Aluminum Alzheimers

Cece! I know you wrote that classic gem about aluminum and Alzheimers more than a quarter of a century ago. Don’t you, in your omniscience, know when it’s going to be reposted and filter out dated stuff like this? The Al-Alz connection has been busted. Or have you been sniffing too much deodorant.

Does exposure to aluminum cause Alzheimer’s disease?. We assume that’s the link to the column? It helps everyone to keep on the same page.

Yeah, it was only 26 years ago. Cecil, presiently, kinda poo-poohed it.

…from the Alzheimer’s Society:

Salient bit: “The overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that the findings outlined above do not convincingly demonstrate a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease, and that no useful medical or public health recommendations can be made − at least at present (Massey and Taylor 1989).”

Kinda. While sitting on the fence.

If there is new research that is more conclusive, Cecil should update the article with a less abiguous answer.

Cecil did do an update in 1997: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1256/whats-the-latest-on-the-link-between-aluminum-and-alzheimers-disease

This shouldn’t have been printed as a classic without the link to the update. I’ll see to it that this is taken care of, and thanks for the comments. I’ll also bring this to Cecil’s attention to see if another update is due.

My theory is that many brain diseases - alzheimers, parkinsons, epilepsy, perhaps even schizophrenia - are a result of a virus attacking some nerve cells. Something slowly kills brain function; the mind gets by with less and less funcional capacity until suddenly some threshold is crossed and the missing mass becomes critical. Then the effects become obvious.

Where a condition strikes randomly, or attacks happen randomly, odds are it’s a disease. If it is genetic it either is or is not - like Huntingtons - you ahve the gene, you get it - no choice. If it is body deterioration, then you can usually find a causal agent, like mercury poisoning. Viruses and bacteria, OTOH, can lie dormant and pop up to cause recurring symptoms at random times to random people - think cold sores, herpes, or syphyllis demetia, or even post-polio recurrences. Infection from others close to you could give the illusion that it is sometimes hereditary.

I speculate that even some auto-immune disorders, like type I diabetes, asthma, and arthritis could have viral triggers.

Experience with Parkinsons treatments like stem cells (or fetal brain cells) seem to bear this out. The new brain cells take over the required function, and some improvement is seen; but the disease seems to slowly deteriorate those new cells too over time.

The case of Michael J. Fox is especially intruiging. he worked on a TV show in Vancouver early in his career. An abnormally high number of people from that work group apparently contracted early Parkinsons.

I sold Amway in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We were taught to bring up the Aluminum issue during our sales pitch for Amway’s stainless steel cookware. We’d put water in the customers pot and swish around a steel scouring pad. Pour it into a glass and comment on the metal residue in the water. We couldn’t say it was unhealthy, but it made the point. Sold several sets of those $300 (25 years ago) pots.

Personally, I’m skeptical. Given the number of aluminum pots, 9 out of 10 people would have Alzheimer if it was true.

Eh…not quite. There’s still the question of what triggers the gene to be active.
There are “bad gene” and 100% organic brain conditions…where its almost definite that you’ll get it…BUT I believe that the coscious is that its a mix of nature and nurture.
Like having the breast cancer gene isn’t a guarentee that you WILL develop breast cancer. It just means that there’s a higher risk of it.

Not saying you’re right or wrong. Can you give me a cite where I can read about this?

Not sure. It was a CBC televsion program about Parkinsons about 10 years ago, discussing causes, symtoms and various treatments. The upshot was that whatever worked, only caused minor improvement for a while, then the patient started going back downhill. Whatever the cause, it continued to kill brain cells or whatever it was doing.
Also, for an example how little we really know and how lost some doctors can be… In the news recently, a doctor in Italy has discovered with MRI that ALL MS patients he examined have artery blockage in the head or neck or chest, causing back pressure which could leak blood into the brain (source of high iron and lesions in brain).

A simple angioplasty balloon treatment has effectively stopped the disease in almost everyone he’s treated. A CBC news program describing this mentioned that some doctors had warned their patients NOT to go for his treatment.

Well I have asthma, which is hereditary. But I don’t have asthma constantly. It strikes randomly with no known causative agent. And that is common for asthma sufferers,

So how does this fit into your theory? It seems you would have to argue that my asthma is a biological disease, which we know it is not.

md2000 said:

But that is sort of the definition of degenerative disease. It continues to get worse.

If it strikes randomly, and there is no specific gene that can be the obvious cause, then it could be bacteria or virus.

If a condition is for example recurring occasionally, is that not similar to a disease (herpes, for example) which decides to flare up from time to time? If type I diabetes or asthma, for example, seems to be “somewhat” herditary, then it could as easily be an agent passed on. Your susceptibility would depend on environmental factors like nutrition and physical condition. True heredity in a disease, like hemophilia, can be attributed to a specific cause - the gene is or isn’t there - and obeys the statistics of genetics.

Consider heart blockages, for example. You can get a stent put in, and it may or may not grow over and reblock. Yo can have angioplasty and it may or may not close in again. Is there some infection or irritation of the blood vessel wall that encourages blockages to grow? If that basic condition comes and goes, it would explain the erratic nature of the results of treatment.

You have a simplistic notion of genetics. You are looking at single mutation diseases, which there are a few (notably things like sickle-cell anemia, Down’s Syndrome, etc). But even with Down’s Syndrome, which is clearly genetic, there is a range of expression depending upon the individual, everything from highly functional (seem nearly normal except for the physical appearance) to highly impaired (never progress beyond a 2 year old).

