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Aluminum and Alzheimer’s: The Connection Gets Stronger!

People like aluminum. It's light and strong. Aluminum salts are in all antiperspirants. But is there an aluminum and Alzheimer's association.

Those old enough to remember the 1960s and 70s may recall that there were concerns about exposure to food cooked in aluminum pots and pans. The rumors were that aluminum could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Many neuroscientists rejected the idea of an aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease connection.

The Alzheimer’s Association calls it Myth 4 and currently states on its website:

“…studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.”

Dry Holes and Alternate Theories of Alzheimer’s Disease:

The prevailing theory of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) relates to amyloid plaque. We were told that removing this sticky protein nastiness from the brain could prevent or reverse AD.

After decades of research and billions of dollars spent developing new drugs, we are still lacking truly effective treatments to reverse the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. At last count, over six million Americans are struggling with this kind of dementia. Worldwide, the total is over 50 million.

Some neuroscientists are applauding the FDA’s approval of two drugs that actually do a good job removing amyloid plaque from the brain. The approvals remain controversial however. You can read my perspective on these medications at this link. Bottom line: Neither drug appears to reverse AD, restore memory, or prevent the inevitable decline that leads to nursing home care.

Connecting the Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Dots:

Even researchers who believe in the amyloid theory of AD will admit that there is still no cure for dementia. That being the case, many visitors to this website would like to know if there are ways to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the most controversial questions revolves around aluminum. An accidental discovery in 1965 revealed that exposure to alum phosphate (an aluminum compound) led to the degeneration of neurons in rabbit brains (Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology, April, 1965). The authors were among the first to point out that aluminum injected into the brain could lead to neurofibrillary tangles similar to those found in the brains of people with AD.

Not long after that, researchers reported in the highly regarded journal, Science (May 4, 1973), that:

“…high concentrations of aluminum may be toxic to the nervous system.”

The scientists found aluminum in the brains of people who had died from Alzheimer’s disease.

They suggested that:

“…aluminum may be a neurotoxic factor in the human disease.”

The Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Controversy Heats Up!

For reasons that are somewhat mysterious to me, the aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease hypothesis has remained a third rail issue for most researchers. Drug companies have seemingly shunned the idea. And the Alzheimer’s Association clearly believes it is a myth, not worth a second’s consideration.

Many neuroscientists have dismissed the idea that aluminum could have anything to do with damage to brain cells. But there does appear to be a great deal of data suggesting that aluminum is “neurotoxic.”

Is Aluminum Bad for the Brain?

J. R. Walton wrote in 2012:

“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.”

Dr. Walton then pointed out that small amounts of aluminum from these sources make their way into the brain and accumulate in:

“…the hippocampus, cortex, and other brain regions vulnerable in Alzheimer’s disease” (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, March 20, 2012).

More Research Connecting Aluminum and Alzheimer’s:

A study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Jan. 13, 2020) suggests that there may be a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s. The authors report that aluminum accumulation in brain tissue is intimately linked to plaque formation.

People with familial Alzheimer’s disease donated their brains for post-mortem pathology examination. In comparison to brain tissue from healthy individuals, the patients with dementia had pathologically high aluminum content.

The researchers noted that:

“The new data confirm unequivocally the previous observation of very high brain aluminum content in familial Alzheimer’s disease [AD].”

They conclude that:

“This is the second study confirming significantly high brain aluminum content in familial AD but it is the first to demonstrate an unequivocal association between the location of aluminum and amyloid-beta in familial AD. It shows that two prominent risk factors in the etiology of AD are intimately interwoven in the neuropathology of familial AD.”

What Does the Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Connection Mean?

Familial Alzheimer’s disease represents a unique window into this terrible disease. Scientists consider it rare because it affects people at a much earlier age than “senile dementia.” This kind of AD can start when people are in their 30s or 40s. It runs in families.

Neuroscientists believe that early-onset familial AD [eFAD] is similar to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease in its symptoms and basic biology. The difference is probably related to “malfunctioning mutated genes” in eFAD.

The question for those of us who do not have early-onset familial AD is: does aluminum represent a threat to our brains? Despite the view by many health professionals that this is a myth, we think the new research deserves careful attention.

No one knows whether the aluminum accumulation in the amyloid plaque in the brain is the chicken or the egg. Does aluminum trigger neurodegeneration or does it follow this process?

Is Aluminum a Neurotoxin?

