Surfactants, an overlooked cause of Alzheimer's.

Surfactants or surface active agents are a class of chemicals successfully used to reduce the deaths of newborns.  They have also been  used to allow medications to pass through the blood brain barrier (BBB).   In spite of theses benifits  it is possible that we are overusing these chemicals  to the point of causing  health problems.    Consider the three following facts.

1). Figure 1 shows a ngram or plot of the number of times the term "Alzheimer's"  has been mentioned in Google literature.  It is clear from this plot that something happened around 1970 or so and the incidence of Alzheimer's began a huge increase.  Today the rate of Alzheimer's is doubling every 10 years.   

2).  More woman get Alzheimer's than men do.  The ratio is 3 women to 2 men.


3)    Alzheimer's is a example of a "Disease of the Affluent".    This means that it occurs mostly in rich countries and poorer countries have very little and sometimes no Alzheimer's.     There is however an exception.   A very rich country that has almost no Alzheimer's.    It is Singapore.    But Singapore is a very strict country.    They cane people.  They fine you for jaywalking,  They have banned chewing gum to keep their sidewalks clean.    If indeed Alzheimer's  is caused by toxic chemicals and not the other proposed  causes like mold, diabetes of the brain,   genetics etc. it  may be that their strict laws  also ban the chemicals that cause Alzheimer's.  

Here is a link to data on the prevalence of Alzheimer's in different countries.

So what can we deduce from these three facts.  To me the first item points to the fact that something happened around  1970.  The most probable thing is that some chemical or family of chemicals was introduced and its use has increased.   Perhaps this chemical (or family of chemicals) is responsible for Alzheimer's

The second item listed above seems to indicate that whatever we are exposed to that may cause Alzheimer's  is used more by women than men.   

The third item indicates that poor countries do not have the chemicals or whatever it is that rich countries have that is causing the disease.   

There is a lot written about Alzheimer's being caused by plaques, amyloids and tangles but this does not explain why it began in 1970 or why it affects women more than men or why it is lower in poor countries.    I would like to propose  an alternative theory.

Our brains are protected by a blood brain barrier (BBB).   This is a  membrane that has the function of allowing nutrients to pass through into the brain but it keeps many toxic materials (even those in our own bodies) out of the brain however this blood brain barrier presents modern day medicine with the problem of overcoming this blood brain barrier to deliver drugs to the brain.  That problem has been solved by using these surfactants.  



But there is a caution mentioned in the last sentence of the above abstract in that the same chemicals that allow medicines to pass into the brain may allow other unwanted materials to pass into the brain.    To me the usefulness of surfactants  has with it the caution not to use these things where they could possibility cause harm.    So what has been done?    Surfactants have been put into our foods and our household cleaning solutions where women are exposed to them more than men are.  And then we totally ignore the possibility of damage to the blood brain barrier and assume Alzheimer's is solely a disease of the brain.  It is possible that Alzheimer's is the result of the destruction of the blood brain barrier which leads to toxic chemicals in our bodies being passed into the brain by the compromised BBB. 


  The surfactant SDS or Sodium dodecyl sulfate  is one of many.   Here is what Wikipedia says about SDS.
 "SDS is mainly used in detergents for laundry with many cleaning applications.  It is a highly effective surfactant and is used in any task requiring the removal of oily stains and residues; for example, it is found in higher concentrations with industrial products including engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps.

In lower concentrations, it is found in toothpastes, shampoos, shaving creams, and bubble bath formulations, for its ability to create a foam (lather), for its surfactant properties, and in part for its thickening effect."

  The Wikipedia page  that statement came from is here.

But do we really need SDS?    There was a time when phosphates were used in most cleaning solutions but then they were found to be a threat to the environment so they were all replaced with SDS as well as other surfactants .   The problem is that it was only in home cleaning solutions where phosphates were replaced.    Those same phosphates used by farmers were never changed in spite of the fact the environment damage from farmers was far larger than that from home owners as most homes are connected to waste water treating systems.    Thus there is room for a lot of questions about the decision to  put SDS in our homes.     Fortunately it is still possible to buy phosphate based cleaning solutions.    Uline sell laundry detergent  You can find them at the following link:

And Amazon sells a dishwasher detergent based on Phosphate.  It is here:

Another one,  Perhaps the  worst of all  is a surfactant that is used to help medications pass through the blood brain barrier.   It is Polysorbate 80.   Here is a link about the use of Polysorbate 80 in helping medications gain access to the brain.

One would expect that something this powerful would be used only where it is needed but that is not the case.   We know that the function of the blood brain barrier is to protect our brains from toxic materials in our own bodies so why do we  add polysorbate 80  to our foods.    The best i can say about this practice is that it is an oversight that should be corrected.   It should not be allowed.    Let me say this again.    A chemical that is used to get toxic materials past the protective barrier to our brains is put into our foods.   I find this unbelievable     Ice cream and salad dressings are two of the big users of  polysorbate 80.

Here are two links about the dangers of Polysorbate 80.

Thus it seems reasonable that the blood brain barrier is important to good health and while a case may be made for using surfactants to deliver medications to the brain, it seems that we should be wary of using these materials with abandon.    They may have dire consequences and should be used with caution.

My conclusion is that there is a possibility of an oversight in our use of some of these surfactants with Polysorbate 80 being the worst.   We seem to use it in situations where it is not necessary  and may be doing extreme damage.  This is not wise.