Aluminium in Medicine - Facts about toxicity

Acccording to the American Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) everyone is exposed to low levels of aluminum from food, air, water, and soil and the following information is an excerpt from its website.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth's crust. It is always found combined with other elements such as oxygen, silicon, and fluorine. Small amounts of aluminum can be found in soil and dissolved in water. Aluminum compounds have many different uses, for example, as alums in water-treatment and alumina in abrasives and furnace linings. They are also found in consumer products such as antacids, astringents, buffered aspirin, food additives, cosmetics, and antiperspirants.

Potential sources:

  • Virtually all food, water, air, and soil contain some aluminum.
  • The average adult in the U.S. eats about 7-9 mg aluminum per day in their food.
  • Breathing higher levels of aluminum dust in workplace air.
  • Living in areas where the air is dusty, where aluminum is mined or processed into aluminum metal, near certain hazardous waste sites, or where aluminum is naturally high.
  • Eating substances containing high levels of aluminum (such as antacids) especially when eating or drinking citrus products at the same time.
  • Children and adults may be exposed to small amounts of aluminum from vaccinations.
  • Very little enters your body from aluminum cooking utensils.

How does aluminum affect health?

Only very small amounts of aluminum that you may inhale, ingest, or have skin contact with will enter the bloodstream.

Exposure to aluminum is usually not harmful, but exposure to high levels can affect your health. Workers who breathe large amounts of aluminum dusts can have lung problems, such as coughing or abnormal chest X-rays. Some workers who breathe aluminum dusts or aluminum fumes have decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the nervous system.

Some people with kidney disease store a lot of aluminum in their bodies and sometimes develop bone or brain diseases which may be caused by the excess aluminum. Some studies show that people exposed to high levels of aluminum may develop Alzheimer's disease, but other studies have not found this to be true. We do not know for certain whether aluminum causes Alzheimer's disease.

Studies in animals show that the nervous system is a sensitive target of aluminum toxicity. Obvious signs of damage were not seen in animals after high oral doses of aluminum. However, the animals did not perform as well in tests that measured the strength of their grip or how much they moved around.

We do not know if aluminum will affect reproduction in people. Aluminum does not appear to affect fertility in animals.

Children with kidney problems who were given aluminum in their medical treatments developed bone diseases. It does not appear that children are more sensitive to aluminum than adults.

We do not know if aluminum will cause birth defects in people. Birth defects have not been seen in animals. Aluminum in large amounts has been shown to be harmful to unborn and developing animals because it can cause delays in skeletal and neurological development.

Aluminum is found in breast milk, but only a small amount of this aluminum will enter the infant's body through breastfeeding.

Avoiding excessive exposure

  • Avoid taking large quantities of aluminum-containing antacids and buffered aspirin and take these medications as directed.
  • Make sure all medications have child-proof caps so children will not accidentally eat them.

Laboratory tests:

Aluminum can be measured in blood, bones, hair, feces, or urine. Urine and blood aluminum measurements can tell you whether you are exposed to larger-than-normal amounts of aluminum. Measuring bone aluminum can also indicate exposure to high levels, but this requires a bone biopsy. Hair analysis indicates if longterm exposure. Water testing reveals if the recommended Maximum Contaminant level is exceeded.

Reference: Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2008. Toxicological Profile for Aluminum. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.