Health Topics

Alzheimer’s & Aluminum Toxicity

Alzheimer’s disease, or senile dementia of the Alzheimer’s type, will be one of America’s greatest health problems in the coming years. Sixty percent of patients now admitted to nursing homes have this diagnosis and the number of Alzheimer’s victims is projected to increase as much as eight-fold by the middle of the next century.

There is a strong connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. Research clearly demonstrates abnormally high accumulations of aluminum within the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. Independent studies performed in Norway, the United Kingdom, France and Canada, show a direct correlation between the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and aluminum concentrations in the drinking water. One British study reported in the medical journal The Lancet, showed the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease to be 50 percent greater in places where drinking water contained high levels of aluminum.

The connection between aluminum in the brain and Alzheimer’s Disease is so convincing that various studies are under way to explore whether aluminum in the brain can be removed, and if so, to figure if this would be beneficial for Alzheimer’s patients. One fascinating study also reported in The Lancet, showed that by administering desferrioxamine (a chemical known to remove aluminum and other metals from the body) the progression of dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease was significantly slowed.

In a November 1993 article appearing in The Townsend Letter for Doctors, Dr. Michael A Weiner (executive director of the Alzheimer’s Research Institute) summarized our present understanding of the dangers of aluminum exposure when he stated “[…] aluminum has been known as a neurotoxic substance for nearly a century. The scientific literature on its toxic effects has now grown to a critical mass. It is not necessary to conclude that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease to recommend that it be reduced or eliminated as a potential risk. It is the only element noted to accumulate in the tangle-bearing neurons characteristic of the disease and is also found in elevated amounts in four regions of the brain of Alzheimer’s patients.”

Our exposure to aluminum is certainly nothing new. It is one of the most common elements in the earth’s crust and has long made its way into our foods. Ancient man consumed aluminum when rocks were used to mill grain into flour. Minimal exposure to aluminum isn’t a problem; our bodies can excrete small amounts very e:fficiently. Laboratory research has shown that we can handle about twenty milligrams of aluminum ingestion each day. Unfortunately, most of us are exposed to and ingest far more aluminum than our bodies can handle.

What are the sources of aluminum that contribute to toxicity? Aluminum is an ingredient in a wide-range of items that many of us use every day. Some of these products include processed foods, medications and even personal hygiene products.

Aluminum is added as an emulsifying agent in many processed cheeses, especially those which are single-sliced. It is found in cake mixes, self-rising floor, prepared dough, non-dairy creamers, pickles and in some brands of baking powder. Aluminum lauryl sulfate is a common ingredient in many shampoos, while several anti dandruff shampoos, including Selsun-Blue, contain magnesium aluminum silicate. Aluminum is also an active ingredient in most antiperspirants (aluminum chlorohydrate). However, since people have started becoming more aware of the dangers of aluminum, some “aluminum free” antiperspirants are now being advertised.

Aluminum is readily absorbed by foods cooked in aluminum cookware. In a study conducted at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, tomatoes cooked in an aluminum pot had a two to four milligram increase in aluminum content per serving.8 Perhaps the most significant source of aluminum exposure comes from medications. Most antacid preparations, for example, may contain 200 milligrams or more of elemental aluminum in a single tablet! That’s ten times more than the presumably acceptable 20 milligrams per day.

Aluminum is the most abundant metallic element in the earth’s crust It is abundant in the soil, water and air particles. Acidic rain increases the amount that is leached into our water supplies.

Aluminum is an abundant element in dirt. It is found naturally in nearly all foods and herbs. Herb companies, knowing how much aluminum a pure herb should contain, can use a laboratory measure of aluminum content to indicate how clean the plant (especially root material) is; extra dirt adds to the aluminum content.

Things to Know About Aluminum

  • Aluminum is not a “heavy metal.” It is used in industry where economy, strength and light weight are needed i.e. aircraft parts and beer cans, etc.
  • Minute amounts of aluminum are needed in the brain to activate vital enzyme systems. It may even play a role in protein synthesis.
  • There is a distinct difference between organic and inorganic forms of aluminum.

