For a couple of last years, I have been very interested in wellness, anti-aging and new medical discoveries. I was shocked by the obtained information and realised that we did so many things wrong and we ate so many foods that, according to the latest medical discoveries, are not helping to live a long and healthy life. One of these discoveries for me was aluminium. According to some sources, it is possibly toxic. There is even a growing belief around the world that aluminium is linked to degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and many other health concerns. That sounded pretty scary, so I wanted to know about this toxicity a bit more and started my own investigation. Since I am not a scientist and cannot make any laboratory testing to prove or deny any theory that arises, I made my investigation on Google search. This is what I found.
Aluminium is the most abundant metal and the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. It is the most widely used metal of the 21st century. This metal’s success as a modern material comes from a huge variety of use possibilities and cost effectiveness. Scientists managed to extract the first amounts of aluminium in 1825, but the processes of extraction from aluminum oxide and bauxite developed later in 1888 starting “The Aluminum Age”. We use aluminium in so many ways: for transportation, construction, chemistry, food, cosmetics, medicine and many other industries. We use it for fireproofing, as a food additive and for leather tanning. Powdered aluminium metal is often used in explosives and fireworks. It is used for petroleum refining and in the production of synthetic rubber and polymers. It is also used in water purification, antiperspirants, sunscreens and toothpaste, in some drugs and vaccines. It is widely used in food preparation – pans, pots, utensils and food storing – cans, foil, food containers.
There are dozens of studies and articles in scientific journals stating the risk of aluminium use and toxic effects and there are dozens of ones that defend it stating that it is not toxic in the amounts that we consume.
All scientists agree that we are exposed to aluminium in these different ways:
- dermal contact (using cosmetics such as an antiperspirant or a sunscreen);
- inhalation (inhaling an antiperspirant aerosol or as air-borne particulates);
- ingestion (ingested aluminium with food or water and aluminium which has been removed from the nose and lungs).
Scientists also think that the blood is probably the main distribution network of aluminium that carries it between all of the major tissues and organs. There are tons of studies that prove aluminium leach to food that was stored or cooked in products containing it because aluminium is a soft, highly reactive metal and can migrate easily.
Many medical studies prove aluminium absorption through the skin as well, although transdermal absorption of aluminium on normal skin is not very high (but it exists); however, the transdermal absorption of aluminum through stripped skin is significantly higher.
There are various different ways of aluminium excretion from the body including via the feces, urine, sweat, skin, hair, nail, sebum and semen. It is also transferred to the breastmilk.
The major organs for aluminium accumulation are lungs, bones, liver, kidneys and brain. Some people who have kidney disease might store a lot of aluminium in their bodies since malfunctioning kidneys are not capable of removing it from the body with the urine.
Some studies show increased levels of aluminium in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease; however, scientists cannot confirm any aluminium role in causing this degenerative disease.
The scientists’ community is divided into two groups. One group states that aluminium is toxic, our bodies tend to accumulate it, there must be more studies made to find out there is any safe exposure. Another group believes that our bodies are able to clean aluminium by themselves. These scientists state that there is safe and unsafe exposure. They say that if a significant aluminium load exceeds the body’s excretory capacity, the excess is deposited in various tissues, to be more precise – aluminium is toxic if it is consumed in amounts greater than 40mg/day per kg of body mass, because then the body is not able to eliminate it all and it is accumulated in the tissues and organs. They also state that it is toxic for people whose kidneys fail to function properly. But then some questions come to my mind: but what if you do not know that your kidneys do not work properly, or if they have some short of malfunction while you drink some medicine? And how can you calculate whether you are not exceeding that 40mg/day per kg of your body mass? Does it mean that if you wrap a sandwich into aluminium foil, there might be no bad effect on you as an adult, but is it going to be toxic for your child because he has less body mass?
While some scientists assure that aluminium levels that we are exposed on a daily basis are generally considered to be safe, others are working on trying to find evidence to support theories of some biochemical effects of aluminium such as:
- pro-oxidant properties – induction of oxidative stress that damages cells and tissues (we all try to get anti-oxidants now, and to get rid of pro-oxidants);
- excitotoxicity properties – a process by which nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation that can cause neurodegenerative diseases, for example, Alzheimer’s;
- inflammatory activity;
- immunopetency – stimulating the formation of antibodies;
- mutagenicity – an ability to cause permanent genetic change – mutation in a cell causing some disease, for example, cancer.
