We are always hearing new information about things in our environment that may be harmful for us, but what is the real story about this element that is the second-most abundant metallic element in Earth’s crust after silicon? Aluminum is used in soda cans and other packaging, in aircraft and automobiles, and even in the iPhone! But the good news is that aluminum is lightweight (a third the weight of steel or copper, according to the U.S. Geological Survey) and easy to mold, fold and recycle. It resists corrosion and stands up to repeated use. Aluminum was discovered in 1825 by Hans Oversted of Denmark. It is the third most prevalent element and the most abundant metal in the earth’s surface. Human beings are naturally exposed to relatively large amounts of aluminum from food, water and air.
Recently, however, aluminum toxicity has increased precipitously. Today, nearly 80% of those tested for metal toxicity reveal excessively high hair aluminum levels. So can high levels of aluminum really be harmful to our health?
Occupational exposure to aluminum occurs during the refining of the primary metal and in secondary industries that use aluminum products. From these work sites, we have come to understand that occupational aluminum exposure was significantly correlated with a variety of symptoms such as loss of coordination, loss of memory, and problems with balance. The occurrence of contact dermatitis and irritant dermatitis was reported in workers exposed to aluminum alloys and aluminum dust. This was most severe in Germany during World War II, where industrial environments were heavily contaminated with airborne aluminum flake powder. The neurotoxic properties of aluminum are well established; however, the evidence surrounding the potential association between aluminum and neurological disorders in humans is much less clear.
Little is known about the impact of aluminum-containing antacids in human pregnancy and lactation. There has been a lot of research that looked at the link between Alzheimer’s and aluminum, yet there hasn’t been any definitive evidence to suggest there is a link,” says Heather M. Snyder, PhD, senior associate director of medical and scientific relations for the Alzheimer’s Association. There is a large body of literature, mostly in the form of clinical reports, which documents the adverse effects of non-occupational aluminum exposure in individuals with impaired renal function. These patients are typically exposed to aluminum through dialysis fluids. Anemia, bone disease, and dialysis encephalopathy are the most commonly reported complications of aluminum exposure in this population. Less common is sensitivity during continuous application of aluminum-containing antiperspirants, topical aluminum application, and occupational exposure to aluminum dust and filings which result in recurrent eczema.
As a result of inadvertent human poisoning with excessive amounts of aluminum, there are reports of damage to bone and CNS as target organs. Further, the administration of aluminum-containing vaccines for extended time periods was found to be associated with the development of rashes at the injection site.
Only a few epidemiological studies with no clear results have been undertaken of the possible carcinogenic risks (such as breast cancer) of antiperspirant worries center on the active ingredient — an aluminum-based compound that temporarily plugs the sweat ducts and prevents you from perspiring.
Typically, antiperspirants are coupled with a deodorant, which contains the pleasant scent that stops you from smelling less than ideal. Deodorants also may also contain a number of inactive ingredients. The truth is that worrying about antiperspirants shouldn’t distract women from addressing the real breast cancer risks, like eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and limiting alcohol, but being mindful of toxic exposure is always a good idea. So what can be done to minimize the burden of aluminum in your body?
1. Purchase Whole Foods
Aluminum cans and processed food packaging — yes, even the paper looking stuff — usually contains aluminum. If the majority of your diet is unpacked whole fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts, it’s easier to avoid.
2. Choose Aluminum-Free Deodorant
The most common exposure point for most people is deodorant. Luckily, more aluminum-free options are becoming available.
3. Avoid Antacids
With the American diet being what it is, many people are constantly grabbing for an antacid. These are one of the most potent sources of aluminum. Instead, it may be wiser to choose quality foods that are easy to digest and that don’t cause heartburn in the first place.
4. Detoxify Your Body
According to some sources, silica, a chemical compound found in quartz, may be helpful for reducing aluminum levels in the body by reducing absorption of aluminum in the gastrointestinal tract. Drinking silica-rich mineral water may offer similar effects and other research has shown that silica may combat aluminum toxicity by promoting its excretion through the urine. A basic colon cleanse may also be helpful for eliminating waste and harmful compounds that have accumulated in the body over time.
The general idea is to keep your diet clean and your body in good condition and be mindful of the amount of exposure to aluminum that you may experience.
How can we determine if our levels of aluminum in our body are too high?
A debate currently exists concerning the value of blood aluminum levels to determine aluminum status. It is clear, however, that blood aluminum determinations fail to accurately reflect total body burden of aluminum. This is because brain, lung and often bone measurements reveal much higher levels of aluminum than are found in the blood. Hair levels of aluminum have been shown to possibly correlate well with bone levels of aluminum. Hewitt and Day found no correlation between hair and serum aluminum levels. However, in their experiment the hair was washed five times in both acetone and water, for ten minutes each time followed by 10 minutes of ultra-sound agitation. Some investigators feel that hair should not be washed at the laboratory prior to analysis. Studies are not completely clear as to how best to assess aluminum levels. If you are concerned, it’s always best to check with your doctor as elevated aluminum levels may cause issues for you that may be hard to detect. The best plan is always to eat correctly, stay well hydrated with fresh not canned beverages and keep your colon healthy.
Until next time, here’s to the best of your health!!
Elizabeth Salada MD