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A Guide to Aluminum and Alzheimer's Disease

By Phyllis Staff, Ph.D.

That my father developed Alzheimer's disease came as a great shock to me. No one in our family had had Alzheimer's, so dementia wasn't even on my radar at the time. After his death in 2004, I began a systematic search of the medical literature . . . picking up a clue here, a hint there, retracing his steps in life the best I could to see where the pieces fit to create the crazy quilt that was his Alzheimer's.

Most of the clues led me nowhere. In many ways, Dad led an exemplary life that, according to the latest research, should have protected him from the disease. He was highly-educated, active, sociable, interested in many areas of life. He ate a varied and healthy diet.

In short, I couldn't understand what happened until I realized how often he had been exposed to aluminum throughout his life.

The amount of information about aluminum and Alzheimer's] is sufficient to merit informing people of their intake of the metal so as to be able to make their own decision.
H. Uchida and M. Nagai (1997)

It is my desire to share what I learned about the relationship between aluminum and Alzheimer's with as many people as possible. By making wise life choices, I believe we can head off the disastrous increase in the percentage of the elderly who develop and eventually die from dementia.

Aluminum -- Abundant, Toxic

Aluminum is one of the most abundant minerals found on earth . . . and one of the most toxic to humans. Aluminum damages nervous systems in both infants and adults. It is implicated in anemia, osteomalacia, glucose intolerance, memory deficits, and Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and Parkinson's diseases. Scientists do not yet understand whether aluminum is a primary cause of Alzheimer's or is accumulated in the brain as a result of a malfunction caused by the disease. They do know, however, that aluminum wreaks havoc on human nervous systems and should be avoided.

What are the immediate symptoms of aluminum toxicity?

Symptoms of aluminum toxicity include memory loss, learning difficulty, loss of coordination, disorientation, mental confusion, colic, heartburn, flatulence, and headaches.
Life Extension Foundation (2006)

A 2005 research study from Poland examined behaviors in 67 males who had worked in an aluminum production facility for as few as two and as many as 34 years. These workers exhibited headaches, irritability, difficulty in concentrating, insomnia, and mood swings. Tests revealed abnormalities in their brain functions.

These symptoms are bad enough. But what if the long-term symptoms include Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease? Would the prospect of those diseases motivate you to do everything possible to avoid products and situations that will create aluminum exposure?

The lists that follow contain a sampling of products and situations that you can avoid or in some way alter.

Common products containing aluminum, how they enter the body, and steps to remove or avoid them

Note: The lists that follow offer a sampling of products that may contain aluminum compounds. Always read labels carefully regardless of whether products appear in these lists or not.

Entering Through Skin, Nose, and Eyes

A study published in 1991 found that aluminum was concentrated in the olfactory system in the brains studied. Researchers surmised that the aluminum was airborne and inflicted damage early in the disease process of Parkinsons-dementia complex.

The significance for aging? Aluminum in dust and vapor forms has a direct route from the nose to the brain where it can make your life a nightmare.

Fabric dyes use aluminum sulfate as a mordent (dye setting).

Showers create water vapor that is inhaled and water that is absorbed through the skin. Most showers use water from municipal water treatment plants where the water was treated with aluminum sulfate.

Shampoos may contain magnesium aluminum silicate or aluminum lauryl sulfate.

Antiperspirants rely on aluminum compounds such as aluminum chlorohydrate to stop perspiration.

These aluminum/zirconium products are the active ingredients in virtually every type of antiperspirant formulation, including creams, solid stick and clear gels.
General Chemical Corporation (2005) Astringents may contain acetate.

Douches may contain aluminum compounds.

Styptic pencils, often used to stop bleeding from small nicks and scratches, are alum (aluminum potassium sulfate).

Cosmetics (cake type) contain magnesium aluminum silicate to prevent caking and aid in smooth application.

Steps to Take

Reduce the length of showers to reduce the amount of water vapor inhaled. Additionally, use shower filters that reduce the amount of aluminum passing through your shower head.

