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Aluminum has been long known to be neurotoxic, with mounting evidence that chronic exposure is a factor in many neurological diseases, including dementia, autism, and Parkinson's disease.
However, definitive scientific proof is difficult to establish due to the lack of longitudinal studies, as well as pushback from industries that use aluminum in their products. Despite the shortage of conclusive studies, mounting scientific evidence really leaves little room for doubt.
Case in point: a new case study from Keele University in the UK1 unequivocally shows high levels of aluminum in the brain of an individual exposed to aluminum at work, who later died from Alzheimer's disease.
While aluminum exposure has been implicated in Alzheimer's and a number of other neurological diseases, this case claims to be "the first direct link" between Alzheimer's disease and elevated brain aluminum following occupational exposure.2
The Aluminum-Alzheimer's Link
The 66 year-old Caucasian man developed an aggressive form of early onset Alzheimer's disease after eight years of occupational exposure to aluminum dust, which scientists conclude "suggests a prominent role for the olfactory system and lungs in the accumulation of aluminum in the brain."
This is not the first time high aluminum levels have been found in the tissues of someone who died from Alzheimer's disease. For example, in 2004, high aluminum levels were found in the tissues of a British woman who died of early-onset Alzheimer's.
This was 16 years after an industrial accident dumped 20 metric tons of aluminum sulphate into her local drinking water. And there are many studies showing elevated aluminum levels in living individuals displaying a wide range of neurological symptoms.3
Aluminum Can Be an Occupational Hazard
Exposure to aluminum is unfortunately an occupational hazard for those who work in industries like mining, factory work, welding, and agriculture. Not to mention that you ingest aluminum vapors every time your nose catches cigarette smoke wafting by.
Inhaling aluminum dust or vapors sends aluminum particles directly into your lungs in a highly absorbable form, where they pass into your bloodstream and are distributed throughout your body, including your bones and brain. Aluminum powder has been known to cause pulmonary fibrosis, and aluminum factory workers are prone to asthma. Studies of the health effects of aluminum vapors have been grim, pointing to high levels of neurotoxicity.4
So why are most government regulators and physicians so resistant to looking at the health and environmental effects of aluminum? One filmmaker is shining a light on this issue by way of a documentary.
The 'Dark Side' of Aluminum Exposed
The featured documentary, The Age of Aluminum, reveals the "dark side" of this toxic metal, exploring the scientific links between aluminum and diseases such as breast cancer and neurological disorders. Also exposed is how aluminum mining and manufacturing have created acute ecological problems across the globe, leading to environmental disasters in Hungary, South Africa, and the UK. In the film, neuroscientist Christopher Shaw reports:5
"Many researchers are beginning to accept that aluminum has some sort of role to play in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. Whether it does in others is still an open question, but Alzheimer's is really coming into focus and it's fairly clear that the body burden of aluminum from all the sources to which humans are exposed may be contributing to Alzheimer's disease."
Aluminum Is Everywhere
Although aluminum occurs naturally in soil, water, and air, we are contributing to the load with the mining and processing of aluminum ores, manufacturing of aluminum products, and the operation of coal-fired power plants and incinerators. Aluminum can't be destroyed in the environment—it only changes its form by attaching or separating from other particles.
Rain washes aluminum particles out of the air and into our water supply, where they tend to accumulate rather than degrade. If you live in an industrial area, your exposure is undoubtedly higher than average.6
According to CDC, the average adult in the US consumes about seven to nine mg of aluminum per day in food, and a lesser amount from air and water. Only about one percent of the aluminum you ingest orally gets absorbed into your body—the rest is moved out by your digestive tract, provided it's functioning well.
When tested in a lab, aluminum contamination has been found in a vast number of products on the market, from foods and beverages to pharmaceuticals, which suggests the manufacturing process itself is a significant part of the problem. Aluminum is found in a shocking number of foods and consumer products, including:
Foods such as baking powder, self rising flour, salt, baby formula, coffee creamers, baked goods and processed foods, coloring and caking agents
Drugs, such as antacids, analgesics, anti-diarrheals, and others; additives such as magnesium stearate
Vaccines—Hepatitis A and B, Hib, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), pneumococcal vaccine, Gardasil (HPV), and others
Cosmetics and personal care products such as antiperspirants, deodorants (including salt crystals, made of alum), lotions, sunscreens, and shampoos
Aluminum products, including foil, cans, juice pouches, tins, and water bottles
Does Your Frozen Dinner Come with a Side of Aluminum?
Aluminum contamination in our food supply is a more significant problem than you may think. In a study published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe,7 researchers analyzed 1,431 non-animal foods and beverages for aluminum content. This is what they found:
77.8 percent had an aluminum concentration of up to 10 mg/kg
17.5 percent had aluminum concentrations between 10 and 100 mg\kg
4.6 percent of the samples had aluminum concentrations in excess of 100 mg/kg
Aluminum compounds are often used as additives in foodstuffs. Additional contamination occurs when food comes into contact with aluminum equipment and other items because aluminum is unstable in the presence of acids and bases. Aluminum equipment has a protective oxide film, but this can be damaged as fine fissures develop from normal wear and tear.In the study,8 Table 3 shows the aluminum content of everything from flour and baking mixes to soup, chocolate, beer and wine, and herbal teas. Some products show a wide range of contamination levels, and others are more homogenous. Baked goods are very high because of the common practice of baking and storing foods on aluminum trays.9 The report has numerous other tables that demonstrate how prevalent this toxin is in your food.
If you cook your food in aluminum foil, you are introducing your own contamination. One investigation found that cooking meats in aluminum foil increases their aluminum concentration. Researchers concluded, "eating meals prepared in aluminum foil may carry a health risk by adding to other aluminum sources." As with many toxins, it isn't one exposure here and there that is so concerning—it's the cumulative effect of many smaller exposures over time that can lead to a toxic metal overload and erosion of your health. According to a 2006 study, cooking meat in aluminum foil increased aluminum levels as follows:10
Red meats cooked in aluminum foil showed an increase in aluminum by 89 to 378 percent
Poultry increased by 76 to 214 percent
Aluminum levels increased with higher cooking temperatures and longer cooking times
Aluminum Heads Straight to Your Brain
Aluminum is to your central nervous system as cigarette smoke is to your lungs. Scientists are clear that toxic metals damage brain tissue and lead to degenerative disease by producing oxidative stress—and aluminum is one of the worst offenders. With Alzheimer's rates skyrocketing, today's multiple avenues of aluminum exposure are of great concern. Just as with particles in the environment, once aluminum is in your tissues, your body has a difficult time releasing it. This toxic metal serves absolutely no biological purpose, so the less of it you ingest, the better.
Once in your body, it travels around easily, unimpeded, piggybacking on your iron transport system. It crosses biological barriers that normally keep other types of toxins out, such as your blood-brain barrier. Over time, aluminum can accumulate in your brain and do serious damage your neurological health—regardless of your age. Aluminum toxicity may be doing as much damage to our children as to our seniors.