Sources of Aluminum and Aluminum Compounds

Aluminum is primarily absorbed into the body through the digestive tract. Dietary intake ranges widely from 5 to 150 mg/day. These levels do not seem to interfere with the absorption or utilization of calcium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, selenium, iron or magnesium Adequate calcium intake may decrease the risk of aluminum toxicity.

It is also absorbed through the gut and skin.

Treated Municipal Water

Many municipal water supplies are treated with alum (aluminum sulfate) to get rid of murkiness. At least seven separate studies have shown that people drinking water high in alum are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s than people drinking water low in alum The worst part is that alum can combine with fluoride in the blood to form aluminum fluoride. About 300,000,000 ponds of sodium fluoride, an industrial waste from aluminum refiners, is added to our water supply each year. (See: Fluoridated Water)

Aluminum researcher Elizabeth Jeffery has found evidence that fluoride interferes with the body’s ability to get rid of aluminum. She says, “[m]y research indicates that fluoride readily combines with aluminum in the blood, and that aluminum fluoride, once bound is very poorly excreted in the urine.” She believes that the aluminum fluoride then becomes concentrated in the bones (where fluorine replaces calcium) and continues to slowly release and recycle through the body over time. Albert Burgstahler, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Kansas, has found that aluminum fluoride can pass unusually well through biological barriers, notably the blood-brain barrier, and accumulate in the brain. (See: Toxicity in brain tissues below)

The EPA Secondary Maximum Contaminant level for aluminum in water is 50 ppb. City water filtered through a ”Multi-pure” system is usually less than 10 ppb. Coca-Cola Classic in an aluminum can has been measured at 6,160 ppb. (Don’t be too shocked: the amounts of aluminum in baked goods, antacids and antiperspirants leave your cola in the dust)

Carbonated beverages are acidic. When doctors at Joho Hunter Hospital checked containers of 52 different beverages, they found soft drinks in cans contained up to 4 112 times the recommended amount of aluminum that drinking water can contain. Medical Journal of Australia 156(9): 604-5, 1992

Aluminum alloy cookware and containers – Cooking utensils and aluminum beverage cans contribute substantially to our load of aluminum Beer has more aluminum when it is packaged in aluminum cans. It is best to use stainless steel cooking containers or glass or iron cookware. The older your aluminum cookware is the more rapidly it corrodes. Acid-forming foods dissolve aluminum more rapidly. The amount of aluminum ingested from cookware, however is far exceeded by the amounts ingested from food additives.


Sodium aluminum phosphate is an additive in most baking powders, cake mixes and self-rising flower. If this form of aluminum combines with maltitol, a sugar-like flavoring agent, the resulting aluminum compound is able to get through the blood-brain barrier 90 times as well. Potassium alum is used to whiten bleached flour.

Aluminum compounds are widely used aa additives to prepared foods. They lighten food texture, adjust acidity and keep chunks of processed vegetables and fruits firmer.

Aluminum is even used in infant formulas and beer.

Sodium aluminosilicate or aluminum calcium silicate are added to table salt to absorb moisture and keep it from caking.

Sodium aluminum phosphate is used as an emulsifier in processed cheese.

OTC and Prescription Drugs 

Aluminum is found in many over-the-counter painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs and douche preparations. For instance, aspirin is commonly buffered with aluminum hydroxide or aluminum glycinate. If you wash down your aspirin with orange juice, the buffering powder becomes aluminum citrate which is able to get through the blood-brain barrier five times as well.

Aluminum is included in many dental products as well. It is added to some toothpaste. It is recommended that you read labels carefully for chemicals such as dihydroxyaluminum.

Aluminum chlorohydrate is a prominent component of many antiperspirants. It is DESIGNED to be absorbed. Studies show that regular use of these products can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as three-fold.

Aluminum hydroxide in antacids: 

Aluminum hydroxide in antacids may be the most common cause of aluminum toxicity in the United States (where antacids are widely advertised and inappropriately used).

