Aluminum Is Toxic—and It’s Everywhere
Aluminum, the third most abundant metal in the earth’s crust, is widely used in the manufacture of household products, the processing and packaging of foods, and is commonly found in food, water, and air pollution. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) believes the potential for human exposure to aluminum compounds is substantial—through ingestion of food and water and inhalation of airborne particulates.
Aluminum is absorbed by the gut, lungs, or skin and circulates in the system to the lung, liver, bone, muscle, and brain, with the highest levels found in lung tissue. It is commonly found in drinking water and certain plants, including tea leaves. However, its bioavailability when ingested in water and food is generally low for those with an intact gut barrier. People who are deficient in magnesium or calcium absorb more aluminum, and bioavailability increases when citrate, maltol, lactate, or fluoride are present.
Aluminum is found in processed foods that are packaged in aluminum cans or aluminum-based foil containers. The highest concentrations have been found in ready-to-drink infant formulas that are specifically made for underweight infants, and soy-based infant formulas have higher concentrations of aluminum than milk-based infant formulas or breast milk.
Deodorants containing aluminum chlorohydrate as the active ingredient have been associated with bone pain and fatigue in long-term use. Epidemiologic research has shown a relationship between these deodorants and earlier age of breast cancer, a correlation supported by biopsy data.
Long-term pharmaceutical use accounts for the highest source of aluminum exposure, particularly antacids, buffered aspirin, anti-ulcerative medications, and anti-diarrheal agents. Injection fluids in some vaccines may contain aluminum.
After an acute exposure to aluminum, the body eliminates the substance through urine, sweat, and feces within a few days. However, some experts believe chronic exposure may cause aluminum to accumulate in the brain and bone—a topic that has been debated among scientists for the past 50 years.
Research in animal models have shown aluminum toxicity can impair cognitive and motor function, act as an endocrine disruptor in the brain, and interfere with mitochondrial function. It may also interfere with bone formation. One recent study found significantly elevated aluminum levels in the brain tissue of those with Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and autism spectrum disorder.
The ATSDR has determined certain groups to be at higher risk for aluminum toxicity. These include formula-fed infants, those with chronic kidney failure, people who consume large quantities of medications with higher known aluminum content, and those who live near hazardous waste sites or industrial emissions sources.
Environmental Health Symposium. (2021, June 8). Aluminum—A toxic metal with potential for exposure. https://www.environmentalhealthsymposium.com/blog/aluminum-a-toxic-metal-with-potential-for-exposure