Health Risks of Aluminum

If you were to guess what metal was most abundant in the earth’s crust, would you peg iron or copper, tin or some other mineral? Would it surprise you to learn it is Aluminium and that only after oxygen and silica it is the most abundant element?

Despite its wide distribution, however, Aluminium has no recognized positive biological function in the human body, it is a toxic metal and as such the body has some sophisticated barriers to its absorption. Having said this, though, Aluminium is now quite a worry in scientific as well as natural health circles because of its increasing availability in our environment and the devastating health damage it can cause.

Aluminum toxicity

If Aluminium has been around in such concentrations in the earth’s crust for all the millennia and mankind has been exposed to it for centuries, how is it a problem now?

The answer lies in the critical distinction between “availability” and bio-availability, that is whether or not the toxic item is actually absorbed by the body, where the toxins go if it is absorbed and finally what the body does with the toxins. The major threat Aluminium now poses is due to its more recent uses in a soluble state (as in dissolved in another liquid, like water or another fluid).

The major effect of Aluminium ova-load in the body is on the central nervous system where its protein cross-linking activity can damage nave tissue, but this metal can also affect the parathyroid gland which governs by its hormonal secretions the amount of calcium we can absorb.

By interfering with bone metabolism, Aluminium can thus contribute to osteomalacia (bone deformation) in infants and in older people it can contribute to osteoporosis. Aluminum also deactivates certain enzymes especially those connected with energy production, it is a known neurotoxin (nerve poison). In infants, Aluminium toxicity is associated with microcytic anemia (abnormally small red blood cells) and encephalopathy (brain disorders), in children, it contributes to learning and behavioral disorders and hyperactivity.

Aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease

How Aluminium can be associated with the development of Alzheimer’s Disease stems from the 1970s when the world was first alerted to the plight of kidney patients undergoing home dialysis treatments utilizing town water supplies which had been treated with Alum and Aluminium salts.

The Aluminium was added to water in the form of Aluminium Hydroxide in order to reduce the absorption of phosphorus in the intestines of the dialysis patients, but this highly soluble form of the metal also easily bypassed the body’s normal barriers and was too readily absorbed into the bloodstream where it could access and accumulate in the liver and kidneys causing degeneration.

Many of the home-dialysis patients developed dementia symptoms and for those who died autopsies revealed extensive brain damage and an accumulation of Aluminium in the tissue. The similarities between dialysis dementia and Alzheimer’s, at first examination, seemed quite plausible. The reality isn’t that clear cut.

Debate continues, however, about the relationship between the type of Aluminium induced brain damage the dialysis people suffered and that evidenced in Alzheimer patients.

Medical authorities agree that the changes undergone by the brain in Alzheimer’s are different from those resulting from Aluminium contaminated kidney dialysis even though studies conducted in the USA, Britain, France and Canada seemed to indicate that the occurrence of Alzheimer’s increases as the concentration of Aluminium in drinking water increases.

It was then argued that drinking water provides only 3% of our total daily intake of Aluminium, however, the Aluminium in this form “may be more bioavailable” and thus a significant contaminant. There is no agreement here.

Most recently the Journal of Internal Medicine reported that investigations into the relationship between low blood pressure and low blood glucose in Alzheimer’s patients suggested that the disease may be a “hypometabolic disorder” where the lack of adequate circulation to the body’s peripheral sites – head, hands and feet – and the lack of adequate blood sugar delivered to these areas results in the brain damage which underlies Alzheimer’s dementia.

Experts do agree that while the jury is still out on the relationship between Aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease, it is better to err on the side of caution and limit one’s intake or exposure to this undoubtedly toxic metal.

The most significant sources of bioavailable toxic Aluminium are:

  • industrial aerosols;
  • protracted use of Aluminium antacids (including the use of antacids for gastric reflux in infants);
  • and injected vaccines – all of which bypass the body’s protective mechanisms and enter directly into the bloodstream.

Research carried out in 1993 in Sydney found that Aluminium leached from cookware increased the rate of osteoporosis and hip fractures in the elderly. Some food additives such as baking powder, anti-caking agents (like those in salt) are very high in aluminum yet the “bioavailability” from food additives is considered low.

Some soya milks – those made from “soya isolates” (not those made from whole organic soya beans) – are high in aluminum and that in these products bioavailability is also high and not well excreted from the body. Therefore it is reasonable to argue that this particular food source of aluminum is best avoided.

All acid is particularly efficient in this leaching process and acts as an all too effective transporter of aluminum across the blood-brain barrier from the bloodstream directly into brain tissue.

Checklist for avoiding aluminum

Biochemist-Advisor to Blackmore’s Naturopathic Products, Ron Shaw, has produced a useful checklist for avoiding over-exposure to Aluminium and with his permission, I’d like to reproduce it here.

  1. Read labels. Don’t use several types of Aluminium containing products together, for example, antacids plus painkillers. Avoid and watch for these ingredients: aluminum, alum, bentonite, dihydroxy aluminum.
  2. Use Aluminium-free baking powder and don’t use mixes of SR flour that contain Alum salts. Make your own Aluminium-free baking powder with Cream of Tartar and Bicarb Soda.
  3. Use filtered water that has been processed to remove alum and aluminum for cooking and drinking. Some home water filters do this well. Check the specifications.
  4. Avoid bleached flour and processed cheese (most natural cheese does not use aluminum in manufacture).
  5. Avoid cosmetics, deodorants and antiperspirants that contain aluminum. Tip: Ordinary Bicarb Soda dusted underarms after battling reduces odor.
  6. Do not use aluminum cookware unless it is lined with another substance (for example enamel or Silverstone).
  7. Do not heat foods in aluminum containers. Frozen food in aluminum should be transferred to another container before heating.
  8. Soft drinks in aluminum cans are best avoided especially if the drink is acid-based.
  9. When wrapping acid foods (tomatoes, pickles, lemon wedges) in aluminum foil, wrap the food first in waxed paper or plastic wrap then in the foil to exclude light.
  10. Protect your body with adequate vitamin supplements of the antioxidant type (Vitamins A, C and E).

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