When I learned recently that what I and so many others had accepted as fact — that cooking in or drinking out of aluminum containers and bakeware had a direct link to the contraction of Alzheimer’s — was a myth, I almost cried. My whole life I have been living in terror of Alzheimer’s because it runs in the family and I didn’t want to make my chances even worse by using aluminum in the kitchen. But what’s a cook to do? Aluminum is cheap and light and conducts evenly and doesn’t corrode, so damn near everything’s made out of it! There’s plenty of good casseroles that are ceramic or glass, but there aren’t many good aluminum alternatives in the category of cookie sheets, muffin tins, and cake pans. You can get them in stainless steel but it doesn’t bake as evenly. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. That very day I went out and replaced my warped, scratched, and unreliable cookie sheet with a nice new insulated aluminum sheet. My cookies slide right off that thing. I love it.
So here’s the deal: As with the anti-vaccination debacle (don’t get me started on that one) this myth began thanks to one study that published erroneous conclusions.* Researchers found aluminum in the brains of autopsied Alzheimer’s patients and concluded that aluminum had been a factor in the patients’ developing the disease. But this is not correct because aluminum shows up in the brains of people without Alzheimer’s and plenty of Alzheimer’s patients do not have aluminum in their brains. You have an equal chance of having aluminum in your brain whether you have Alzheimer’s or not. No study since this one — which unfortunately got a lot of press — has been able to solidly confirm the original study’s findings, which is, by definition of the scientific method, one of the ways you know your hypothesis is wrong. If it can’t be repeated under identical circumstances then it is incorrect and the results were a fluke, a normal aberration, or the result of flawed research conditions or application of logic.
Allow me to quote Zaven S. Khachaturian, director of the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute:
. . . aluminum is one of the most abundant and pervasive elements. It is found everywhere–it is in the water we drink, it is in the dust we breathe, it is in many of he substances we use every day such as coke in glass bottles, food preservatives, many cosmetics and food dyes. Even if we stop using pots and pans or underarm deodorants, it will be virtually impossible to avoid aluminum. Given this type of exposure of the general population, if aluminum is playing a major role then one would expect the numbers of people affected by Alzheimer’s to be much higher than they are found in epidemiological studies.
(Since I know some of you are wondering, there is also no conclusive link between the use of antiperspirants/deodorants containing aluminum and breast cancer, but this hasn’t been researched as long or as thoroughly and it’s still being hotly debated. All I know is that my skin doesn’t like something in most commercial deodorants — nor does Matt’s. He now uses Tom’s of Maine and I use plain ‘ol baking soda.)
I think we should all celebrate this good news by baking way too many muffins (in our grandmother’s aluminum tins) and making lots of coffee to wash them down with (in aluminum percolators and macchinettas). In the meantime, spread the word: blunt force trauma (and perhaps zombies) remain the largest legitimate threat to your noggin. Aluminum is your friend.