One of the great controversies in neuroscience research has been the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. This issue got a start in the 1960s when scientists discovered that aluminum concentrated in the brain tissue of Alzheimer’s patients. An article in Science (May 4, 1973) noted:
“Neurofibrillary degeneration is an important pathological finding in senile and presenile dementia of the Alzheimer type. Experimentally, aluminum induces neurofibrillary degeneration in neurons of higher mammals. Aluminum concentrations approaching those used experimentally have been found in some regions of the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Push Back from the Aluminum Industry:
Not surprisingly, there was a lot of push back from the aluminum industry. And a lot of physicians and researchers found the aluminum hypothesis preposterous.
Ask most neuroscientists today whether aluminum plays any role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and you are likely to get a sneer. “Urban legend” is a frequent message from experts. The Alzheimer’s Association states unequivocally:
“…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.”
What About the Evidence linking Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease?
An article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (vol. 23, # 4, 2011) titled “Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease: After a Century of Controversy, Is there a Plausible Link?” concluded:
“The hypothesis that Al [aluminum] significantly contributes to AD [Alzheimer’s disease] is built upon very solid experimental evidence and should not be dismissed. Immediate steps should be taken to lessen human exposure to Al, which may be the single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to AD.”
Another study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (Aug 3, 2015) tells a fascinating story. The investigators combed the medical literature through June of 2015:
“Studies reporting brain, serum, or CSF [cerebral spinal fluid] aluminum levels in individuals with AD [Alzheimer’s disease] and non-demented controls were included.”
These researchers then performed a meta-analysis on the available data from “34 studies involving 1,208 participants and 613 AD cases.” They found:
“Compared to control subjects, AD sufferers had significantly higher levels of brain, serum, and CSF [cerebral spinal fluid] aluminum.”
“The findings of the present meta-analyses demonstrate that aluminum levels are significantly elevated in brain, serum, and CSF of patients with AD. These findings suggest that elevated aluminum levels, particularly in serum, may serve as an early marker of AD and/or play a role in the development of the disease. These results substantially clarify the existing evidence examining the link between chronic aluminum exposure and the development of AD.”
Still not convinced? Here is an article in the journal Molecular Neurobiology (Nov. 2016). The authors describe their analysis:
“Dietary patterns and some dietary components have been linked with dementia. We therefore performed a meta-analysis of available studies to determine whether there is an association between diet and risk of dementia…Some material intakes were related with increase of dementia, such as aluminum (RR: 2.24), smoking (RR: 1.43), and low levels of vitamin D (RR: 1.52)…Thus, the MeDi [Mediterranean Diet] and higher consumption of unsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants, and B vitamins decrease the risk of dementia while smoking and higher consumption of aluminum increase the risk of dementia. Low levels of vitamin D were associated with cognitive decline…The findings will be of great significance to guide people to prevent dementia.”
By the way, RR stands for relative risk. In the above analysis, aluminum was substantially worse for the brain than smoking or low levels of vitamin D. Believe us when we say a relative risk of 2.24 is not a good thing. That is considered a very significant relationship.
Aluminum and Breast Cancer:
If you think aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease is controversial, you might be astonished to learn that researchers are now fighting about whether aluminum may affect breast cancer. A study published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry (Sept. 8, 2015) suggests that aluminum “can increase migration of human breast cancer cells…” In other words, aluminum may be a “contributory factor in breast cancer development” and long-term exposure to aluminum could play a “role in the metastatic process.”
Another study in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry (Aug. 15, 2015) notes that:
“Use of underarm aluminium (Al)-based antiperspirant salts may be a contributory factor in breast cancer development…If Al can not only damage DNA but also compromise DNA repair systems, then there is the potential for Al to impact on breast carcinogenesis.”
There are a great many unknowns when it comes to aluminum toxicity. The European SCCS (Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety) just recently revealed how much we do not know about the safety of aluminum in consumer products (Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, Sept. 9, 2015):
“Aluminium is a known systemic toxicant at high doses. The SCCS is of the opinion that due to the lack of adequate data on dermal penetration to estimate the internal dose of aluminium following cosmetic uses, risk assessment cannot be performed. Therefore internal exposure to aluminium after skin application should be determined using a human exposure study under use conditions.”
That’s stuffy scientific language that basically says we don’t know how much aluminum penetrates the skin and gets into the body after cosmetic use (as in antiperspirants). Hundreds of millions of Europeans (and Americans) are using products daily and no one knows how much aluminum gets into their bodies. And the FDA does not even appear to be concerned. Seems like a giant experiment to us.
The Precautionary Principle:
We have always believed that something should be proved safe before so many people are exposed to it for a long time. That’s known as the “precautionary principle.” The manufacturers, on the other hand, believe you have to prove harm before they might consider removing an ingredient from the market.
That is not always so easy to do, especially when it comes to common and devastating conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or breast cancer. The FDA seems to side with industry in this debate. The agency does not seem to believe there is any link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease, despite recent research.
How to Avoid Aluminum:
Until aluminum is proved perfectly safe, you may want to reduce your exposure. Aluminum is in lots of places you might not expect. For one thing, it is in many antacids. You will find aluminum hydroxide is an ingredient in a surprising number of popular OTC brands.
This mineral is also found as an additive in a number of foods. Sodium aluminum phosphate is used together with baking powder as a leavening agent in some biscuits, pancake mixes, doughnuts, waffles, muffin mixes and self-rising flours. Some processed cheeses also contain aluminum. That’s because the FDA considers aluminum phosphate an acceptable food additive. It makes cheese smooth and uniform in individually wrapped slices.
To avoid extra aluminum, read labels and avoid processed foods, especially cheeses. Check the label on antacids. And consider avoiding antiperspirants. Every single antiperspirant in the U.S. has a high concentration of aluminum in one form or another. That’s because the FDA requires aluminum in such products or else they cannot be called antiperspirants.
Absorbing Aluminum from Antiperspirants:
Your armpits are delicate and women may be especially susceptible to aluminum absorption since they often shave their underarms. One 39-year-old woman began using an aluminum-containing antiperspirant every morning to her shaved armpits. She developed fatigue and bone pain by the age of 43. The physicians who took her complaints seriously discovered that she had excessive amounts of aluminum in her body. When she stopped using the antiperspirant her aluminum levels began slowly dropping and her symptoms gradually disappeared after several months (American Journal of Medicine, Dec., 2004).
An article in the Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, April, 2014 sums it up this way:
“…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.”
Our Conflict of Interest:
We admit to having a conflict of interest when it comes to deodorant. That’s because we have developed aluminum-free roll-on products. Several years ago a woman shared her story of traveling to Brazil and forgetting her antiperspirant. It was hot and sticky. Someone told her to try milk of magnesia (MoM) as a deodorant. She wrote to us to tell us it worked really well.
After years of telling people to try sloshing MoM on their armpits, we decided to create a consumer-friendly roll-on product ourselves. We introduced two new MoM deodorants: an economy-sized aluminum-free unscented 100 ml bottle and a Men’s MoM aluminum-free roll-on deodorant.
All the MoM deodorants are on sale for 20% off for one full week (ending on February 10, 2017). Take a few minutes to read the reviews from others so you know what people think about The People’s Pharmacy Aluminum-Free MoM products.