Researchers writing in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology (2018) have written an article titled “Exposure to Aluminum in Daily Life and Alzheimer’s Disease.”

“The origin of Alzheimer’s disease is generally not known; its development is likely triggered by unknown environmental factors. Although it is inconsistent with the link between human exposure to aluminum in everyday life and its contribution to Alzheimer’s disease, a growing body of evidence points to aluminum as being one such significant influence.”

Another intriguing study titled “Aluminum in Neurological Disease – A 36 Year Multicenter Study” discovered an aluminum and Alzheimer’s association (Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinsonism, June 5, 2019).

Here are some selected quotes:

“Aluminum is an environmentally abundant and proinflammatory, trivalent metal neurotoxin that has been implicated in the onset, development and propagation of neurodegeneration and cognitive decline in several human neurological disorders including AD [Alzheimer’s disease], DDS [dialysis dementia syndrome] and DS [Downs syndrome] (trisomy 21). As such, aluminum accumulation within the central nervous system (CNS) over the course of aging appears to reach a critical threshold in which sufficient amounts of this neurotoxin accumulates to induce proinflammatory signaling, dysregulation of gene expression (particularly in neurons), irreversible brain cell damage, and functional decline resulting in deficits in cognition, memory and behavior.”

The investigators conclude:

“…we report a statistically significant trend for aluminum to be increased only in AD, DS and DDS compared to age- and gender-matched brains from the same anatomical region. The results continue to suggest that aluminum’s association with AD, DDS and DS brain tissues may contribute to the neuropathology of these neurological diseases but appear not to be a significant factor in other common disorders of the human central nervous system (CNS).”

Animals and Aluminum:

More recent research has used animal models to probe the likelihood that aluminum can disrupt the brain.

A study in zebrafish concluded (Neurotoxicology, July 14, 2022):

“These findings suggest that AlCl3 [aluminum chloride] significantly causes behavioral, biochemical, neurotransmitters, morphological, and molecular changes in zebrafish, ultimately causing AD.”

No Consensus Linking Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease:

I would be the first to admit that there is not scientific consensus that aluminum contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. Many researchers have relegated concerns about aluminum to old wives’ tales. After all, the FDA has approved the use of aluminum hydroxide in some antacids and requires the use of aluminum salts in all antiperspirants.

Despite this, a great deal of evidence has been accumulating that aluminum exposure can harm the brain. When respected neuroscientists call aluminum a “neurotoxin,” we pay attention.

Please do not take our word for this. Visit the National Library of Medicine at this link. You will see a big search box at the top of the page. Try putting a few terms into a search. Try:

Aluminum Neurotoxicity for starters. At the time of this writing we see 885 results. Next, search:

Aluminum Alzheimer’s We found 1,443 results. You will notice that the earliest references are from the 1960s or 1970s but the most recent are from this year. Here is just one that we found published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, March, 2023:

Objectives: To investigate mortality and the rates of incident cancer among a cohort of aluminium industry workers.

Methods: Among 4507 male employees who worked in either of two Australian prebake smelters for at least 3 months, data linkage was undertaken with the Australian National Death Index and Australian Cancer Database.

“Results: An excess risk of death from stomach cancer (SMR [standardised mortality ratios] 2.9, 95% CI [confidence interval] 1.2 to 6.1) and Alzheimer’s disease (SMR  3.4, 95% CI  1.1 to 7.9) was seen among maintenance workers.”

People’s Pharmacy Take Home Message:

We suspect that aluminum is not good for the brain. Whether it causes Alzheimer’s disease remains to be determined. In the meantime, though, we do our best to limit our exposure to excess aluminum. You may want to do this as well.

We have received many questions about the sources of aluminum in our daily lives. Although there is no proof that any of these absolutely contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, we do understand that many people would like to limit their exposure to this mineral. We call this the “precautionary principle.”

Here is a link to an article we wrote listing several common sources of aluminum. We also describe the link between aluminum found in hair and AD. Could aluminum also contribute to the accumulation of beta amyloid within the brain? Here is the article:

Should You Worry About Aluminum Exposure?

Share your thoughts about the aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease connection in the comment section below.

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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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  • Mold, M., et al, "Aluminum and Amyloid-β in Familial Alzheimer's Disease," doi: 10.3233/JAD-191140Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, Jan. 13, 2020,
  • Lukiw, W. J., et al, "Aluminum in neurological disease - a 36 year multicenter study," Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinsonism, June 5, 2019, doi: 10.4172/2161-0460.1000457
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