Does Aluminum Increase Your Risk For Alzheimer’s Disease?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006 - 12:03pm

By John Messmer, MD

It's time to prepare dinner. Chances are your pots and pans are aluminum. You might also notice that your disposable roasting pans and pie pans are aluminum. And you probably use aluminum foil to cover your food while cooking, as well as storing it later. Lightweight and an excellent heat conductor, aluminum is well suited as a material for cookware. With all this aluminum around, it's important to ask: "Is aluminum a health risk?"

Past research linked aluminum to Alzheimer's disease

In the 1970s, research on Alzheimer's disease showed excessive amounts of aluminum in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. As a result, there was concern in the medical community that aluminum might cause or at least contribute to the development of the disease. One medical commentator in the New England Journal of Medicine even planned to dispose of all his aluminum cookware.

How common is aluminum in our environment?

Aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust after oxygen and silicon, making up about 8% of the surface. It finds its way into the air and water and is taken up by plants from the soil. With that much of the element on earth, if it were toxic to living creatures, there would not be many around.

How much do we ingest when we use aluminum cookware?

Modern aluminum cookware is anodized or otherwise coated to harden the finish and make it resistant to food sticking. That process reduces the amount that gets into food. Acidic or highly salty foods tend to leach more aluminum out than other foods. Still, that is not really a problem. Most ingested aluminum is eliminated in the stool, but some is absorbed. Very little of the aluminum we ingest comes from cookware. In a worst case scenario, a person using uncoated aluminum cookware and storing all food in aluminum containers is likely to absorb about three or four milligrams of aluminum a day.

Medication is probably the greatest source of aluminum in our diets. Antacids contain aluminum. In the days before effective medications for acid suppression, a person with acid reflux might consume 1,000 milligrams of aluminum daily.

What really causes Alzheimer's?

Even if we absorbed more aluminum than we already do, despite what some fear mongers say, aluminum is not considered a risk for Alzheimer's disease. Current research suggests that Alzheimer's disease is the result of inflammation and hardening of the arteries. Aluminum in patients' brains probably finds its way there after the disease develops.

Aluminum and its risks

There are a few risks associated with aluminum. Excessive amounts in children with kidney disease can affect bone strength. In some animals, large amounts-in excess of what is possible to ingest in a normal person's diet-affect fetal brain and skeletal development. Also, people can develop skin sensitivity to aluminum chlorhydrate in deodorants.

Do not worry about your aluminium cookware and utensils

There is no reason to fear a problem from the tiny amount of aluminum we get from our cookware and utensils. We might eat too many calories, but we are not likely to eat too much aluminum.