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Aluminium Toxicity

A great construction material - but should we be eating it?

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A roll of aluminium

Aluminium is an abundant and very useful mineral salt that’s refined and widely used to make vehicles, tools, building materials and cooking utensils. It’s also used to make the tools and machinery used to process and manufacture the products and foods we use everyday.

Aluminium is used as an additive in medicines,
in almost all processed foods and beverages and
many skin care products.

Scientists, and the powers and authorities that govern us think that aluminium is harmless and that there is no definitive evidence that aluminium is in anyway detrimental to our health.

Despite its prevalence in the environment, aluminium salts are not known to be used by any form of life and aluminium is well tolerated by plants in soils where aluminium is a major component, but soluble aluminium salts when delivered in quantity in their food or by injection have proved to be highly toxic to animals.

While aluminium has no known function in living cells, controversy exists about aluminium’s possible long-term toxicity to humans from larger ingested amounts or amounts absorbed through the skin.

Allergies

A small percentage of people are known to be allergic to aluminium and they experience a range of conditions including contact dermatitis when touching anything made of aluminium or using deodorants. Others experience digestive disorders, vomiting or other symptoms from using aluminium cookware or ingesting products containing aluminium, such as antacids.

In those without allergies, aluminium is not as toxic as heavy metals, but there is evidence of some toxicity if it is consumed in excessive amounts. The use of aluminium cookware has not been shown to lead to aluminium toxicity in general, but excessive consumption of foods and antacids containing aluminium compounds, and excessive use of aluminium-containing antiperspirants provide more significant exposure levels.

Alzheimer’s

There is growing widespread concern that aluminium is a factor in Alzheimer’s disease with delivery routes being cookware, food additives and medications however this idea seems to have been discounted as mistakes were made in original studies.

According to The Alzheimer’s Society, the overwhelming medical and scientific opinion is that studies have not convincingly demonstrated a causal relationship between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease. Nevertheless, some studies, such as those on the PAQUID cohort, cite aluminium exposure as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. Some brain plaques have been found to contain increased levels of aluminium. Scientific consensus does not yet exist about whether aluminium exposure could directly increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1965, however, animal experiments suggested a possible connection between aluminium and Alzheimer’s disease, a fact that most choose to ignore.

Breast cancer

There is growing widespread concern that aluminium is a factor in breast cancer with the primary deliver route from underarm deodorants. Science disputes this along with the use of parabens, but surely any toxin in the body has the potential to interrupt the metabolism and cause disease.

There is little scientific evidence that normal exposure to aluminium presents a risk to healthy adults and several studies point to risks associated with increased exposure to the metal.

Aluminium is present in the following E Numbers:

E 173 Aluminium
E 520 Aluminium sulphate
E 521 Aluminium sodium sulphate
E 522 Aluminium potassium sulphate
E 523 Aluminium ammonium sulphate
E 541 Sodium aluminium phosphate acidic
E 1452 Starch aluminium octenyl succinate
The EU, Regulation 380/2012 deletes the following additives from 31 January 2014
E 554 Sodium aluminium silicate
E 555 Potassium aluminium silicate
E 556 Calcium aluminium silicate
E 559 Aluminium silicate (Kaolin)

Pathology

Its toxicity can be traced to deposits in bone and the central nervous system, which is particularly increased in patients with reduced renal function. Because aluminium competes with calcium for absorption, increased amounts of dietary aluminium may contribute to the reduced skeletal mineralization (osteopenia) observed in preterm infants and infants with growth retardation. In very high doses, aluminium can cause neurotoxicity, and is associated with altered function of the blood-brain barrier.

Studies have shown that preparation and consumption of acidic foods or liquids with aluminium cookware significantly increases aluminium absorption, and maltol has been shown to increase the accumulation of aluminium in nervous and osseus tissue. Furthermore, aluminium increases estrogen-related gene expression in human breast cancer cells cultured in the laboratory. The estrogen-like effects of these salts have led to their classification as a metalloestrogen.

Because of its potentially toxic effects, aluminium’s use food additives, antiperspirants and dyes is controversial.

Aluminium in food may be absorbed more than aluminium from water. The Camelford water pollution incident involved a number of people consuming aluminium sulfate. Investigations of the long-term health effects are still ongoing, but elevated brain aluminium concentrations have been found in post-mortem examinations of victims, and further research to determine if there is a link with cerebral amyloid angiopathy has been commissioned.

Research in this area is not a priority and what research that has been done was inconclusive; aluminium accumulation may be a consequence of the disease rather than a causal agent. In any event, if there is any toxicity of aluminium, it must be via a very specific mechanism, since total human exposure to the element in the form of naturally occurring clay in soil and dust is enormously large over a lifetime.

Effect on plants

Aluminium is primary among the factors that reduce plant growth on acid soils. Although it is generally harmless to plant growth in pH-neutral soils, the concentration in acid soils of toxic Al3+ cations increases and disturbs root growth and function.

Most acid soils are saturated with aluminium rather than hydrogen ions. The acidity of the soil is therefore a result of hydrolysis of aluminium compounds. This concept of “corrected lime potential” to define the degree of base saturation in soils became the basis for procedures now used in soil testing laboratories to determine the “lime requirement” of soils.

Wheat’s adaptation to allow aluminium tolerance is such that the aluminium induces a release of organic compounds that bind to the harmful aluminium cations. Sorghum is believed to have the same tolerance mechanism. The first gene for aluminium tolerance has been identified in wheat. It was shown that sorghum’s aluminium tolerance is controlled by a single gene, as for wheat. This is not the case in all plants.

References
A review of aluminium use, toxicity and symptoms.
EU Environmental Sciences Report
Camelford water pollution incident
The Telegraph on a Silent killer
PAQUID cohort
Wikipedia
E numbers

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