A role for aluminium in multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a devastating disease of the central nervous system and affects approximately 100,000 individuals in the United Kingdom. The cause of MS is unknown and is likely to involve genetic and environmental factors as well as lifestyle choices. There is no cure for MS and current therapies are limited and primarily address the symptoms of the disease.

The cause of MS is unknown and is likely to involve genetic and environmental factors as well as lifestyle choices. There is no cure for MS and current therapies are limited and primarily address the symptoms of the disease.

We, at Keele University  have been interested in a link between human exposure to aluminium and MS ever since our research demonstrated that affected individuals have an unusually high body burden of aluminium. We showed that individuals with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) and secondary progressive MS (SPMS) excreted significant amounts of aluminium in their urine (Exley et al., 2006). This, we thought, unexpected finding led us to speculate if aluminium could have a role to play in MS? One clue that it might be involved was the consistent observation in animal models of aluminium intoxication that myelin is a preferred target for aluminium in the brain. Since myelin breakdown is an important factor in the progression of MS in humans this led us to advance the hypothesis that human exposure to aluminium was playing a part in the disease.

We designed a small clinical trial to further test our observation that individuals with MS have a high body burden of aluminium and we included in the trial a prospective therapeutic element. We had previously shown that regular drinking of a silicon-rich mineral water was an effective and non-invasive therapy for the removal of aluminium from the body.

We had previously shown that regular drinking of a silicon-rich mineral water was an effective and non-invasive therapy for the removal of aluminium from the body.

Would it also be effective in helping to remove aluminium from the body of individuals with MS? Neither the research councils nor the MS charities in the United Kingdom were prepared to fund our trial so we approached Spritzer, a Malaysian mineral water company, and they along with Keele University’s ACORN scheme agreed to support the trial as part of a PhD.

We completed the trial towards the end of 2015 and the results are now reported in the journal EBioMedicine. The trial was run over 24 weeks. During the first 12 weeks (designated the control period) we simply measured urinary excretion of aluminium and silicon in 15 individuals with SPMS. We then continued these measurements for the following 12 weeks (designated the treatment period) during which time all individuals drank at least 1L of a silicon-rich mineral water (Spritzer) every day. The results of the trial are unequivocal both in demonstrating that individuals with MS have a high body burden of aluminium and in showing that regular drinking of Spritzer helped to remove aluminium from their body.

While none of the participants suffered any relapses during the 24 weeks of the trial this period of time is too short to know if they benefitted from drinking the silicon-rich mineral water. However, we do now know that people with MS have too much aluminium in their bodies and therefore if aluminium is contributing to their disease then regular drinking of a silicon-rich mineral water could be a much-needed, simple, non-invasive and effective therapy for individuals with MS.

Exley C, Mamutse G, Korchazhkina O, Pye E, Strekopytov S, Polwart A & Hawkins C (2006) Elevated urinary excretion of aluminium and iron in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis 12, 533-540.
Christopher Exley PhD FRSB

Professor Chris Exley

Professor Chris Exley

Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry Keele University
Honorary Professor, UHI Millennium Institute
Group Leader - Bioinorganic Chemistry Laboratory at Keele
Professor Chris Exley

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