Aluminium, Alzheimer’s and Cranks

I work at a local kitchen store that sells damn near everything under the sun. It’s a fun job with generally amiable customers and I get to play with lots of neat kitchen stuff. However, living in Portland, Oregon also means that I get to deal with a lot of people who like to come in and interrogate me about whether or not there is aluminium in our cake pans or anything made of metal.

You see, according to homeopaths, chakra cleansers, spirit readers and other peddlers of nonsense and b.s., aluminium causes Alzheimer’s. Now, working in retail, my only real option when confronted with these claims is to smile, nod and silently scream. The customer is always right. Occasionally, I’ll play dumb and ask a few questions to provoke some critical thinking, but those occasions are few and far between. The sales floor isn’t the time nor the place for such lengthy discussions. But you know what? That’s the reason I have my blog.

Let’s get one thing clear: Researchers have not found a direct link between aluminium and Alzheimers. This isn’t to say that aluminium may not play a role in the development of the disease, but science has yet show a direct correlation. The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation writes-

One of the most publicized and controversial hypotheses about risk factors for Alzheimer’s concerns aluminum, which became a suspect when researchers found traces of this metal in the brains of Alzheimer’s 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 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 (1).

This brings to mind a well-known phrase- correlation does not imply causation. Just because aluminium is present, doesn’t mean that it is the cause of the disease. In truth, aluminium doesn’t easily build-up in our systems. Almost all of it passes through our bodies without being absorbed; the one percent that does get absorbed is excreted through the urinary system (2).

This isn’t to say that aluminium is harmless. A build-up can occur when your kidneys can’t properly dispose of the metal. In some cases, long term dialysis treatment has been linked to a disease called dialysis dementia (3). This is due to a gradual increase in aluminium in patients with renal failure. The major culprit isn’t the aluminium itself, but the bodies inability to excrete it in a normal manner.

Does this mean you should avoid using aluminium? Of course not. The science has shown absolutely no reason to purge all things aluminium from our daily use. To my knowledge, no direct evidence contributing aluminium to Alzheimer’s has been found. If anything, one should avoid aluminium cookware because it’s cheaply made and doesn’t last long anyways.  But that’s just the salesman in me.

1. Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation: Non-Genetic Risk Factors

2. Alzheimer’s Society

3. Wills, Michael R., Savory, John. Environmental Health Perspectives. 1985. P. 141-142 Water Content of Aluminium, Dialysis Dementia, and Osteomalacia.