It's a myth that just won't seem to go away. Every few months, it resurfaces and alarms hyperhidrosis sufferers and "normal" sweaters alike – can the aluminum salts in antiperspirants lead to Alzheimer's disease? Many of you have asked us this question so we tracked down answers from experts in the field.
According to the Alzheimer's Association, Alzheimer's disease (which is characterized by the progressive breakdown of a person's mental abilities) has no known single cause. The rumor that aluminum may cause Alzheimer's can be traced back to a study done in the 1960s which found abnormally high concentrations of aluminum in the brains of some victims of Alzheimer's disease. However, "After several decades of research," says the Alzheimer's Association, "scientists have been unable to replicate the original 1960s studies showing aluminum deposits in a brain affected by Alzheimer's."
In a letter written to USA Today in February 2006, the Alzheimer's Association stated: "The link between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease has never been conclusively proven... 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."
To help set consumers' minds at ease, numerous experts have provided input regarding the Alzheimer-antiperspirant "question". For example, Dr. Peter Davies, Professor of Alzheimer's Disease Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has stated, "Most leading researchers in the field of Alzheimer's disease think it unlikely that aluminum has any role in the development of the disease."
Drs. William Pendlebury and Paul Solomon, co-directors of the Memory Disorders Clinic of the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, have said, "At present, aluminum does not appear to play a major [causative] role in Alzheimer's disease, and there is no reason to tell people to avoid minor aluminum exposures (antiperspirants, antacids, aluminum cooking utensils)."
Additionally, Mike Thomas, a chemical engineer and the former Team Leader for Procter & Gamble's antiperspirant and deodorants line, told the International Hyperhidrosis Society, "There is no scientific or medical evidence to suggest that aluminum in products causes Alzheimer's disease. The FDA has approved aluminum compounds for use in antiperspirants based on an extensive safety database. The materials in Procter & Gamble's antiperspirants have undergone extensive safety testing and have been proven safe and effective." (Procter & Gamble is the world's largest manufacturer of consumer goods including Secret, Gillette, Old Spice, and Sure antiperspirants in North America.)
Instead of worrying about antiperspirants, the Alzheimer's Association encourages those who are concerned about Alzheimer's to be proactive and to make lifestyle changes to promote healthy brain aging and to potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer's. You'll probably notice that a lot of these head-smart tips sound familiar. That's because what's good for the body is also good for the brain. For instance:
Follow your heart. Anything you can do to reduce your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke will also reduce your risk of Alzheimer's. If you suffer from any of these conditions, talk to your doctor about how to best manage them.
Exercise for a healthy body and mind. Some experts believe that exercise may be the single most important thing you can do for your mind. It improves the heart's ability to pump blood to the brain and increases oxygen and glucose delivery, as well. A daily 20- to 30-minute walk is one way to stay fit. So, even if you have hyperhidrosis and usually avoid exercise because it makes you embarrassed or uncomfortable, we encourage you to try to be physically active anyway. Take long walks in the morning or evening when it is cooler. Or do some other type of exercise outdoors where your sweating may be less noticeable to others. Another option is to invest in some home gym equipment so you can exercise in the privacy and comfort of your living room, backyard, or garage – a stationary bike, yoga videos, or even a jump rope can help you add more healthy sweat to your life.
Eat smart. Yup, here's another reason to eat a healthier diet — good nutrition keeps arteries clean and maintains blood flow to the brain. Be sure your diet includes colorful fruits and vegetables, which are excellent sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants can prevent damage to brain cells caused by disease-promoting free radicals. Eat fish for omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects that may keep Alzheimer's at bay. Limit saturated fat and cholesterol, which clog the arteries, including those that lead to the brain. Eat nuts, which contain antioxidants and good fats.
Maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that people who stay at a healthy weight are generally at lower risk for developing age-related memory problems.
Use it or lose it. Put your brain to work! Mentally challenge yourself each day. Try crossword puzzles, Sudoku (a number puzzle which is currently very popular), take lessons in a foreign language, write in a journal, read, or visit museums. Studies suggest that keeping the mind active may enhance brain cells, improve their connections, and perhaps even delay the onset of Alzheimer's. The key is finding brain games that are fun and not too easy.
Be social and involved. Certain friends and family members may give you a headache but maintaining relationships is, overall, good for your brain's health. Studies have shown that activities that stimulate your brain and that are done with friends or loved ones are even better at protecting against Alzheimer's than solitary, albeit mentally tough, activities. So, practicing your Spanish with your wife or joining a book club with your sisters is better for your brain than memorizing Shakespearean sonnets alone on a Sunday afternoon. If you don't have a large group of friends or family to interact with, consider volunteering, joining a group (such as a church group or walking club), or interacting with your coworkers more.
Protect your brain from cigarette smoke, too much television, and stress. Cigarette smoke elevates blood pressure and cholesterol, which are risk factors for Alzheimer's. Watching more than four hours of television a day may mean that your body and mind are often too passive and that you need to challenge yourself more. And stress elevates hormone levels in your body and increases your risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which, as we've already mentioned, aren't good for your brain's health.
Avoid head injuries. Studies suggest a strong link between serious head injuries and future risk of Alzheimer's. Of course, you can't stay inside or give up activities you love just because you want to protect your cranium – but you can be smart about it. Wear a seatbelt whenever you're in a car – including in a taxi. Wear a helmet when you ride your bike, horseback ride, or snowboard. And, please, be careful when you embark on home improvement projects, especially those that involve ladders, trees, and roofs.
The rumors may continue to fly linking Alzheimer's and antiperspirants. But we hope that rather than spending time worrying and wondering about a connection that has not been proven by any scientific study, you'll consider incorporating some of the controllable lifestyle changes mentioned above into your routine and decreasing your risk of Alzheimer's by doing so.
Have you heard the myth about antiperspirants and breast cancer? Don't believe the hype, read our other myth busting page for facts instead of fiction.
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