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Aluminum and Alzheimer’s: The Connection Gets Stronger!

Most people like aluminum. It is light and strong. The mineral salts are found in all antiperspirants. But is there an aluminum and Alzheimer's association.
Aluminum and Alzheimer’s: The Connection Gets Stronger!
Caucasian mature man in a tin foil hat and medical hat displeased hiding from outdoor life.

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 was linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Scientists pooh-poohed the idea of an aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease connection. The Alzheimer’s Association calls it a myth 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.”

But a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Jan. 13, 2020) suggests that there may be a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s after all.

Connecting the Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Dots:

For decades researchers have focused on amyloid-beta accumulation in brain plaques as the main culprit in Alzheimer’s disease. We recently wrote an article about this titled:

Why Are There No Effective Alzheimer’s Drugs?
A new study in the journal Neurology challenges the amyloid theory behind Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe that’s why there are no effective Alzheimer’s drugs.

In this post we explain why drugs that have targeted amyloid have been disappointing at best and dismal at worst. But that doesn’t mean amyloid accumulation isn’t important. And the connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s has just grown stronger based on the latest research.

The authors of the latest study suggests 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. It is considered 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).”

People’s Pharmacy Take Home Message:

When respected neuroscientists call aluminum a “neurotoxin,” we pay attention. 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. 

We have received many questions about the sources of aluminum in our daily lives. Although there is no proof that any of these actually contribute to Alzheimer’s disease, we do understand that many people would like to limit their exposure to this mineral. Unlike magnesium, which is crucial for every cell in your body, aluminum serves no essential biological function. Here is a link to an article we wrote listing several sources of aluminum: 

New Research Links Aluminum to Alzheimer’s Disease
Researchers have been arguing about the relationship between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer’s disease for decades. We bring you up-to-date on new research.

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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Citations
  • 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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