By Peter Galvin, MD

We are surrounded by aluminum. It is the third most common element in our natural environment, behind only oxygen and silicone, and it is the most prevalent metal in the earth’s crust. It is highly reactive and soluble, and is in the air, water, soil, and plants that absorb water, including vegetables. It’s also in the animals that eat the plants. Plants store aluminum in their leaves, with spinach, tea, and some herbs and spices having the highest aluminum levels. Many plants rely on aluminum as a nutrient essential for growth. But does the human body require aluminum to grow and function? In short, no. Yet, because it is found everywhere, we tend to have fairly high levels of aluminum in us. It accumulates in our organs, especially our brains.

As I said at the start of this column, aluminum is everywhere. It is highly malleable, and easily conducts heat and electricity. We use aluminum pots and pans, and aluminum foil to wrap food, bake food, and keep food warm. Aluminum dissolves easily, especially in acidic conditions, which is why acidic foods like tomato sauce will dissolve aluminum from the foil, causing greater aluminum content in the food. Aluminum stimulates the immune system, which is why it is used in many vaccines as it boosts the immune response to the vaccine. It is also found in common pharmaceutical products like antacids, aspirin, phosphate binders, and dialysis fluids. It is also used in cosmetics, antiperspirants, and sun blockers. It’s a raising agent in baking powder and an emulsifier in many cheeses.

Aluminum toxicity can cause confusion, memory loss, weakness, and an inability to concentrate. In 1965, a Polish study first theorized that aluminum contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. In that study, rats’ brains were injected with aluminum which caused the fibers in their neurons to degrade and form tangle-like structures similar to the neurofibrillary tangles seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Another study in 1973 found high levels of aluminum in the brains of people who died with Alzheimer’s. Other studies have found conflicting results. For example, in July 1998, 20 tons of aluminum sulfate was accidentally discharged into the water supply of the town of Camelford in England. This raised the aluminum concentration of their drinking water to over 500 times the allowable limit, thereby exposing about 20,000 people to high aluminum levels. The UK government followed the population over the years but found no link to any subsequent health issues. However, other studies of these people did find elevated numbers of cognitive and neurological decline. Despite conflicting study results, there remains the reality that aluminum is a neurotoxin, a fact confirmed by many studies.

So, it would seem prudent to minimize our exposure to aluminum and to find ways to lower the level of aluminum already in us. Chelation therapy, which uses oral or intravenous drugs to bind to aluminum and remove it from the body, is reserved for only serious cases of toxicity. High-fiber foods that contain sulfur (broccoli) are natural chelators, as are silica-rich mineral waters. Avoid aluminum cookware and do not use aluminum foil with foods containing tomatoes. Finally, read labels and avoid using products high in aluminum.

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