I was on a road trip from Newfoundland to New Brunswick about two weeks ago with a couple of people from my church for a youth conference, and when it was time for lunch in the bus, we were provided with some beautiful Jollof rice packaged in aluminum foil plates. Once the plates were distributed and we were ready to dig in, someone mentioned “research has shown that using aluminum foil is linked to Alzheimer’s Disease” and immediately my ‘spidey senses‘ – neuroscientist instincts – went off and I called ‘bull‘. I certainly don’t know it all, hadn’t read anything on that particular claim yet, but I was 80% sure that claim wasn’t true, and that was enough for me to speak out (maybe I was a little ‘salty‘ about it being said at the moment it was said as well). I replied “you can’t be sure that’s true, it could just be a correlation like when autism was linked to vaccination!” I couldn’t just leave it at that, had to do some research to back up my counterclaim and here we are! So the question…
Is the use of aluminum foil linked to Alzheimer’s Disease?
Let’s define the terms in our question – aluminum foil and Alzheimer’s Disease. I’m sure we all know what aluminum foil is, or at least what it looks like. I personally use it as a substitute for parchment paper sometimes when baking, use it to package food and yes, and I use it underneath the lid of the pot when I’m cooking Jollof rice (
oh sweet JRice!).
What is Alzheimer’s Disease?
Alzheimer’s disease [AD] is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually the ability to carry out the simplest tasks (NIA).
So I really tried to keep it simple here, but some facts need to be thrown out there, so here are some to soak in:
AD affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts. Signs of AD include memory loss affecting day-to-day abilities (forgetting things often or struggling to retain new information), difficulty performing familiar tasks (forgetting how to do something you’ve been doing your whole life, such as preparing a meal or getting dressed), problems with language (forgetting words or substituting words that don’t fit the context), disorientation in time and space (not knowing what day of the week it is or getting lost in a familiar place), impaired judgment (not recognizing a medical problem that needs attention or wearing light clothing on a cold day), problems with abstract thinking (not understanding what numbers signify on a calculator, for example, or how they’re used), misplacing things (putting things in strange places, like an iron in the freezer or a wristwatch in the sugar bowl), changes in mood and behavior (exhibiting severe mood swings from being easy-going to quick-tempered), changes in personality (behaving out of character such as feeling paranoid or threatened), and loss of initiative (losing interest in friends, family and favorite activities).
Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and lack of physical activity, alcohol, low levels of formal education, depression, head injuries, age (40s – 50s early onset, risk of developing AD doubles approximately every 5 years about the age of 65), family history and genetics.
(Source: Alzheimer Society Canada)
Finally, to the question! Is there any proof that Alzheimer’s disease is linked to the use of aluminum [foil]? And here’s the answer…
This isn’t a new theory that popped up yesterday, it’s old news really, but since it’s still being mentioned today, here we are talking about it. This theory emerged about 40 years ago, and ever since then it’s been studied. Aluminum was suspected of being a culprit in AD in the 60s and 70s, so concerns of everyday exposure to aluminum through everyday sources like pots, pans, cans, foil and the rest arose. Some studies showed evidence, and some failed to show evidence, but among these studies, one really stood out to me. Dr. Christopher Exely showed in 2011 that there were high levels of aluminum present in the brain of a man that was diagnosed with AD at 58 years old after his death. There were a couple of problems with the case study though. First of all, the man had to been exposed to aluminum sulfate dust on a regular basis for eight years due to his occupation, and even at that, Dr. Exely’s data couldn’t prove that the aluminum found in his brain had caused the man’s AD.
Now there are definitely some studies that link aluminum to AD, but as a scientist, I know that you don’t take one study or a couple of studies as evidence. There are many more studies that have failed to support that theory or that are on the fence like the case study discussed above. In addition, if the aluminum in cooking utensils somehow found its way into the body, the percentage is really low and not significant. Our AD Patient up there was exposed to industrial aluminum and at that, we still can’t prove that it caused his AD.
In conclusion, scientists are still not sure if everyday exposure to aluminum is associated with AD, and studies have not confirmed the role that aluminum plays in causing AD. For now, we’re just going to focus on other things that might cause AD, because guess what? We still don’t know what causes it! So, carry on, but stay cautious and informed because you never know.