels along with high copper levels boosted mortality risk further; men with this combination were 2.6 times more likely to die during the follow-up period than those with low levels of both zinc and copper. Low zinc values combined with low magnesium levels contributed to an increased mortality risk.

High copper levels were tied to older age, smoking and high cholesterol, Leone and her team note, while lower magnesium levels were linked to older age, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Copper can contribute to the formation of damaging free radicals in the body, the researchers note, while low magnesium may also contribute to inflammation. Low zinc levels may impair immune function, while zinc also shields the body from free radicals.

''In this way, decreased zinc and either increased copper or decreased magnesium might synergistically enhance oxidative damage and the inflammatory response,'' Leone and her team write.

''Further studies are needed to confirm the interactions between serum zinc and serum copper or serum magnesium and their potential contribution to the prediction of all-cause, cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality in clinical practice,'' they conclude.

Reuters SI VP0947

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