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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.

That was the title of an article Joe wrote over 26 years ago for a newspaper column.



Here is the original article:

I’m getting nervous. For years I have reassured readers of this column that there’s no evidence aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease. But new research has raised disturbing questions about the link between aluminum in drinking water and development of this tragic brain disease.

British investigators recently reported in the journal Lancet (Jan. 14, 1989) that people who were exposed to high levels of aluminum in municipal water systems were at least 50 percent more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than those drinking water with low levels of aluminum.

In their introduction the authors note that “Aluminum has been detected in both senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangle bearing neurons in brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. These finding suggest that exposure to aluminum may be important in causation of the disease.”

Their data revealed:

“This survey, conducted in eighty-eight districts within England and Wales, shows that rates of Alzheimer’s disease in people under the age of 70 years are related to the average aluminum concentrations present in drinking water supplies over the previous decade.”

Although the authors urged caution in interpreting these findings and called for additional research, they concluded that “The results of the present survey provide evidence of a causal relation between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.”

This is not the first time aluminum as been associated with brain disease. Norwegian scientists have also raised a warning flag that the aluminum levels in water might be associated with this form of senile dementia.

Aluminum On the Island of Guam

Researchers have been keeping a suspicious eye on the island of Guam for years. The Chamorro natives there have an unusually high incidence of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and parkinsonism-dementia that is somewhat similar to presenile Alzheimer’s disease.

There are unusually high levels of aluminum in garden soil and drinking water in parts of Guam. And at autopsy these patients have unusual deposits of aluminum within their brains.

Aluminum in the Brain

Alzheimer’s patients also seem to accumulate  aluminum within the abnormal tangles of their brains. Neuroscientists have assumed that this was more a result of the disease rather than a cause and unrelated to environmental contamination.

But doctors have known for sometime that kidney dialysis patients were susceptible to brain damage from aluminum unless the water used in the process is treated to remove this mineral. And animals that are injected with aluminum develop tangled brain cells suggestive of those found in Alzheimer’s victims.

We do not yet have a smoking gun that implicates aluminum as a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease or other brain conditions, but the evidence is beginning to add up. Until scientists can rule out any and all danger from aluminum, I am going to try to minimize my exposure, just to be on the safe side.

Aluminum Is Widespread in our Environment

That may be harder than you would think. This metal is widespread in our environment. Many soils and water supplies contain high levels of this common metal. Water treatment plants even add aluminum sulfate to make water clear. Levels in many municipal water supplies in the U.S. are similar to those the British scientists found alarming.

Aluminum is also found in a wide variety of foods and nonprescription drugs. Many antacids contain aluminum hydroxide as do buffered aspirin products. All antiperspirants also contain aluminum as a major ingredient.

Baking powder, cake mixes, and pancake mixes, frozen dough, processed cheese and cheese foods also contribute to the total aluminum intake.

No one knows how much, if any, extra aluminum ends up in beverages stored in aluminum cans. And acidic foods cooked in aluminum pots and pans may also add to daily exposure.

Fortunately, most of this aluminum is not absorbed into the body. But since there are alternatives for many of these products, I’m erring on the side of caution until scientists can give aluminum a clean bill of health.

That was the article Joe wrote for release on February 6, 1989.

Fast Forward to 2015

What has happened over the last 26 years? In a nutshell, aluminum has NOT been exonerated. If anything, the case against aluminum has grown stronger over time. On February 4, 2015 an article appeared online in the journal Current Alzheimer Research. The authors state the following about contributors to Alzheimer’s disease:

“Environmental factors possibly include inorganic and organic hazards, exposure to toxic metals (aluminium, copper), pesticides (organochlorine and organophosphate insecticides), industrial chemicals (flame retardants) and air pollutants (particulate matter). Long term exposures to these environmental contaminants together with bioaccumulation over an individual’s life-time are speculated to induce neuroinflammation and neuropathology paving the way of developing AD…”

What About Aluminum and Alzheimer’s?

Professor Exley, a British bio-inorganic chemist at Keele University has described aluminum as a neurotoxin. In the journal Frontiers in Neurology (online, Oct. 27, 2014) he wrote a review titled: “Why Industry Propaganda and Political Interference Cannot Disguise the Inevitable Role Played by Human Exposure to Aluminum in Neurodegenerative Diseases, Including Alzheimer’s Disease”

Professor Exley states:

“The presence of aluminum in the brain must mean that it is inevitable that it will contribute toward any on-going degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or multiple sclerosis, ultimately, resulting in earlier onset and/or more aggressive forms of the disease.”

“In the brain, aluminum will contribute toward neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.”

An article in Toxicology, Jan. 2014 offered these points:

“Epidemiological studies suggest that aluminum may not be as innocuous as was previously thought and that aluminum may actively promote the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Epidemiological data is strengthened by experimental evidence of aluminum exposure leading to excess inflammatory activity within the brain…

“The causation of most of these age-related neurological disorders is not understood but since they are generally not genetic, one must assume that their development is underlain by unknown environmental factors. There is an increasing and coherent body of evidence that implicates aluminum as being one such significant factor. Evidence is outlined supporting the concept of aluminum’s involvement in hastening brain aging. This acceleration would then inevitably lead to increased incidence of specific age-related neurological diseases.”

The Bottom Line

So, what are we to make of all this aluminum research? There are many neuroscientists who do not believe aluminum has anything to do with Alzheimer’s disease. They may even be right. But I am sticking with my original conclusion from 26 years ago:

“Until scientists can rule out any and all danger from aluminum, I am going to try to minimize my exposure, just to be on the safe side.”

Please share your thoughts on this controversial topic below and vote at the top of this article. Thanks.

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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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