Q. You have written about the dangers of aluminum, but you have not been keeping up with the evidence. Back in the 1960s, a few studies found high levels of aluminum in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The research called into question the safety of everyday household items such as aluminum cans, antacids, and antiperspirants.
But the findings of these early studies weren’t replicated in later research. Experts have essentially ruled out aluminum as a possible cause of Alzheimer’s. Why won’t you back off?
A. We wish that the worries about aluminum had truly been laid to rest by recent research. Unfortunately, epidemiology and experimental data show otherwise.
An aluminum researcher recently published a review titled: “Prolonged exposure to low levels of aluminum leads to changes associated with brain aging and neurodegeneration” (Toxicology, Jan. 6, 2014). Here are some of the observations:
“Early reports of the neurotoxicity of Al [aluminum] such as those with dialysis dementia involved exposure to relatively high levels of Al. More recently and more controversially, the potential health effects of more chronic exposures to low levels of Al have provoked apprehension. The finding of high levels of Al in the brains of patients with AD [Alzheimer's Disease] relative to controls has been reported and high Al levels are also found in other less common neurological disorders including the Guamanian Parkinsonian-ALS complex and Hallervorden-Spatz disease. This has raised the issue of whether the metal may play a contributory role in the initiation and progression of a variety of neurological disorders….
“The simplest way of accounting for much of the data concerning Al neurotoxicity is the concept that Al can accelerate the evolution of the aging process. This acceleration could give a reason for the epidemiological relation between Al and Alzheimer’s disease, which affects a large proportion of the very elderly.”
Scientists have clearly established that aluminum is toxic to brain cells (Immunologic Research, July, 2013). Although the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease remains controversial, a leading Australian neuroscientist has concluded that the data point to a causal link between chronic aluminum intake and Alzheimer’s disease (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, online Feb. 20, 2014). His summation is a bit scientific but worth the effort of trying to decipher his technical jargon:
“The present causality analysis evaluates the extent to which the routine, life-long intake and metabolism of aluminum compounds can account for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), using Austin Bradford Hill’s nine epidemiological and experimental causality criteria, including strength of the relationship, consistency, specificity, temporality, dose-dependent response, biological rationale, coherence with existing knowledge, experimental evidence, and analogy. Mechanisms that underlie the risk of low concentrations of aluminum relate to (1) aluminum’s absorption rates, allowing the impression that aluminum is safe to ingest and as an additive in food and drinking water treatment, (2) aluminum’s slow progressive uptake into the brain over a long prodromal phase, and (3) aluminum’s similarity to iron, in terms of ionic size, allows aluminum to use iron-evolved mechanisms to enter the highly-active, iron-dependent cells responsible for memory processing. Aluminum particularly accumulates in these iron-dependent cells to toxic levels, dysregulating iron homeostasis and causing microtubule depletion, eventually producing changes that result in disconnection of neuronal afferents and efferents, loss of function and regional atrophy consistent with MRI findings in AD brains. AD is a human form of chronic aluminum neurotoxicity. The causality analysis demonstrates that chronic aluminum intake causes AD.”
Given this academic analysis, it seems to us that avoiding chronic aluminum exposure would be prudent. There are also controversial reports suggesting that chronic exposure to aluminum may be linked to cancer. This conclusion appeared in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology (online, Dec. 19, 2013):
“The potential toxicity of Al [aluminum] has been clearly shown and recent works convincingly argue that Al could be involved in cancerogenic processes. Nowadays, for example, Al is suspected of being involved in breast cancer. Recent work in cells in culture has lent credence to the hypothesis that this metal could accumulate in the mammary gland and selectively interfere with the biological properties of breast epithelial cells, thereby promoting a cascade of alterations reminiscent of the early phases of malignant transformation. In addition, several studies suggest that the presence of Al in human breast could influence metastatic process. As a consequence, given that the toxicity of Al has been widely recognized and that it is not a physiological component in human tissues, reducing the concentration of this metal in antiperspirants is a matter of urgency.”
People who would prefer to use a non-aluminum underarm product rather than an antiperspirant (which must contain aluminum compounds) may want to consider milk of magnesia as a deodorant. It can be purchased over the counter as a liquid laxative (to slosh on underarms), or in a convenient roll-on formulation from The People’s Pharmacy.