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Should You Worry About Aluminum Exposure?

Excess exposure to aluminum may lead to the amyloid plaques typical of Alzheimer's disease.

Aluminum is a common mineral that is widespread in our environment. For one thing, it is found in in the earth’s crust, primarily in bauxite ore. We don’t normally get much aluminum in our bodies from rocks, however. Our exposure to aluminum is from water, where it is used in the purification process, or in foods, medicines and cosmetics like antiperspirants. The safety of aluminum in the human body has been controversial for decades.

Aluminum and the Brain

People with Alzheimer’s disease have higher levels of aluminum within their brains. That is something researchers have known since the 1970s. By 1976, prominent neuroscientists were stating that “aluminum is neurotoxic.”

But the question has remained, is the accumulation of aluminum in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease a causative factor or is it a consequence of the damage happening within the brain? In other words, we have a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma. Defenders of aluminum have suggested that higher levels of aluminum within the brain are a result, rather than a cause of dementia. But new research may alter that concept.

Higher Aluminum in Hair

Investigators analyzed aluminum levels in the hair of healthy controls and patients with Alzheimer’s disease. They found that the patients with dementia had substantially higher levels of aluminum in their hair (twice as much) than control subjects (Spectrochimica Acta Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, online, Sept. 16, 2014). The authors point out that

“AL3+ (aluminum) is known to be extremely neurotoxic…It has been suggested that there is a relationship between high levels of AL3+ and increased risk of a number of neurodegenerative disorders including dialysis encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease and AD (Alzheimer’s disease).”

That aluminum is higher in the hair of AD patients suggests that it might contribute to dementia rather than merely exist as an innocent spectator.

Aluminum and Beta Amyloid

Another study notes that aluminum is actively involved in the accumulation of beta amyloid within the brain (Frontiers in Neurology, online, Sept. 5, 2014). Beta amyloid plaque is a distinguishing feature of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Taken together, these results strongly suggest that one of the most prominent features of AD – the progressive accumulation and aggregation of Aβ42 [beta amyloid] peptides into senile plaques – is driven by aluminum via multiple interdependent pathogenic mechanisms. These findings continue to support an active role for aluminum in key neuropathogenic, inflammatory, and amyloidogenic pathways that contribute to the AD process… It will certainly be interesting to see if aluminum salts perform similar pathogenic roles in other progressive, age-related neurodegenerative disorders of the CNS [central nervous system] with an innate-immune, inflammatory, and/or amyloidogenic component.”

This all sounds pretty technical because most of it is at the level of basic research. Our interpretation is that aluminum facilitates the formation and deposition of beta amyloid plaque within the brain, which is not a good thing.

We don’t yet have the smoking gun that might connect using antiperspirant or taking aluminum-containing antacids to a specific risk for Alzheimer’s disease. But the possibilities that have been raised by these research scientists are troubling. Because aluminum serves no beneficial biological purpose for living cells, we do our best to reduce or eliminate aluminum in our bodies.

How to Reduce Aluminum Exposure

That’s why we have exchanged our aluminum-containing antiperspirants for magnesium-containing aluminum-free deodorants. Unlike aluminum, magnesium is vital to many biochemical processes in the human body, so absorption of some additional magnesium from the underarm does not worry us. As long as the kidneys are functioning properly, the body can handle magnesium. The recent studies suggest that may not be true of aluminum.

The FDA is having a hard time acknowledging that aluminum might pose a risk to human health. After all, antacids containing aluminum hydroxide have been available on drugstore shelves for many decades with the FDA’s blessings. And the Food and Drug Administration requires a high concentration of aluminum salts in all antiperspirants. In fact, no company can claim antiperspirant activity without including aluminum in their formulation. Check your antiperspirant to verify that.

Anyone who would like to try our People’s Pharmacy MoM (Milk of Magnesia) Aluminum-Free Roll-On Deodorant, click on this link. You can read some testimonials from people who have tried it and found it helpful. If you have tried it yourself, why not add share own experience with magnesium hydroxide as a deodorant right here.

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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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