Does aluminium cause dementia?

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Housewives using aluminium kitchenware for cooking or making berry juices have switched to stainless steel products. The concern arose from information that aluminium was accumulating in patients during dialysis treatment when non-distilled water was used for making dialysis solutions. Furthermore it has been shown that aluminium in the brain was associated with the plaque-like changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently some studies appeared to suggest that there was an association between aluminium in drinking water and dementia.

Aluminium is ubiquitous

Aluminium is one of the most common elements on earth. It dissolves into ground water to a very limited extent. Acidity of the water can promote dissolution, and rather high concentrations have been detected in some areas (over 1 mg/l). In areas with certain types of bedrock, well water may contain high concentrations of aluminium, and deep tube wells usually have even higher levels, but the variation in levels is very great.

In tap water produced by well-equipped waterworks, the concentrations of aluminium are not usually high. Much of the aluminium originates from processing chemicals, because aluminium hydroxide is used as an adsorbent to remove the impurities present in raw water. It is more uncertain how much aluminium is in the tap water distributed by very small waterworks.

Health effects

It is not known exactly how to classify the health effects of aluminium in drinking water. It has been considered as completely innocuous, because aluminium hydroxide has been used at high doses in drug preparations as an antacid for over a hundred years, and also food contains large amounts of aluminium. Aluminium is absorbed very poorly. Some, so far unsubstantiated, findings in epidemiological studies have suggested an association between neurological diseases and long-term exposure to aluminium via drinking water.

Therefore there is some indication of harmful effects of aluminium to the nervous system, but exposure to aluminium from drinking water or food has not been proven, contrary to the situations with dialysis treatment which allows aluminium to gain direct access to the organism. There is no health-based limit value recommendation by the World Health Organisation for aluminium in drinking water, but there is a technical quality recommendation of 0.2 mg/l. There is no evidence that aluminium kitchenware would cause any adverse effects.

Aluminium is one of the most common elements in the earth, and is generally regarded as safe. Since there is some uncertainty, it is unwise to drink water clearly exceeding the recommendations.

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