Is this fear of aluminium toxicity just a pseudo medicine, when someone catches an idea without any evidence and scares everyone around, but in fact we are totally safe? Or is it just a lack of time for this information to be proven and we need more time to become aware? Or are some lobbyists trying to preserve the huge aluminium industry, trying to convince us that it is safe? Maybe the answer is somewhere in between.
We transfer all our responsibility for our health and wellbeing presuming, that some authorities make clever decisions for us and all the hazardous substances and products are banned by them. But this is not working so well in reality. The best example is cigarettes. Although it is generally agreed that smoking is responsible for several diseases and considered to be toxic, you can still find cigarettes in every shop or petrol station you go. Another example is lead which is considered a highly poisonous metal whether inhaled or swallowed, affecting almost every organ and system in the body, but it is still used in ceramic glazes of different types of pots and still leaching to the foods that are cooked or just kept in them. Both, cigarettes and lead took a long way to be recognized toxic. For example, lead was used for ages – it is believed that mankind has used lead for over 6000 years. The first ban of lead was in 1696 in Germany when Duke Ludwig issued a decree forbidding the use of lead-based additives in any wine product, because of a severe outbreak of colic. Nevertheless, it was still very wildly used till the very end of the 20th century. Lead in household paint was banned by an international convention in 1925 (it is interesting why US did not ban it till 1970?). The removal of lead from gasoline in 1990 was one of the biggest public health triumphs of the 20th century. Even after this was achieved and the whole world was buzzing about this toxin that was poisoning our bodies in so many ways for so long, there still are stories of lead showing up mixed into paprika powder to brighten the color of the spice, or lead showing up in milk where cows have grazed on grasses growing in a soil with large accumulations of lead from either industrial waste or heavy auto traffic, or even as a filler in ice cream, because lead is cheaper than milk. Unfortunately, there are so many hidden money interests in all this and it is sad that in some situations we are so ignorant.
Coming back to aluminium toxicity, after what was written above, even not being 100% sure that aluminium is toxic, I am not still convinced that it is not. At least what we can do to reduce possible harmful effect of aluminium, is to try to reduce its use in everyday life. It is almost impossible to get rid of it at all, because it is so common and widespread in the environment, but it should not be very hard to change some habits in order to reduce exposure.
Some ways to reduce aluminium exposure:
- Try to limit your intake of processed food possibly containing aluminium additives that may be added during processing of foods, such as flour, baking powder, coloring agents, table salt, anticaking agents, pickles, processed cheese, milk formulas for babies. You should avoid products with these ingredients:
- E173 aluminium;
- E520 aluminium sulfate;
- E521 aluminium sodium sulfate;
- E522 aluminium potassium sulphate;
- E523 aluminium ammonium sulfate;
- E541 sodium aluminium phosphate;
- E545 aluminium polyphosphate;
- E554 sodium aluminium silicate;
- E555 potassium aluminium silicate;
- E556 calcium aluminium silicate;
- E559 aluminium silicate.
- Avoid aluminium containing utensils and cookware. Do not cook foods, especially acidic foods like fruits, tomatoes and wine, in pans made from aluminium.
- Avoid aluminium foil.
- Avoid consuming foods and liquids that are stored in cans and other aluminium packaging.
- Try to limit your intake of aluminium containing medicines as buffered aspirin and antacids (medication that neutralize the gastric acid).
- Try to reduce use of aluminium containing antiperspirants, deodorants, toothpaste, sunscreens, sunblock, face and body creams, tanning products, hair care, make-up and check ingredients more carefully.
- Use filtrated water, because tap water is usually treated with aluminium.
As I have already mentioned before, today’s official scientific opinion is that aluminium exposure levels are generally considered to be safe. However, remembering an example of a long way of lead’s toxicity acknowledgment, I would not be 100% sure how objective it is. Still I cannot state that aluminium is poisonous as well, because my research was done only in Google search and although I found and read a great number of serious science studies, I did not do any by myself. In my opinion, it is better to be careful, and it is better to keep track of the latest situation, because in the age of information, ignorance is a choice. We should be concerned rather than indifferent.
To end this post on a positive note, I would like to share my find of some scientific research that proves that silicon-rich mineral waters facilitate the excretion of systemic aluminium via the kidney and over extended time periods can help to eliminate aluminium from the body. Sounds good, doesn’t it? So let’s drink mineral water with silica and hope it may save the world.