Learn to make your own bath and spa products. Making them yourself can save you money as well as save your health.

Cut back on the amounts and frequency of antiperspirants and cosmetics you use.

Quick showers, a healthy immune system, and an alkaline diet will reduce the need for overuse of antiperspirants.

Entering by Mouth

Products

Drinking Water. Without testing, you simply do not know what contaminants come along with your drinking water. But, if you're drinking municipal water, it's highly likely that you are ingesting some form of aluminum. If you're drinking well water, be sure to have it tested routinely.

Tooth paste. Certain toothpastes, especially whitening varieties, often rely on aluminum oxide as a polishing agent. Toothpastes are not required to list all ingredients as though they were a food product; however, you can get an idea of the ingredients by reading the warnings printed on the tubes. Frequently, instructions warn users to seek treatment for poisoning if the tooth paste is ingested by a child.

Foods Sodas and soft drinks may provide aluminum in two ways.

First, the water added may be a source of aluminum sulfate.

Second, aluminum cans are coated with a polymer to prevent the acid content of the soda from leaching the aluminum into the liquid. If the can is dented or cracked, the polymer may be broken, and aluminum will be released into the liquid.

Soy foods. Soy beans contain anti-nutritive substances, so they must be highly processed to remove the offending substances. As part of this process, beans are washed in an acid bath in aluminum tanks. The acid itself causes aluminum to be released into the beans and powder that is used to make tofu and other soy foods.

Table Salt, not sea salt which is generally not processed salt, may contain aluminum as a drying agent to prevent caking.

Foods leavened with baking powder. Baking powder contains sodium aluminum sulfate as a leavening agent. 
Biscuits 
Muffins
Dry pancake and waffle mixes 
Dry cake mixes 
Cornbread 
Corn tortillas 
Frozen breads
Frozen pizza (but not fresh pizza that uses yeast as a leavening agent. 
Frozen pancakes and waffles

Process cheese contains aluminum compounds, but natural cheese (those made by injecting bacteria into the milk slurry) are OK.

Teas (black and green)

Chewing gum

Chocolate pudding

Pickles and relishes

Soy-based infant formulas

Ground coffee beans

Over-the-counter drugs

Antacids

Buffered aspirin

Calcium supplements

Antidiarrheal drugs

Anti-ulcer medications

Pharmaceutical packs. Foil blister packs are the preferred method of delivering pharmaceuticals to consumers. Although the foil is coated to prevent aluminum contamination, cracks and tears can release aluminum dust into the air and onto the pills.

And it's not just aluminum salts that create problems. Many products including soft drinks, cake mixes, ice creams, and others use the flavor enhancer, maltol. Maltol combines with aluminum in the digestive tract to form aluminum maltolate, a compound that can cross the blood/brain barrier to transport aluminum into the brain. Moreover, aluminum maltolate causes oxidative stress in the brain and death in neuronal cells. All in all, itÕs a good bet that many boxed and frozen foods are poor choices for good brain health.

Steps to Take

Check your local water quality at the Environmental Protection Agency website here: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo/index.html

Get water tests, especially if using well water, so you'll know which, if any, contaminants you're dealing with. Many state universities offer water testing facilities. If they do not, they will know where you can get such tests.

Filter water, especially drinking water, with filters designed to remove aluminum. You'll find two types of filters readily available: reverse osmosis and counter-top filters. Learn about the benefits of each before making a choice.

Cut down on your intake of breads. Use yeast breads rather than breads leaved with baking powder.BONUS: You'll lower your risk of diabetes, and you'll have a better-looking waist line when you reduce your intake of breads.

Read labels carefully before purchasing products. Avoid those with "alum," "aluminum", "alumino", "aluminate", "maltol", or "baking powder" in the list of ingredients.

By now, you may be wondering just what's left to eat. The answer: Plenty, if you change you're eating patterns and begin to use whole rather than prepared foods. For example, if you're a pizza lover, make your own using a yeast dough with whole wheat, stone-ground flour, fresh veggies, and real rather than process cheese. You'll not only be doing your body a favor, but you'll enjoy the difference in taste when you use fresh, whole foods.

