Fact or Fiction- Exploring The Link Between Aluminum And Alzheimer’s

Dementia is a prevalent disease across the world that affects a large proportion of the elderly population. Alzheimer’s disease is one of the more common forms and something that we are all aware of as we get older. Yet, there are still plenty of questions over the causes and risk factors involved.

Researchers are keen to narrow down the worst offenders so that we can lessen the risk of Alzheimer’s developing. One area of interest is aluminum. There are some scientists that believe that this common metal plays a part in the development of the disease. Others are less convinced and say that the research is flawed or misguided. So how should we really view aluminum in relation to Alzheimer’s? Also, what can we do about this possible link?

Here we want to look at both sides of the argument for and against this relationship. There are some guides and papers that focus too heavily on the potential dangers without questioning the science. Then there are those that are keen to downplay the risks, without giving much information on potential problems. It is important to look at both sides and to try to be more rational and objective. Before we look at the evidence for a link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s, let’s take a closer look at the metal itself.

So, What is Aluminum?

You may wonder what the relation is between aluminum in the body and as a metal, we use on a daily basis. The answer is that they are one and the same. Aluminum, like all metals, can break down into trace elements. These traces are detectable in water, food and in our own bodies through absorption. Most of the time, these levels are so small that they aren’t harmful. But, there are worries about over-exposure and excessive consumption. So, where do these traces of aluminum come from?

First, There is the Aluminum That We Consume:

You may be surprised to learn just how much aluminum is in our drinking water and the food that we eat. Levels are often higher in processed foods. Pharmaceutical companies also add aluminum to drugs. This could be to make them more effective or to lessen a risk of side-effects. This shouldn’t be an issue for many people because of the trace amounts used. As you will see below, there have also been studies on aluminum consumption and tea drinkers.

Then There is the Aluminum in the Environment:

We use aluminum a lot as a metal because it is lightweight and recyclable. This means cans of drinks, cookware and more. There is also aluminum in cosmetics and deodorants, which could be absorbed through the skin. Aluminum particles are also airborne due to pesticides and cigarette smoke. Aluminum in paint can also contaminate the air that we breathe. Once we start to add all these factors together, it is clear that aluminum is a bigger part of our lives than we first imagine.

The good news here is that most people don’t consume or absorb enough for there to be any concern. Most of the aluminum that we obtain is then excreted before there is a chance of it being absorbed into the bloodstream. Healthy kidney function should prevent too much aluminum from entering the brain and causing damage.

Yet, there are cases that show that deposits can occur in the brain. At some point, these patients have absorbed too much. While there have been links to ineffective dialysis machines in the past, this doesn’t explain the levels of aluminum in those with healthy kidneys. This is why there are so many questions about aluminum consumption and the risk of Alzheimer’s

The Argument for the Link Between Aluminum and Alzheimer’s Disease

So, let’s now look at this idea that aluminum is a danger and is responsible – in some way – for the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s. There are researchers that have studied the brains of dementia patients and found increased levels of aluminum and other metals.

This, along with changes to cell structure, suggests a link between excessive mineral deposits and the disease. Researchers have since tested this theory and some of the potential causes. For example, studies on drinking water have highlighted a possible connection.

Increased Mineral Deposits in the Brains of Dementia Patients:

There have been studies that highlight increased amounts of trace aluminum within the brains of dementia patients. Scientists have continued to share this idea since research began in 1911. While these studies exhibited experimental evidence, there were repeated results showing that chronic aluminum levels intoxication could produce protein transformations that were the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. Research has also shown that aluminum tends to accumulate in areas of the brain that are most susceptible to damage from Alzheimer’s disease

Aluminum in Drinking Water:

Researchers here turn to the PAQUID study in France. This study took 4000 subjects in southwest France and studied the impact of drinking water on the development of Alzheimer’s. The water here had an excessive amount of aluminum of 0.1mg/day. This lead to findings of a doubling of the dementia risk as well as a three-fold increase in Alzheimer’s. Over in the US, the 2016 NYC Drinking Water Quality Report (PDF) looked at the water with a much lower concentration of 0.006-0.057 mg/liter (average, 0.02 mg/liter) and saw lower risks. This is supported by other studies that show a higher risk in areas with a higher aluminum concentration.

Treating Alzheimer’s by Targetting the Aluminum

Chelation is a strategy for targetting Alzheimer’s that it is especially helpful when using an aluminum chelator. Therefore, there are researchers that feel that this strengthens the arguments that there is a strong relationship between aluminum and Alzheimer’s.

