Alzheimer’s and Aluminum
Alzheimer’s is a complicated, multifactorial disease. From people having predisposing genetics, blood sugar problems in the brain, brain infections and brain inflammation, there appears to be a host of contributing factors for the condition (see my previous blog post). During a recent talk, a participant asked about heavy metal exposure. While I was fondly remembering hours of listening to Def Leppard, Metallica and Poison as a teenager, it reminded me of previous discussions I’d seen online or in print about aluminum as a potential cause or contributing factor to dementia and I wanted to investigate further to see the current status of the research.
Aluminum in the Brain
Brain levels of aluminum are some of the highest in familial Alzheimer’s dementia and autism–a topic for another day (Exley 2019). They also showed that aluminum was localized around amyloid, but not around tau, the two main types of damage seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Keep in mind that familial Alzheimer’s is only about 2-3% of Alzheimer’s disease overall and it’s often severe, striking in the 30s or 40s.
An earlier review claimed to exonerate aluminum as a culprit for Alzheimer’s (Munoz 1998). I wish this article were broadly available, since it’s an interesting read. The author describes dialysis encephalopathy syndrome, known to be associated with significant exposures to aluminum and the symptom picture is different than Alzheimer’s. Aluminum damages different brain locations and causes slurred or slowed speech, involuntary muscle jerks, seizures and abnormal EEG readings although dementia is included in the symptom picture as well. Dialysis encephalopathy syndrome is due to dialysis patients getting treated with water and phosphate buffers that have a high aluminum content. Other research also appeared to show that the brain damage from aluminum does not show the characteristic amyloid and tau plaques and tangles (Candy 1992). Looking overall, the research on aluminum causing or contributing to tangles and plaques in the brain of Alzheimer’s dementia is mixed (Colomina 2017).
What About Other People with Known Exposure?
Patients consuming aluminum from diet or from pharmaceuticals also don’t seem to have consistent correlations with Alzheimer’s dementia (Willhite 2014). If anyone was going to develop Alzheimer’s from aluminum, consuming large quantities of aluminum containing antacids would seem to be a likely cause, but the research doesn’t bear this out (Virk 2015).
Aluminum does cause blood sugar problems (Wei 2014), which appears to be one of the factors in driving the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Although to be fair, almost everything that is toxic causes blood sugar problems. Regardless, aluminum is neurotoxic (Kumar 2014) and it’s probably safe to assume even if it’s not directly responsible for Alzheimer’s dementia, it’s not going to help matters, and could make things worse.
In summary, after reading the research available, I’m not convinced that aluminum is the major driving force behind Alzheimer’s dementia. It may play more of a role in familial early-onset Alzheimer’s but even that requires more research. However, I am very cognizant that it’s a toxic heavy metal with other brain damaging effects and would still recommend trying to limit its presence in the body to maintain overall health.