Aluminum Cofee Makers
Aluminum Cook and Bake ware 
Aluminum Foil
Aluminum Utensils

Studies indicate that a small amount of aluminum leaches into food products when cooked in aluminum cook or bake ware or aluminum foils. The amount, however, increases when the food cooked is highly acidic, as for example, fruits such as berries and tomatoes.

Steps to Take

Do not cook foods in aluminum. Period.

Replace aluminum cookware with ceramic-coated iron cookware (if you can afford the price), stainless steel cookware, or heat-proof glassware. Remove aluminum from your kitchen!

Entering Through the Lungs

Products

  • Water vapor from misters, garden sprayers may be a source of aluminum sulfate or other aluminum compounds as well as an aerosol source of pesticide.
  • Aluminum dust in the environment as air pollution, and in the workplace of those who work in manufacturing facilities that use aluminum, enters the brain directly through the nose.
  • Aluminum spray paints are those in which aluminum is used as a pigment, especially in metallic paints.
  • Sprayed pesticides, especially those regulated by the government, may contain aluminum compounds that are not only dangerous to the handler but can leach into soils as well.
  • Sandpaper and other abrasives contain aluminum oxide; sanding not only creates wood dust but aluminum oxide dust as well.
  • Smoke from tobacco and cannabis, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine (2006), is high in aluminum and accumulates in lung fluids, thus increasing the body's aluminum burden.

Steps to Take

 

  • Wear filtration masks to minimize breathing aluminum dust when working in aluminum manufacturing or using products that cause aluminum particles to become airborne.
  • Do not use pesticides containing aluminum because they not only expose the user, they can leach into the water supply and expose a community.

Entering Through Other Means

Products

 

  • Vaccines may be prepared with alum as adjutants. Ask before accepting vaccinations.
  • Kidney dialysis may lead to aluminum toxicity because dialysis solutions are sometimes exposed to aluminum parts.
  • Parental nutrition is that which taken by another route than the mouth, such as tube feeding. Aluminum has been found at high levels in this type o nutrition.

Steps to Take

Avoid these procedures if possible. If not, use potent antioxidants, especially melatonin, to counter the effects of aluminum.

Conclusions

Although itÕs not possible to completely remove aluminum from your environment and your body, you can protect your brain from the ravages of this metal by changing the choices you make Ð in food and environment. It may take a bit of thought at first, but avoiding the significant dangers of aluminum make it very much worthwhile.

About the Author

"When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, I couldn't imagine why it had claimed him", says Phyllis Staff, Ph.D. "He was bright, active and enthusiastic with an unbounded curiosity about the world and beyond. Yet when he ended his days, he was unable to recognize his family, enjoy a meal, or take a walk. I needed to know why such a good man would suffer such a horrible fate.

"At the same time, I wondered if I'd be the next one in my family to develop Alzheimer's. I knew of no cure, so I concentrated on what could be done to avoid the disease." Her book, 128 Ways to Prevent Alzheimer's and Other Dementias, grew out of her research on avoiding dementia.

"As a result of my personal experiences, I've spent years studying medical research to determine what steps can be taken to avoid the disaster of Alzheimer's. My years of training as a research psychologist, and my years of living with my Dad's Alzheimer's have given me a unique perspective for this work."

Dr. Staff is an experimental (research) psychologist who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Arlington. She has spent more than 25 years identifying and solving problems for organizations. She designed and implemented money- and people- saving solutions for some of the world's largest educational institutions and Fortune 500 companies in the United States and Europe.

A native Texan, Dr. Staff lives in Waxahachie, Texas, where she cares for her elderly mother. She is a writer and photographer whose articles and photographs have appeared in scholarly journals and contemporary magazines. Her first book, How to Find Great Senior Housing (2002), is now in its second edition.

You can contact Dr. Staff by email (Phyllis.staff@alzheimersfree.com) or phone (240- 230-1028).


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