Aluminum and dementia: Is there a link?
Risk factors are aspects of people, their lifestyle and environment that contribute to the likelihood of getting a disease. While there are some risk factors that you can control, such as changing your diet to help lower your blood pressure, there are other factors that are beyond your control like your age or genes.
Studies have not provided strong evidence of aluminum being a risk factor for the development of dementia.
What is aluminum?
We usually think of aluminum as a light silvery metal used to make pots and pans, airplanes or tools, but it also has a non-metallic form. This form of aluminum makes up eight per cent of the earth's surface. Aluminum in small amounts is referred to as ”trace elements,“ and are found in our environment and in our bodies. These amounts are “normal” and are not harmful.
Where is aluminum found?
In the environment
Because these trace elements are present in the earth, they occur naturally in the foods we eat, in our drinking water and are even added to the water treatment process in some municipalities. Trace elements of aluminum may also be found in:
- Many processed foods
- Cosmetics and personal hygiene products, such as deodorants and nasal sprays
- Some drugs in order to make them more effective or less irritating
- The air we breathe from dry soil, cigarette smoke, pesticide sprays and aluminum-based paint.
In our bodies
Aluminum is present in the body, but its role is not fully understood. Very little of the aluminum taken in by a healthy individual is actually absorbed; most of it is flushed out by the kidneys.
Is there a connection between aluminum and the development of dementia?
Aluminum has been studied for over 40 years as a substance that might be linked to dementia. However, there have been many conflicting findings.
- Some studies show increased levels of trace elements of aluminum in the brains of people with dementia, while others do not.
- Studies have not found an increased incidence of dementia in people with occupational exposure to aluminum.
- Tea is one of the few plants whose leaves accumulate larger trace element amounts of aluminum that can seep into the brewed beverage. However, there is no evidence that dementia is more prevalent in cultures that typically drink large amounts of tea.
- Unfortunately, earlier animal studies focused on one animal that is particularly susceptible to aluminum poisoning, which has led to incorrect conclusions about the general effects of aluminum on the body.
What about pots and pans?
It would be difficult to significantly reduce exposure to aluminum simply by avoiding the use of aluminum cookware, foil, beverage cans and other products. Use of aluminum in pots and pans only contributes to a very small percentage of the average person's intake of aluminum.
Current research provides no convincing evidence that exposure to trace elements of aluminum is connected to the development of dementia.