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Alzheimer's Disease and Aluminum

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Aluminum was once thought to be an inert metal, but its safety in our bodies is now being questioned.

Alzheimer's disease is a degenerative neurological disease that causes premature aging of the brain. Memory loss, early senility, and premature death are hallmark symptoms. Although there may be many causes, including genetics and a number of environmental factors, aluminum ingestion has been implicated. While no causal relationship has yet been proved, there is circumstantial evidence linking this metal with Alzheimer's disease.

alzheimer's disease

Neurotoxic behavior of aluminum is known to occur upon entry into the circulatory system, where it can migrate to the brain and inhibit some of the crucial functions of the blood brain barrier (BBB). A loss of function in the BBB can produce significant damage to the neurons in the central nervous system, as the barrier protecting the brain from other toxins found in the blood will no longer be capable of such action. Though the metal is known to be neurotoxic, effects are usually restricted to patients incapable of removing excess ions from the blood, such as those experiencing renal failure. Patients experiencing aluminum toxicity can exhibit symptoms such as impaired learning and reduced motor coordination. Additionally, systemic aluminum levels are known to increase with age, and have been shown to correlate with Alzheimer’s Disease, implicating it as a neurotoxic causative compound of the disease.

Aluminum became a suspect when researchers found traces of this metal in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients. Many studies since then have either not been able to confirm this finding or have had questionable results. Aluminum does turn up in higher amounts than normal in some autopsy studies of Alzheimer's disease patients, but not in all, and the aluminum found in some studies may have come from substances used in the laboratory to study brain tissue. Moreover, various studies have found that groups of people exposed to high levels of aluminum do not have an increased risk. On the whole, scientists can say only that it is still uncertain whether exposure to aluminum plays a role in Alzheimer's disease.

Millions of cases have been diagnosed in Canada and the United States, as well as countless others wrongly attributed to simple aging. Alzheimer's disease has certainly attracted the attention of the public. Dr. Donald McLachlan, Professor of physiology and medicine at the University of Toronto notes that we should all be eating about two micrograms of aluminum a day, but we average at least four times this amount. Many people inadvertently consume forty times the recommended levels. Highly acidic foods such as rhubarb or tomatoes, when stewed in aluminum pots will absorb some of the element. A slice of homemade cornbread tops the list with nine times the recommended daily dose, as does a gram of Crest gel toothpaste in the tube. Fresh mint Crest gel, in the metal tube, contains almost twenty times less aluminum than Crest Sparkling gel, in the metal tube. Aquafresh in the metal tube, bests the list with only .27 micrograms per gram.

Foods high in aluminum are American processed cheese, cake and icing from a mix, foods containing additives, foods packaged in aluminum, some antacids, lipstick, cosmetics,  antiperspirants, buffered aspirin, and even prune juice. A call to your local public health office will tell you about your local drinking water. A liter of Metropolitan Toronto tap-water contains 75 micrograms in winter and this increases to between 200 and 300 in summer.

The evidence that what you eat matters to your brain is growing fast. Many studies have recently reported that many of the same factors that contribute to poor heart health also increase one’s risk of cognitive decline or developing Alzheimer's disease. It is very important to eat in moderation and maintain a healthy body weight, as people who are obese double their risk of developing dementia according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Research has found that people who eat foods high in fat and sugar, as well as larger amounts of red and processed meats have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than people who ate more lean meats (fish and poultry) and more fruits and vegetables. Yet another study has shown that vitamin B-12 and folic acid deficiencies coupled with increased levels of homocysteine, a compound found in the blood that has been linked to increased risk of certain cardiovascular conditions, resulted in lower scores on cognitive tests. Taken as a whole, these and other studies support the notion that eating a balanced diet and eating in moderation throughout your life is just as important to long-term cognitive health as it is to heart health.

Studies have found also shown that aluminum absorbs better through the skin than orally. When using antiperspirants, one only applies very little aluminum to the skin. However, daily use results in chronic exposure to aluminum.

Here's an action tip:

To help reduce your chances of developing aluminum toxicity, take steps to avoid antacids and antiperspirants, which may contain aluminum. Until more is known about the effects of aluminum ingestion on our health, the safest thing to do is avoid foods wrapped in it, and read all food labels carefully, If the tap water in your area is suspect, then drink bottled water.

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