Skip to main content

Does using underarm deodorant increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's?

QUESTION: Does using underarm deodorant increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease?

ANSWER: Alzheimer's disease is a devastating disorder of the human brain resulting in the cardinal symptom of memory loss that impairs a person's ability to carry out important day-to-day functions such as cooking, shopping, managing finances, performing at work and maintaining social relationships.

It is most commonly a disease of the elderly, and advancing age is the strongest known risk factor for the development of this disorder. The cost to individuals, their families and society is high, with an anticipated increase in the number of Alzheimer's cases in upcoming years due to the aging baby boomer population.

Story continues below advertisement

In addition to aging, the same risk factors for heart attack and stroke - high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and smoking - predispose one to Alzheimer's disease.

There are many protective factors that can reduce the risk of developing this disorder, including higher educational attainment, regular exercise, healthy diet and lifestyle, and healthy social relationships.

What causes Alzheimer's disease? The answer to this question is elusive and still under active investigation, but starts with an understanding of the nature (what you are born with) versus nurture (what you experience or are exposed to) paradigm.

Genetics, the study of heritable traits passed down from one generation to the next, is involved on the side of nature. Uncommon abnormalities or mutations in three identified genes can cause rare forms of Alzheimer's disease that run strongly in families. Other genetic aberrations may increase risk for developing the disease. The nurture, or environmental, side of the story is even more complex to study.

One of the suspected environmental risks for the development of Alzheimer's disease, which has been highly controversial in the scientific literature, is lifelong exposure to high levels of aluminum. Exposure may come through many sources, including drinking water, cooking with aluminum pots and pans and use of antiperspirants. Most antiperspirants contain aluminum salts, and there is a potential risk that aluminum may be absorbed through the skin of the armpit, resulting in ultimate accumulation of high levels of this metal in the brain.

Studies of brain tissue in the test tube or in animals have shown that aluminum in high concentrations can be toxic to nerve cells. This type of research, which is many steps away from the true human condition, has been supported by comparisons of brains from patients who have passed away from Alzheimer's disease to those of individuals who have died from other conditions.

Specifically, aluminum levels were found to be higher in Alzheimer's brains than in non-Alzheimer's brains. However, many large studies of populations exposed to drinking water containing high and low levels of aluminum have demonstrated inconsistent results and were inconclusive in proving aluminum as an independent risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's disease.

Story continues below advertisement

The Canadian Study of Health and Aging did not demonstrate a link between antiperspirant use and risk for developing Alzheimer's disease. Currently, there is no strong scientific basis to support the premise that aluminum, in the particular form contained in antiperspirants, can cause or increase risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Therefore, based on our current state of knowledge, discontinuing antiperspirant use is not recommended to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

The best bang for your buck to reduce the risk of developing this devastating disorder will be to maintain a regular exercise routine, a healthy diet, and be engaged in socially and mentally stimulating activities.

Furthermore, aggressive management of cardiovascular risk factors including controlling blood pressure, reducing your cholesterol, treating diabetes, losing weight and stopping smoking could also be critical to prevention.

Mario Masellis is a neurologist and scientist specializing in the diagnosis, treatment and research of Alzheimer's disease and related conditions at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the University of Toronto.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter