Aluminium is a so-called earth metal and belongs to the chemical elements. After oxygen and silicon, it is the most common naturally occurring element in the earth’s crust. Aluminium is also found in the human body, but it is not one of the trace elements required in food.
Aluminium is contained in many industrial materials and foodstuffs. Most aluminium is found in tea. However, foods that are stored in aluminium foil also absorb aluminium. Aluminium is excreted in faeces and urine. In large quantities aluminium can be toxic.
How toxic is aluminium to the human body?
As aluminium is a widespread element in the environment, we absorb aluminium through our food every day. Most of the aluminium is excreted directly through the stool without being absorbed. However, small amounts are absorbed into the body.
A healthy body contains between 50 and 150 mg aluminium. In the blood a value of 0.01mg/l is normal. A value from 0.2mg/l is considered toxic.
Normally, aluminium is excreted via the kidneys within a few days, so there is always only a small amount of aluminium in the body. However, in the case of kidney dysfunction and dialysis patients, the aluminium cannot be removed and this can lead to toxic levels in the body. Those affected store large quantities of aluminium in various organs, such as the brain and bones, which can lead to serious symptoms of poisoning.
In healthy people, however, normal everyday aluminium intake is not dangerous. Certain foods, such as tea or cocoa, contain particularly large amounts of aluminium, but this is not enough to cause poisoning. In some foods aluminium is even used selectively.
This is the case with food colours, for example. According to the European Food Safety Authority, the limit value for a safe intake of aluminium is 1mg per kg body weight per week. Aluminium is not only absorbed through food, but can also enter the body through the skin and cause skin irritation.
For this reason deodorant sprays containing aluminium have been under discussion for several years. However, the suspicion that aluminium can cause breast cancer or Alzheimer’s has not yet been proven and the German Alzheimer’s Society contradicts the statements that this is possible. Many effects of aluminium on the human body have not yet been sufficiently investigated, so that a hazard cannot be completely ruled out, but neither should it lead to panic. Even the aluminium in vaccines, which is required as an enhancer, is present in such small quantities that absorption via food, including breast milk, is greater. Aluminium poisoning via vaccines is therefore not to be expected.
What are the typical symptoms of aluminium poisoning?
In people with chronic kidney disease, aluminium can accumulate in the body and thus lead to poisoning. As aluminium accumulates in the brain, poisoning leads to memory and speech disorders, listlessness and aggressiveness. This is called progressive encephalopathy.
Aluminium can also accumulate in the bones and so soften the bones, which is also called osteomalacia. Aluminium is also carried by the same transporters as iron. However, since iron is necessary for blood formation, occupying the transporters with aluminium can lead to anaemia.
Those affected are then tired and pale and their performance decreases. However, anaemia in particular is a very unspecific symptom and can also have many other causes, such as heavy menstrual bleeding and associated iron deficiency. Some people have an aluminium allergy. They develop skin rashes on contact with aluminium, for example aluminium foil, and can react to increased absorption through food with gastrointestinal complaints.