Aluminum is one of the most widely used metals in the world. Consider your morning commute: You hop into your car, where you’re protected from the elements by aluminum body panels. You sip your morning coffee from an aluminum travel mug. You arrive at your desk and pry open your laptop’s aluminum case to check your email.
All of this exposure to aluminum, however, may come at a cost. Research suggests that the metal — a known neurotoxin — builds up in the brain over time, contributing to Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.
Writing in a recent issue of The Lancet, neuroscientist Chris Exley made an impassioned case that the modern Aluminum Age, as he calls it, plays a significant role in neurodegenerative diseases. We overlook these risks because aluminum is so common, Exley argued. But there are several explanations for how aluminum may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. For one, aluminum encourages proteins called amyloids to clump together in the brain, which is a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease. This accumulation may block signals between nerve cells or lead to changes that destroy brain cells.
Aluminum is toxic to the brain, just like mercury, lead, and arsenic, said neurologist David Perlmutter, MD, author of Grain Brain and the Grain Brain Cookbook, in an interview with Yahoo Health. “Over the past 20 years there have been several important research publications that have drawn conclusions relating Alzheimer’s disease to aluminum exposure,” he added. Studies have linked higher aluminum content in drinking water to higher rates of Alzheimer’s disease, for example. And one of the most promising Alzheimer’s therapies involves removing aluminum from the body, providing evidence that the two are closely connected, according to a research review in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
Five Tips to Keep Your Brain Sharp
Because aluminum is so pervasive, it’s nearly impossible to avoid completely. But taking certain steps can significantly lower your risk of developing dementia. “The truth of the matter is that there is no treatment for dementia now or at any time in the foreseeable future, and yet dementia, for the most part, is strongly related to lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and even preventing head trauma,” said Perlmutter. “This is powerful information as it puts dementia into the same category as heart disease, for example, in which everyone seems to be very aware of the fact that there are things we can do to prevent that issue.”
If you’re looking to keep your dome healthy, lowering your exposure to aluminum is one course of action, but it’s not the most important one. “These studies on aluminum are intriguing but are in no way as significant as other important and modifiable risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease for which there is profound support in the medical literature,” Perlmutter said.
Follow these tips to reduce your risk for dementia and keep your brain healthy as you age:
1) Watch your blood sugar. “Even mild elevations of blood sugar, well below the threshold for making a diagnosis of diabetes, have now been demonstrated to significantly correlate with the risk of developing dementia,” said Perlmutter. To keep blood sugar under control, limit the amount of carbohydrates you consume and choose healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and seeds. If you choose to eat meat, pick grass-fed beef and wild fish, which are higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
2) Keep up with cardio. “Physical activity is a wonderful brain activity,” Douglas Scharre, MD, director of the division of cognitive neurology at Ohio State University, told Yahoo Health. Aerobic activity can make your brain more resilient against developing dementia, studies suggest. Perlmutter recommended at least 20 minutes of sustained aerobic activity each day, such as running, brisk walking, or bike riding.
3) Protect your noggin. Even mild head trauma early in life — a hard knock during a high school football game or a rough crash while rollerblading — can set the stage for dementia later on, Perlmutter said. The simple fix: Always wear a helmet when biking, skateboarding, or rollerblading.
4) Sip mineral water. Silicon is a common mineral in tap and bottled water. It also chemically counteracts aluminum and is given to patients to treat acute aluminum poisoning. A 2013 study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that drinking mineral water with silicon helped flush aluminum from the body. Check the label on your bottled water, which should list the minerals it contains.
5) Lower your cholesterol. If your cholesterol levels are high, getting them under control may reduce your risk for dementia. “In studies where large groups of people were followed for many years, people in midlife who were taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs reduced their risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by about 60 to 70 percent compared to those who weren’t taking statins for elevated cholesterol,” said Scharre. Keep your heart and head happy with these five tips to lower your cholesterol levels.