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The widespread use of aluminium salts to purify water may lead to brain damage and may account for massive memory loss characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, a private Australian research group said today.

In a report published in the international science journal NeuroToxicology, the Sydney-based group said experiments on rats showed that tiny amounts of aluminium consumed in water found its way to their brains and accumulated there.

Aluminium, if accumulated in the brain over time, could kill off neurons and cause memory loss in humans, the Australian Institute of Biomedical Research said in the journal.

"We are drinking it and eating it throughout our lifetimes, so by the time we are quite old we have had a lot of exposure to aluminium," said institute researcher Judie Walton, noting a worldwide surge in Alzheimer's disease over the past 70 years.

Aluminium is also used in food emulsifiers, she said.

The research on rats found measurable amounts of aluminium in their brains after just one glass of treated water.

"We really should look seriously at revisiting this possibility that aluminium addition to foods and drinking water is a health hazard," Ms. Walton said.

Dr. Henry Brodaty of the University of New South Wales, an expert on Alzheimer's disease, said the latest research did not prove a link between aluminium-treated water and Alzheimer's disease.

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