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Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease: Is There a Connection?

For decades, the question about aluminum and Alzheimer's disease has remained controversial. Research research suggests there may indeed be a connection.

Q. Is it true that aluminum contributes to Alzheimer’s disease? If so, I would like to avoid it as much as possible. Are there any underarm deodorants that don’t contain aluminum?

A. Aluminum’s potential role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease remains controversial. Most experts in the field downplay its significance. They may be basing their “all clear” message on old data.

There is a surprising amount of recent research suggesting that excessive exposure to aluminum can be neurotoxic.

Articles in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease have raised some important questions:

“Most humans living in industrialized societies are routinely exposed to bioavailable aluminum salts in the form of additives in commercially-prepared foods, alum-clarified drinking water, certain pharmaceuticals, sunscreens, and other topical applications. Minute amounts of this aluminum are absorbed into the circulation. Trace aluminum levels cross the blood-brain barrier and progressively accumulate in large pyramidal neurons of the hippocampus, cortex, and other brain regions vulnerable in Alzheimer’s disease.” Walton, J.R. in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2012.

“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… AD [Alzheimer’s disease] is a human form of chronic aluminum neurotoxicity. The causality analysis demonstrates that chronic aluminum intake causes AD.” Walton, J.R. in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2014.

“In recent years, interest in the potential role of metals in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has grown considerably. In particular, aluminum (Al) neurotoxicity was suggested after its discovery in the senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that represent the principal neuropathological hallmarks of AD.” Frisardi, V., et al., in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2010.

“Epidemiological investigations have indicated that aluminium (Al) is an important environmental neurotoxicant that may be involved in the aetiology of the cognitive dysfunction associated with neurodegenerative diseases. Additionally, exposure to Al is known to cause neurobehavioural abnormalities in animals…Al may impair the long-term memory of rats….These results indicated that Al may induce long-term memory damage in rats by inhibiting cAMP-PKA-CREB signalling and altering the synaptic and neuronal ultrastructure in the hippocampus.” Zhang, L., et al., in Toxicology, 2014.

Aluminum Plus Other Toxins: An Overlooked Danger

Most research into aluminum [Al] toxicity has been carried out exclusively on aluminum by itself. What if a combination of aluminum plus another environmental contaminant combined to produce worrisome brain effects?

A new study in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences has done exactly that. The researchers looked at the impact of combining aluminum and another common pollutant in our environment called BaP (benzo[a]pyrene).

Here is what they found:

“Humans are often exposed to a combination of BaP and Al in their living and occupational environments via various exposure pathways. Neural cells may be highly susceptible to BaP-induced damage, and Al has been considered a neurotoxin that may cause cognitive deficiencies and dementia when it enters the brain. In addition, the Al concentration is reportedly increased in the brains of AD patients…Because both BaP and Al are neurotoxic and humans are often co-exposed to both chemicals, these chemicals are likely to synergistically damage the central nervous system to exacerbate human health problems.” Yin Jinahu, et al. in The Journal of Toxicological Sciences,  2015.

What Is the Bottom Line on Aluminum?

No one really knows how much aluminum is absorbed from the underarm. While antiperspirants often contain aluminum compounds to reduce sweating, plain deodorants frequently do not. If you want to avoid aluminum, look for a deodorant rather than an antiperspirant and read the label. Use a deodorant that does not have aluminum or alum compounds in it.

This may be unnecessary worry, but scientists keep adding data to suggest that aluminum is a neurotoxin. There is still no final answer about the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. But erring on the side of caution until this question is resolved seems prudent to us.

We have developed an aluminum-free deodorant using magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia or MoM). You can learn more about this product and how people have reacted to it at this link.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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