Aluminum in Drinking Water Connected With Dementia Risk, Cognitive Decline

March 06, 2009 07:30 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Researchers believe exposure to aluminum in drinking water can increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, whereas silica may reduce the risk.

Alzheimer’s Risk Factors

In a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, French researchers followed elderly subjects for 15 years to learn whether the presence of aluminum in their drinking water would increase their chances of experiencing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or cognitive decline.

Researchers found that consuming at least 0.1 milligram per day of aluminum “was associated with greater cognitive decline,” Reuters reports. However, they also determined that consuming 10 milligrams per day of silica reduced the chances of dementia by 11 percent.

Reuters quoted the investigators as saying, “Further studies are needed to settle the debate over the link between aluminum or silica in drinking water and neurologic disorders and cognitive impairment.”

Background: Alzheimer’s disease

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a German physician named Alois Alzheimer first described Alzheimer’s disease in 1906. At a scientific meeting, he presented the case of a woman, Frau Auguste D., who had memory problems, “unfounded suspicions that her husband was unfaithful” and trouble speaking and understanding what people said to her. Her symptoms progressed rapidly and eventually she was bedridden. She later died of infections from bedsores and pneumonia.

With permission from Auguste’s family, Dr. Alzheimer performed an autopsy and found that her brain had shrunk considerably. After looking in a microscope, he saw fatty deposits in her blood vessels, dying brain cells and “abnormal deposits in and around cells.”

Related Topic: Possible Alzheimer’s disease treatments; Alzheimer’s myths debunked

Treatment possibilities

In 2008, a case report published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation detailed the marked improvement of a man with Alzheimer’s who received a spinal injection of etanercept, known by the brand name. Within 10 minutes he appeared happier and better able to answer questions about where he was.

Enbrel was approved in 1998. It is one of three drugs that block the tumor necrosis factor, or TNF-alpha protein, that rallies white blood cells to fight infections. People with rheumatoid arthritis are unable to rid their bodies of the protein, and the buildup becomes harmful. Studies have shown that TNF-alpha plays a role in Alzheimer’s.

Meanwhile, researchers across the United States are now taking a fresh look at whether it’s possible to actually slow the progression of Alzheimer’s in a person. “The only options for patients are for medications that only treat symptoms,” Dr. Frederick Schaerf, lead investigator for the ICARA study, said in an article by the Cape Coral Daily Breeze. “It might treat memory and behavior, but nothing really has looked at the disease itself and whether the progression of the disease can be effected [sic].”

The ICARA study will examine the effectiveness of a drug called Bapineuzumab in slowing Alzheimer’s. The study differs from others in that patients will receive the drug intravenously, instead of taking pills.

Alzheimer’s myths

Some people may believe drinking out of cans or using aluminum foil can contribute to Alzheimer’s, but “[t]here is no basis for it in human research,” Dr. Maria Carillo of the Alzheimer’s Association said in an article by WFIE-TV (Evansville, Ind.).

“Aluminum doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier,” Dr. Kiminobu Sayaga with the University of Central Florida explained. “That’s the safety barrier we have.”

Reference: Alzheimer’s resources


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