Elizabeth Jeffery, a research scientist at the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Illinois says that “A normal dose […] will give you 5 grams of aluminum hydroxide a day.” This is several hundred times the amount normally ingested from food sources. Besides creating digestive complications by neutralizing stomach acid, other side effects are described below.

Aluminum Smelting Plants

People who work in aluminum smelting plants may experience dizziness, loss of coordination and balance and unusual fatigue. This could be the result of aluminum accumulating in nervous tissues.

Aluminum and Silicon

These are two most abundant elements in dirt. When these two elements are absorbed in the intestines they form compounds that accumulate in the cerebral cortex, blocking nerve impulses. This is aggravated by calcium deficiencies.

The body is easily able to manage normal, natural levels of aluminum. The body excretes 74-96% of our normal dietary intake of aluminum. Most of the aluminum forms insoluble salts, especially phosphate salts, in the intestine. These are mostly excreted in the feces instead of being absorbed. In excess, however, this can produce a phosphorous deficiency which leads to calcium loss which leads to structural problems.

The aluminum that is absorbed is only poorly excreted by the kidneys and can easily accumulate in body tissues. It tends to concentrate in the brain, liver, thyroid and lungs.

The elderly and those with kidney damage are especially at risk of accumulating aluminum.

Toxicity in Soft Tissues and Organs

Aluminum can be toxic if it is present in tissues in excessive amounts. Usually, the body shows some ability to adapt to increased aluminum intake over time. Individuals with hypophosphatemia or abnormal bone metabolism adapt less well.

Aluminum is excreted through the kidneys. Excessive amounts damage the kidneys, impair kidney function and can cause nephritis and may produce excessive sweating. Chronic renal insufficiency increases the severity of other aluminum-induced diseases.

Aluminum toxicity produces symptoms of poor calcium metabolism similar to osteoporosis including softening of the bones and rickets. Aluminum ingestion impairs absorption of selenium and phosphorus. Because low serum phosphate causes the bones to dissolve and the muscles to weaken, consumption of aluminum reduces total bone and matrix formation as well as periosteal bone and matrix formation. The weakened muscles can become painful, ache or twitch. Dialysis patients who get large doses of aluminum risk the formation of osteomalacia.

Gastrointestinal irritation and disturbances produce colic, loss of appetite (anorexia), esophagitis, gastroenteritis

Hepatic dysfunction (decreased liver function) can result in anemia and loss of energy. Additional symptoms include dyspepsia, headaches.

Although there is a large amount of aluminum in dirt, it actually only found in small amounts in plants. Minute amounts of organic aluminum are needed in the brain to catalyze (activate) important enzyme systems. The herb gotu kola, which has a reputation as a memory booster and brain enhancer, is assayed to have among the highest levels of aluminum of all herbs. (see Organic vs. Inorganic.)

Toxicity of Inorganic Aluminum in Nerve and Brain Tissues

Surprisingly, aluminum is needed in very minute amounts to activate enzyme systems in the brain.

Excessive aluminum evidently accumulates in long-lived cells such as nerve cells where it gradually poisons and kills the cells.

Brain functions are disturbed by the deposit of (even relatively small) excessive levels of aluminum When aluminum salts accumulate in the brain, they reduce mental faculties. Aluminum toxicity in the brain produces symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms include forgetfulness, speech disturbances, memory loss, dementia, psychosis, extreme nervousness, encephalopathy, ataxia and seizures.

Alzheimer’s disease is probably directly related to accumulation of inorganic aluminum in the brain. Aluminum-injected rats learn at a slower rate and have aluminum concentrations in their brains parallel to those found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. There has been some controversy over the concept that aluminum deposits may be result of Alzheimer’s rather than the cause of it Some believe that aluminum becomes deposited to the debris of dead cells.

The level of aluminum in ground water around the world does not seem to be related to the incidence of Alzheimer’s.