But even something as basic and simple as eye color is not a single gene controlled feature, but a combination of genes. How unreasonable is it that there would be diseases that are functions of multiple genes, when so many regular traits are such?

I agree, it could be anything. The more obviously inherited and deterministic, the more likely it’s genetic. The more random and erratic the occurence or episodes, the more likely it’s not.

It’s possible that many autoimmune diseases especially - Diabetes 1, Arthritis, etc - could be triggered by genes, by environment, by disease, or by some combination of the 3. The AIDS virus took what? 6 months to find when people were pretty sure they were looking for a virus. When people are convinced that there is no disease, who’s looking?

Not really. All that indicates is the degree of heritability of resistance/susceptibility mechanism.

For example American Indians at the time of European were far more prone to getting all sorts of diseases, from the common cold to smallpox. There was nothing random or erratic about it. You could predict who was going to die during a disease outbreak by knowing the percentage of Indian ancestry. It was extremely deterministic. Nonetheless those diseases are well established to be caused biological agents. There’s nothing hereditary about them. All that was inherited was the resistance mechanisms. Even today Indians are far more likely to suffer from diseases such as type II diabetes or alcoholism. Yet we know that those diseases are environmental, not genetic. Once again, the appearance of a genetic link comes from the fact that resistance to the disease is genetic.

The genetic basis of disease resistance simply doesn’t allow us to declare that if something appears to be inherited it is likely be genetic, or that anything that appears random is likely to be biolgical. There is simply too much interplay between causative agents and genetic resistance mechanisms to allow us to do that.

That’s more than possible, it’s been pretty well established as fact. Of course it’s also true of non-autoimmune diseases such as heart disease, malaria and myopia. Pretty much any illness requires a genetic predisposition to the condition, the environmental conditions for the disease to show its influence and in the case of biological diseases, the causative agent.

Pretty much everybody, really. Every researcher in the field is looking for correlations and changes in brain structure at every level form gross structure to molecular changes. They are *all *effectively looking for disease.

Actually not true. What sticks in my mind is a book review in Scientific American of a study of the smallpox epidemic which decimated the West Coast Indian tribes (think totem poles) in the 1800s when white men began settling there.

The deterministic factor for survival was whether there was a white man in the village. In a subsistence culture, where everyone gets deathly sick at the same time, who cares for the victims? During fever, who brings them water to prevent dehydration?

In villages with a (white) priest, the death rate was about the same as for white men - 10%. In villages where everyone got sick at the same time, death rates were 50% to 100%. If they were lucky enough that some got sick and recovered earlier, they could provide enough care that the death rate was not catastrophic.

So the problem was not virulence but susceptibility. If the disease has NEVER visited the region before, everyone is likely to get sick, at once, quickly. The odds of dying directly from the disease were the same. The odds of dying from lack of basic care were much higher.

An interesting reversal of a typical historical myth. OTOH, there is the not unreasonable belief that the Indian population of east and central North America was cut by 90% as epidemics from the first wave of settlers swept across areas of the country they had never even seen yet.

md2000 said:

To some extent true, but there can be multiple effects, from complicated genetic interactions to genetics and environment combining.

Blake said:

Actually, the hereditary resistance mechanisms were the same, what Europeans had was previous exposure and some transferred immunity via breastfeeding, and community resistance.

As for type II diabetes and alcoholism, there do appear to be genetic links to both, though they are largely influence by environmental cues.

What does that mean?

md2000 said:

True, but not helping your cause. Native Americans were far more susceptible to getting sick than Europeans, because the Europeans had some resistance built up from communal exposure. Blake’s previous point was that Native Americans were far more prone to get ill, though he incorrectly mentioned death rates vs. the important point susceptibility. That wasn’t a genetic resistance on the part of Europeans, it was acquired by community interaction.

Yeah, we don’t want to stray into Lysenko-ism. There may be some residual hereditary immunity in Europe if that sort of stuff is selected for - those most likely to catch smallpox failed to survive and so we selected for immunity? But the evidence doesn’t bear that out, as Europeans without previous infection had no difficulty dying from the disease if they were infected; and periodic epidemics swept areas of Europe, presumably as an area lost a significant percentage of its immune population (from prior epidemics) to old age.

Not sure whether breast milk would have antibodies which could confer a small amount of immunity? Would Europeans near an infection source also have the chance to encounter weakened vesions of the disease and pick up immunity without sickness? All interesting questions.

Native AMericans, especially the more northern ones found in Canada had 12,000-plus years of a non-agricultural primarily meat diet; so have a lesser ability to metabolize sugars (and alcohols). The side effects include the higher liklihood of waking up after a good night of partying still drunk rather than hung over; and also causing the extremely high rates of type II diabetes, now that their diet is too rich in sugars.

Type II is generally though to be a side-effect of the body’s refusal to process sugar with insulin, usually because too much sugar and not enough exercise means the cells can’t store any more energy and don’t often need to.

Type I Diabetes is an autoimmune reaction. This is part of my hypothesis - that auto-immune reactions could as likely be a disease misdirecting the reaction as it could be the body spontaneously deciding to self-destruct. Something triggers diabetes I, arthritis, asthma, etc - and the Nobel-level question is “what?”.

Not all smokers get cancer. It is all about your personal resistance. You can be bombarded every day with dangerous chemicals and if you are lucky your body will fight it off your whole life. Others get it early. We are snowflakes.