Sunday, March 4, 2007

Aluminum & Alzheimer's Disease

It is estimated that one in ten people over age 65 suffers from dementia, and that one in five people over 80 suffer from it. About half of all dementia is actually Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Since 1965, when lab rats developed tangled nerves and “senile plaque” in their brains as a result of being injected with aluminum, it has been theorized that aluminum deposits are responsible for AD. That is a question that really cannot be answered, at least not yet. And that is why I think, at the risk of sounding cliché, it is better to be safe than sorry.

The connection between aluminum and AD came about when it was discovered that Alzheimer’s patients have serum aluminum levels that are much higher than people with dementia and healthy people. These serum aluminum levels do increase with age, though, to some extent. Scientists do not know for sure if the connection between old age and higher serum aluminum levels comes from aluminum accumulation slowly over time or if older bodies absorb it more readily. Whatever the reason, the presence of aluminum in people suffering from AD is much higher.

There are studies that suggest this theory may be true. One in 24 people can get AD just by random chance. However, people who drank water containing the highest amounts of aluminum increased this chance by 42%. Furthermore, aluminum deposits in drinking water have only been found to be linked to AD dementia and no other kinds of dementia. Other studies have linked frequent use of aluminum-containing antiperspirants/deodorants to AD.

Perhaps the most compelling study comes from the administration of a drug, desferrioxamine, which removes aluminum from the body by binding it. In a study containing both this drug and a placebo, regular doses of the drug did not stop the progression of AD. However, it did significantly slow the rate of decline in Alzheimer’s patients, allowing them to care for themselves for a longer period before declining to a rate of needing constant care.

Other studies, however, suggest that only 1% of aluminum is actually absorbed by the body, because the gastrointestinal tract does not readily absorb it from foods or sodas that contain or have been packaged in aluminum materials.

Studies truly are inconclusive, and a heated debate is still raging on whether or not aluminum deposits do cause AD. Regardless of who is right on this debate, the studies above put a little nagging in the back of mind. What if?

I have read from a couple of sources that the FDA does not even address this issue. Aluminum is exempted from FDA studies, because it has automatically been labeled “GRAS” (Generally Regarded as Safe). The FDA does not test aluminum, and there are no restrictions on its use or amounts. While I have not been able to find anything from the FDA itself about this, and thus cannot say for sure whether it is true, I must say that if it is true that the FDA does not regulate aluminum, I am concerned! The FDA is supposed to protect us, not turn a deaf ear to compelling studies and competing theories.

What was thought to be good medicine in previous years changes. Take for example thinking that “bad blood” needed to be drained from a sick person just a couple hundred years ago. The same standard applies here. We need to open our eyes and our minds to possibilities that maybe using aluminum in our foods and other products is not safe after all. What do we have to lose, besides big companies needing to alter their production methods?

Here are some things you can do to avoid getting too much aluminum in your body (Per Dr. Melvyn Werbach, M.D.):
1. Avoid antiperspirants/deodorants that contain aluminum (yes, you can buy effective ones that do not contain it!), and aluminan cans too! (for a scary chart on aluminum levels that leech from cans into the liquids contained in the can, check out this chart! ).
2. Find out of your drinking water contains high amounts of aluminum (you can find out from your city what the aluminum level in your water is).
3. Carefully check labels of commercially processed pancake and cake mixes, self-rising flours, and dough, most of which contain aluminum. Baking powder contains sodium aluminum phosphate. You can buy Rumford baking powder, which does not contain aluminum.
4. Drink water that has high levels of silica; it binds with aluminum and increases urine aluminum excretions. Studies have yet to prove, though that silica actually helps prevent toxic effects of aluminum.
5. Take magnesium and calcium supplements.

Studies are inconclusive. But it may be worth taking these few extra precautions before it is too late. Who knows when a study will conclusively prove the connection? I do know, however, first hand, that AD is a terrible, undignified way to go (my grandmother is currently suffering from it). If keeping tabs on my aluminum intake can help prevent my risk of getting it, then I am willing to do it, even if a study has yet to come along with solid proof.


Melvyn Werbach, M.D. “Can Aluminum Cause Alzheimer’s Disease?”
(Melvyn R. Werbach, M.D., is a faculty member at the UCLA School of Medicine and the author of Nutritional Influences on Illness (Third Line Press Inc., 1993)).

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:

H. Tomlinson, M.B., Ch.B., MRCS., LRCP, “Diseases Associated with AluminumToxicity”

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

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