Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease: after a century of controversy, is there a plausible link?
The brain is a highly compartmentalized organ exceptionally susceptible to accumulation of metabolic errors. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease of the elderly and is characterized by regional specificity of neural aberrations associated with higher cognitive functions. Aluminum (Al) is the most abundant neurotoxic metal on earth, widely bioavailable to humans and repeatedly shown to accumulate in AD-susceptible neuronal foci. In spite of this, the role of Al in AD has been heavily disputed based on the following claims: 1) bioavailable Al cannot enter the brain in sufficient amounts to cause damage, 2) excess Al is efficiently excreted from the body, and 3) Al accumulation in neurons is a consequence rather than a cause of neuronal loss. Research, however, reveals that: 1) very small amounts of Al are needed to produce neurotoxicity and this criterion is satisfied through dietary Al intake, 2) Al sequesters different transport mechanisms to actively traverse brain barriers, 3) incremental acquisition of small amounts of Al over a lifetime favors its selective accumulation in brain tissues, and 4) since 1911, experimental evidence has repeatedly demonstrated that chronic Al intoxication reproduces neuropathological hallmarks of AD. Misconceptions about Al bioavailability may have misled scientists regarding the significance of Al in the pathogenesis of AD. The hypothesis that Al significantly contributes to AD is built upon very solid experimental evidence and should not be dismissed. Immediate steps should be taken to lessen human exposure to Al, which may be the single most aggravating and avoidable factor related to AD.