Aluminum toxicity can also produce motor nerve paralysis and localized numbness.

The Aluminum- Magnesium Link

Research have suggested that aluminum may be more likely to accumulate in the brains of persons whose diets are magnesium-deficient– which, unfortunately, includes 90% of Americans. Several studies have shown that animal fed diets low in magnesium accumulate high concentrations of aluminum in the Central Nervous System. One of magnesium’s many functions is to activate the enzyme tubulin involved in the maintenance of nerve tissue cells. It has been suggested that when there is not enough Magnesium in the body to plug into the appropriate receptor site on the tubulin enzyme, aluminum takes its place instead. This leads to the inactivation of tubulin and, consequently, inadequate nerve function. Malic acid can pull aluminum away from this enzyme, making a place for magnesium. This may be a protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Malic Acid is found abundantly in fruits such as apples. Malic Acid is also produced in the human body. It is a metabolite of the Krebs cycle the set of biochemical reactions used to produce 90% of all energy in the cells of the body. Malic Acid readily crosses the Blood-Brain-Barrier and has been shown to bind to aluminum. It functions in the body by drawing aluminum away from the tubulin enzyme, so that Magnesium can plug into the receptor sites instead Malic Acid’s unique ability to bind with aluminum means it can be flushed out of the body, preventing unwanted build-up.

Because a Magnesium-deficient diet may increase the amount of aluminum taken up and stored by the body, it is vitally important that we take in sufficient amounts.

“The evidence is strong enough that the prudent person will eliminate all food and cosmetic sources of aluminum, and will use aluminum cooking utensils only if they are coated,” according to Gary Price Todd (M.D., Nutrition, Health and Disease, 1985).

High Fiber Diet

Fiber in the diet will bind with aluminum salts and carry them out with your next bowel movement. Apple pectin, for instance is an effective binding agent.

Algin has the reputation of removing heavy metals. Typically, 5 capsules of algin are consumed in the morning and again at noon for 10 days. After another 10 days of rest, repeat the process. Continue for 3 months. They bind with aluminum and will carry it out of the body.

Several dozen sessions of intravenous EDTA chelation will remove a significant load of metals from the body including obstructive calcium plaques from the arteries. Aluminum is not a “heavy metal.” There is some controversy about the ability of intravenous EDTA chelation to remove aluminum.

Oral Chelation 

A serious program of specific nutrients can have a similar effect as intravenous chelation when continued for some months. It is generally believed that oral chelating agents can displace aluminum from tissues.

Lecithin – Bathes and protects the nerves including the brain.

B complex vitamins, especially B6 – are important for removing excess metals from the body.

Recent studies suggest that aluminum may be involved in the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease, Gusm ALS-PD complex, ”Dialysis dementia”, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), senile and presenile dementia, neurofibrillary tangles, clumsiness of movements, staggering when walking and an inability to pronounce words properly (Berkum 1986; Goyer 1991; Shore and Wystt, 1983). To date, however, we do not completely understand the role that aluminum plays in the progression of such human degenerative syndromes.

Chronic aluminum exposure bas contributed directly to hepatic failure, renal failure, and dementia (Arieff eta!., 1979). Other symptoms that have been observed in individuals with high internal concentrations of aluminum are colic, convulsions, esophagitis, gastroenteritis, kidney damage, liver dysfunction, loss of appetite, loss of balance, muscle pain, psychosis, shortness of breath, weakness, and fatigue (ATSDR 1990). Behavioral difficulties among schoolchildren have also been correlated with elevated levels of aluminum and other neuro-toxic heavy metals (Goyer 1991 ). And, aluminum toxicity may also cause birth defects in newborns (ATSDR 1990).

With all the negative evidence mounting against aluminum, educated consumers will want to take precautions in order to maintain their health and well being. Of course, the best way to avoid excess aluminum is to cut back on aluminum intake from known sources. Use only stainless steel of cast iron cookware, and look for aluminum-free antacids and deodorants. Always use filtered or spring water for drinking and cooking.