IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN ALZHEIMER'S AND ALUMINIUM?
MEDICAL GEOGRAPHER Harold Foster keeps his life aluminium-free in an effort to ward off what millions of ageing Canadians dread: the dementia of Alzheimer's Disease.
When it comes to this common place substance, he's a voice from the far West Coast wilderness- publicizing his passionate belief in aluminium concentrations as the chief culprit in Alzheimer's while any link is played down by the Alzheimer's establishment. (See sidebar)
"Obviously, I think that they're wrong, I think that the evidence is overwhelming," says the professor of 33 years. who has a Ph.D. in geography and specializes in identifying the causes of chronic diseases.
"It is not a new idea. We've actually known that aluminium is a neurotoxin for over 100 years."
So why isn't it recognized as such?
"It always gets down to the bottom line, right? One of the major problems with our society is that we are too much concerned with convenience. Anything that's convenient is acceptable. And of course, aluminium is very convenient. And it's an enormous money maker, employing large numbers of people."
Foster takes safeguards in keeping with his conviction: no aluminium cookware, no pop or beer from aluminium cans, no foil wrap on leftovers, no consumption of processed foods containing maltol, such as some instant hot chocolate; no antacids without checking the ingredients and most definitely no supermarket deodorant, which in his view is equivalent to spreading a layer of aluminium under the armpits.
"I think we as a society are exposing ourselves more and more to it. Anything that adds to the burden is not good news."
In an article with 250 footnotes recently published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, an alternative publication, Foster cites an Ontario study involving 668 autopsy-verified Alzheimer's brains, showing an increased risk by a factor of 2.5 in people drinking water with more than 100 micrograms of aluminium.
Foster says Alzheimer's is among the toughest diseases to investigate because it can be proven only by autopsy.
"The reason (contact with aluminium) does not cause Alzheimer's in everybody is that its toxicity varies with people's intake of things like calcium and magnesium," says Foster. Aluminium ingestion is bad news for those who are deficient in these two minerals. He takes supplements of calcium and magnesium, as well as anti-oxidants Vitamin E and C and breathes a sigh of relief that Victoria doesn't filter its water, hence no added aluminium to the supply.
"The worst thing you can do is to use aluminium sulphate to make the sediments settle out of the water." he says.
And for the first time, a federal-provincial committee has set the upper limit on aluminium as 100 micrograms per litre based on short-circuiting neurological toxicity, according to federal scientist Barry Thomas. These are not called guidelines, but operational guidance values. The final recommendations are due in 2001.
Victoria water has less than 65 micrograms per litre, reports the Capital Regional District water department but Foster notes it is naturally deficient in magnesium and calcium.
Dietary levels of elements formed by the minerals zinc, phosphorus, calcium and magnesium greatly affect the absorption of aluminium in the digestive tract and the metal's ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, he says.
And when it gets to the brain, aluminium tends to replace these minerals in hundreds of important enzymes and proteins, impairing their function.
Alzheimer's is the end product of a series of malfunctioning enzymes and novel compounds creating "cascades of biochemical dysfunction's" which in turn cause degeneration of neurones, he says.
"Another thing that is making it much worse is that in processing food, we tend to take out a lot of the magnesium, so that fast foods and processed white bread are much lower in magnesium than (food) our ancestors would get."
Foster does not discount genetic factors in Alzheimer's: "The same enzymes that the
aluminium damages can be damaged automatically because of a genetic defect."
Despite the increasing preponderance of aluminium in the environment, Foster says that according to hair analysis, high levels can be counteracted by increasing the intake of calcium and magnesium. "In a year or so, maybe two years, you can gradually get rid of the aluminium. by upping your calcium and magnesium."
Foster is used to swimming on the outer shores of the mainstream: in the 1980's he advocated selenium supplements as protection against cancer and recently, Harvard University researchers associated this trace element with protection against prostate cancer. But they stopped short of advocating supplements.
He also published an article on road salt as the most carcinogenic toxin in Canada in the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and notes that now Ottawa is on the verge of curbing road salt. But that decision, says Foster, is out of concern for plant and animal health rather than human health.
Published in the Victoria Times Colonist, Tues, Oct 10, 2000
By Katherina Dedyna, Times Colonist Life writer