Is Aluminum A Red Herring In The Alzheimer's Story?

Aluminum's role in Alzheimer's disease has long been a mystery. Over the past decade, a number of studies found seemingly alarming levels of the metal in the brains of Alzheimer's victims. Although no one has been able to show that aluminum actually caused the deadly disease, the strong association was worrisome enough for some scientists to advise against using aluminum pots and pans. A few even feared that acid rain might contribute to the disease by leaching aluminum from soil into drinking water.

But now, the fears--and the mystery--may be laid to rest. In a study published in the Nov. 5 issue of Nature, Frank Watt and colleagues at the University of Oxford used a highly sophisticated imaging technique to look for aluminum in the brains of people who died of Alzheimer's. To their surprise, they found only faint traces of the metal--the same levels that appeared in normal people. The reason for the earlier opposite results? Watt suspects contamination of the stains used to identify brain tissue in previous studies.

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