What this all shows is that there are some clear links to be made between this metal and the development of Alzheimer’s. It is easy to look at the drinking water studies and be concerned about levels of aluminium in our own water supply. However, before we start looking into better water filtration, we need to look at the other side of this argument.

The Argument Against the Link Between Aluminium and Alzheimer’s Disease

Then there are other factors to consider that suggest the risk might not be so high. It is easy to focus on these brain scans and drinking water studies and concentrate on that correlation between dementia and aluminium. However, this could mean that we overlook other potential causes. In addition to this, there are further studies on environmental contact and consumption that suggest that the risk isn’t all that high. In addition to this, there are also flaws with some older research methods.

Debunking the Myth About Tea, Aluminium and Alzheimer’s

There have been some questions about increased risks of Alzheimer’s in tea drinkers. That is because tea leaves can accumulate a larger quantity of those trace elements of aluminium. The idea was that these would seep into the drink and be consumed on a regular basis – therefore increasing the Alzheimer’s risk.

However, studies have provided no evidence that dementia is more common in tea drinking cultures than anywhere else. It seems that these higher traces still aren’t high enough to cause damage. The aluminium is ingested in the tea but quickly excreted in the renal system before it can be absorbed.

Debunking the Myth About Excessive Use of Antacids

Then there are fears that medication in the form of antacids and anti-ulceratives could also be a risk factor. Some of these substances can contain high levels of aluminum at around 35-208 mg per dose for antacids and 35-1450 mg for dose for anti-ulceratives. The good news here is that studies don’t show increased risk. A study of more than 6,000 people showed no clear link between regular antacid use and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This was still true for those that used antacids regularly for over 6 months.

Questionable Studies on Animal Subjects

Finally, there is the issue that some of the tests carried out on animals were on a bad subject choice. In 1965, researchers injected rabbits with an extremely high dose of aluminum and created those same abnormalities in their brains. Unfortunately, some of the early researchers didn’t seem to appreciate the fact that their test subject was particularly susceptible to aluminium poisoning. This means that any results on ill effects and brain chemistry may be invalid. The extreme nature of the results led to an unjust panic about the threat of the water supply, cookware and drinks cans. Others would argue that any animals subject is a poor choice because of the differences between their brain make-up and ours.

Could Other Metals Be to Blame for These Changes Within the Brain?

Before we look at a final verdict on the risk of aluminium in the development of Alzheimer’s, we also need to consider the potential threat of other metals. The studies above tend to focus on aluminum consumption because of the clear deposits in the brain, as well as its known effect on key proteins. However, there are other metals that can create a similar effect. So, can we be sure that aluminum is the true culprit here and not one of these other metals?

One of the issues here is that there are metals that create deposits in the brain and can lead to the reshaping of important proteins. Yet, this isn’t exclusive to aluminum. Iron, copper, and zinc all have the potential to do this. Studies carried out in 1953 were the first to indicate high levels of iron in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. These minerals, in addition to fluoride, are found in drinking water too.

So, are these elements affecting the reactions in the brain and the impact of the water in those areas? Zinc is one element that has been ruled out – to a degree – because studies have shown that it can help to manipulate cells in a more positive way. But, that still leaves some question marks over the iron and copper.

Is Aluminum a Risk or Not?

When we place these factors side by side like this, it is easy to see why so many people get confused about the risk factors. The inconclusive nature of the studies means that most journals and Alzheimer’s organizations are hesitant to give a clear answer. We can’t say that there is a strong, direct link between contact with aluminum and Alzheimer’s because there are so many studies where this wasn’t the case. We also can’t focus on this one metal if it wasn’t the only mineral present.

However, we can’t underplay that clear link between aluminum and dementia that is clear in those brain scans. Essentially, aluminum may not be a big risk that some researcher would have us believe, but it might not be harmless either. The biggest risks come when the body absorbs too much of the metal and it reaches the brain. This is unlikely except for in cases of extreme consumption or problems with the renal system.

What should you do if you want to lessen your own risk of developing Alzheimer’s?

This inconclusive finding isn’t going to be of much comfort to those that want a clear yes or no answer. We can’t say that you are completely safe to handle and consume the same amount of aluminum. Nor can we say that you definitely need to make any changes. However, those that are worried can make some small changes. You can avoid using aluminum cookware and eating processed foods if you want to reduce your intake. You can also look out for aluminum-free antacids and be more careful with your deodorant.

The Debate Continues

There is clearly a lot more research to carry out to determine the true nature of aluminum in the development of Alzheimer’s. The same is true for the other metals that are present, such as copper and iron. For now, we just need to remain aware of a potential link with excessive consumption or absorption of the metal. If you have any further concerns, talk to a doctor or contact a local Alzheimer’s organization for advice.