Association responds to USA TODAY letter to the editor
Dear USA TODAY:
USA TODAY printed a letter ("Explore high-risk factors behind Alzheimer's disease," Letters, 1/31/05) that unfortunately may reinforce a myth about risk factors for Alzheimer's disease.
The link between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease (AD) has never been conclusively proven. After several decades of research, scientists have been unable to replicate the original 1960s studies showing aluminum deposits in a brain affected by Alzheimer's. The research community is generally convinced that aluminum is not a key risk factor in developing Alzheimer's disease.
Public health bodies sharing this conviction include the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Health Canada.
For example, in its 1998 paper on Aluminum in Drinking-water, the WHO said:
"Based on current knowledge of… AD and the totality of evidence from these epidemiological studies, it was concluded that the present epidemiological evidence does not support a causal association between AD and aluminum in drinking-water (WHO, 1997)."
The U.S. government's National Institute of Environmental Health Services says:
"Much research over the last decade has focused on the role of aluminum in the development of this disease. At this point, its role is still not clearly defined." Further, it says: "Epidemiological studies attempting to link AD with exposures in drinking water have been inconclusive and contradictory. Thus, the significance of increased aluminum intake with regard to onset of AD has not been determined."
The Alzheimer's Society in London says:
"There is circumstantial evidence linking this metal with Alzheimer's disease but no causal relationship has yet been proved. As evidence for other causes continues to grow, a possible link with aluminum seems increasingly unlikely." And, "The overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that the findings… do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease, and that no useful medical or public health recommendations can be made, at least at present."
At the same time, there is a growing body of scientific evidence that making relatively simple changes in a number of lifestyle risk factors – many of which are familiar to people because of their link to heart disease – can encourage healthy brain aging and may reduce risk of Alzheimer's. These include:
- Adopting a brain-healthy diet
- Remaining socially engaged
- Being mentally active
- Staying physically active
In fact, several of these brain health strategies are addressed in stories in USA TODAY, including:
- "A Healthy Heart Means A Healthy Mind," July 7, 2004
- "Plant Foods To The Rescue," August 11, 2004
- "Fishing For Answers To Alzheimer's," November 17, 2004
- "Minds In Motion Stay Sharp," January 25, 2005
This careful and balanced reporting in these articles provides a valuable service to the community concerned about conquering Alzheimer's disease and related disorders.
For more information about healthy brain aging and Alzheimer's disease, people can visit www.alz.org.
William Thies, Ph.D.
Vice President, Medical & Scientific Affairs
media line: 1.312.335.4078