Alzheimer's Disease and Aluminum
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Question: I have heard that aluminum may be involved in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Does use of aluminum cookware and drinking from aluminum beverage cans place me at greater risk for developing this disease.
Answer: Aluminum is one of the most abundant elements found in the environment. Therefore, human exposure to this metal is common and unavoidable. However, intake is relatively low because this element is highly insoluble in many of its naturally occurring forms. The significance of environmental contact with aluminum is further diminished by the fact that less than 1% of that taken into the body orally is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract.
The average human intake is estimated to be between 30 and 50 mg per day. This intake comes primarily from foods, drinking water, and pharmaceuticals. Based on the maximum levels reported in drinking water, less than 1/4 of the total intake comes from water. Some common food additives contain aluminum. Due to certain additives, processed cheese and cornbread are two major contributors to high aluminum exposures in the American diet. With regard to pharmaceuticals, some common over-the-counter medications such as antacids and buffered aspirin contain aluminum to increase the daily intake significantly.
Over the last few years, there has been concern about the exposures resulting from leaching of aluminum from cookware and beverage cans. However, as a general rule, this contributes a relatively small amount to the total daily intake. Aluminum beverage cans are usually coated with a polymer to minimize such leaching. Leaching from aluminum cookware becomes potentially significant only when cooking highly basic or acidic foods. For example, in one study, tomato sauce cooked in aluminum pans was found to accumulate 3-6 mg aluminum per 100 g serving.
Certain aluminum compounds have been found to be an important component of the neurological damage characteristics of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Much research over the last decade has focused on the role of aluminum in the development of this disease. At this point, its role is still not clearly defined. Since AD is a chronic disease which may take a long time to develop, long-term exposure is the most important measure of intake. Long-term exposure is easiest to estimate for drinking water exposures. Epidemiological studies attempting to link AD with exposures in drinking water have been inconclusive and contradictory. Thus, the significance of increased aluminum intake with regard to onset of AD has not been determined.