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Can cooking with aluminium pans cause dementia? DR MARTIN SCURR answers readers’ health questions |

Can cooking with aluminium pans cause dementia? DR MARTIN SCURR answers readers’ health questions

Some years ago, I watched a documentary on Alzheimer’s, which said that microscopic flakes from aluminium cooking utensils were found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Should we switch to non-aluminium pots and pans?

Jim Taylor, Plymouth.


The possibility of a link between aluminium and Alzheimer’s has been the subject of research and debate for years.

Suspicion began as long ago as 1921, when an association between aluminium poisoning and memory problems was first noted.

We all have some aluminium in our brains (it doesn’t occur naturally, but can get there via the foods we eat or be absorbed through the skin when we’re exposed to it), and it builds up with age.

The possibility of a link between aluminium and Alzheimer¿s has been the subject of research and debate for years. Suspicion began as long ago as 1921, when an association between aluminium poisoning and memory problems was first noted

The possibility of a link between aluminium and Alzheimer’s has been the subject of research and debate for years. Suspicion began as long ago as 1921, when an association between aluminium poisoning and memory problems was first noted

Brain scans from post-mortem examinations of Alzheimer’s patients have shown there is an accumulation of aluminium in the brain. And patients with a genetic susceptibility to early-onset Alzheimer’s have been found to have even more.

Also, in patients on dialysis for kidney disease, a condition called dialysis encephalopathy can develop, which leads to a type of dementia — one cause of this encephalopathy is damage caused by an accumulation of aluminium in the brain.

However, none of these cases prove a causal link, just that there is an association.

The main risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is age — and aluminium aggregates in brain tissue with age, so these events may just be occurring in parallel.

The reason people have pointed to aluminium cookware as a potential problem is that certain acids in foods will dissolve some of the metal and form chemical salts which will then be absorbed into the body.

When these get into nerve tissue, such as in the brain, they can accumulate. Aluminium ions (charged particles) are known to be neurotoxic, meaning they can poison the brain and nervous system. However, once again, the risk posed by aluminium cookware has not been proven.

Furthermore, the view is that it would be difficult to significantly reduce the amount of aluminium we absorb by simply avoiding the use of aluminium cookware or foil for food wrapping, because it can still get into the body from other sources, such as processed foods, tea, wine, fizzy drinks, cosmetics and medicines such as aspirin (this may be because of the way they are produced or stored).

Our body removes most of the aluminium as waste, but a theory is that if we absorb large amounts, then it is deposited in tissues.

In particular, black tea — which is the leaf of a small, evergreen shrub, a variety of Camellia — as it grows, accumulates large amounts of aluminium.

Yet there is no evidence that people who drink a lot of tea have a higher incidence of dementia. And no one has suggested that we all stop drinking tea. I am not convinced there’s a risk. If you are particularly concerned, or know you are at risk of Alzheimer’s, you may be reassured if you switch to stainless steel cookware, which is cheap and widely available.

But bear in mind you can’t avoid aluminium completely.

I have a large hiatus hernia and it causes a lot of discomfort, making me feel sick and as if I’ve been punched in the stomach. Can you suggest anything to alleviate this? I am 83.

E. Macdonald, Watford.

A hiatus hernia occurs when part of the stomach squeezes into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm, the domed wall of muscle that sits across the chest and separates the gullet from the stomach (the gullet passes through the diaphragm in an opening called the hiatus, and connects to the stomach on the other side).

By the way… I’m worried about the lack of radiologists

Most people have little more than a hazy idea of what radiologists do — but there is hardly a nook or cranny in medical care that does not depend upon their skills.

Gone are the days when these doctors were just stuck in a darkened room reading X-rays: now, they are skilled in ultrasound and MRI techniques, perform procedures such as biopsies and treating blocked blood vessels and play a vital role in the diagnosis of many conditions.

Sadly — much as I have been saying about general practice — there is a pressing crisis in the service. A study last year by The Royal College of Radiologists confirmed one in ten consultant radiologist posts is vacant, and more than 60 per cent have remained unfilled for a year.

Worse still, 22 per cent of radiologists are predicted to retire in the next five years, yet we’re not training enough to replace them — even when we already have a shortage of radiologists and thousands of scans and X-rays are waiting more than a month to be analysed.

Once again, the root of the problem lies in poor planning and political short-termism.

The solution? The Government must fund training in radiology and make the specialty more attractive — fast. Applying tighter financial stringency and bureaucracy by rearranging the deckchairs as usual will not cut it.

But is there light at the end of the tunnel? The Government’s recent Cancer Workforce Plan sets out ambitions to enhance diagnosis and treatment by investing in technology and equipment, and it recognises that without sufficient trained staff — radiologists, radiographers and nurses — none of that can be used effectively.

The plans include a pledge to increase the number of radiologists by around 300. But there is no new money for this, only a shuffling of priorities originally set out in a spending review in 2016 — in other words, we will have to rob Peter to pay Paul. What was I saying about deckchairs?

This part of the diaphragm acts as a valve to prevent the stomach contents rising up. 

But when this muscle weakens, as a result of ageing, obesity or anything else, the valve action fails, a gap opens up and the stomach itself pushes through the widened space and into the chest area.

In most cases, hiatus hernias do not cause symptoms and won’t need treatment.

However, patients with large hiatus hernias — where the stomach plus gullet move up into the chest — may have symptoms of heartburn, such as a sense of regurgitation, an acid taste in the throat, trouble swallowing, a cough, or nausea, just as you describe in your longer letter.

Treatment for hiatus hernia involves medicines that help reduce acid reflux to ease the symptoms. 

This includes antacids to neutralise the acid or medicines such as ranitidine which suppress acid production — both are available on prescription, as well as over-the-counter.

More powerful is a prescription-only medication called a proton pump inhibitor, such as high-dose omeprazole. Ask your GP about a prescription for one of these medicines, if it has not been done already.

If these don’t work, you may need surgery to fix the hernia, although this involves a major operation and is a last resort.

Do bear in mind that some simple lifestyle changes can be helpful. 

These include not eating large meals in the evening, eating slowly and going for a short walk after each meal.

If your symptoms persist despite acid suppressant treatment and taking great care, as above, further investigations may be necessary.

Discuss again with your GP and consider a referral to a specialist gastroenterologist as your symptoms have persisted and are so troublesome.

Write to Dr Scurr at Good Health, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email drmartin@dailymail.co.uk — include your contact details. Dr Scurr cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Replies should be taken in a general context and always consult your own GP with any health worries.

 

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