Whether over deodorants, toothpaste or food packaging - there are many ways in which aluminum can enter the body. Experts from the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) have now estimated for the first time how much aluminum people will absorb in Germany as a whole. According to this, persons in all age groups are in danger of clearly exceeding the quantities considered to be harmless.
Aluminum, after oxygen and silicon, is the third most common element in the earth's crust. The light metal is inherent in drinking water and foods such as fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, tea, cocoa or coffee. In addition, it can also be included in food additives, penetrate into the body via cosmetics or pass through uncoated meal trays, grill trays, aluminum foil and baking trays to the food.
In order not to expose itself to any health risk, the European Food Authority Efsa recommends not to take more than one milligram of aluminum per kilogram of body weight per week. A large part of the population can already reach half this amount with their diet alone, writes the BfR in its study in the journal "Archives of Toxicology". This is especially true for adolescents and adults.
Who is particularly at risk of exceeding the recommended quantities?
According to BfR, risk groups exposed to a high level of aluminum include:
- Babies who are not breastfed exclusively or infants who are fed special, soy-based, lactose-free or hypoallergenic food. In addition, infants and toddlers also receive aluminum via vaccinations. However, these "have a high health benefit," writes the BfR. In addition, according to studies, the exposure to aluminum from vaccines is considered to be harmless to health.
- Children between the ages of three and ten, who very often consume foods that have been heated or kept warm in uncoated aluminum containers (aluminum foil or aluminum trays).
- Young people between the ages of 11 and 14, and anyone over the age of 14 who often use aluminum-containing deodorants and aluminum-containing whitening toothpaste, often eating foods packaged, heated or kept warm in uncoated aluminum containers.
Especially in the case of young people, the institute warns that the intake of aluminum is too high, since the metal is stored in the body for a very long time. For example, if the substance accumulates in the body over a long period of time in women, it can also reach the unborn child during pregnancy. Young women should take a critical look at any aluminum intake that originates from an avoidable source and continues for a longer period of time, the institute writes in a detailed FAQ.
What does BfR recommend to protect itself?
Acid and salt increase the solubility of aluminum. For this reason, BfR particularly advises against the preparation and storage of salty and sour foods in uncoated aluminum containers or aluminum foil. These include apples, tomatoes or cheese. When grilling reusable stainless steel bowls can replace the aluminum. In addition, it is advisable to eat a varied diet and to alternate with cosmetics.
Aluminum from deodorant and toothpaste contributes significantly to the study, according to the study. Accordingly, it pays off to use aluminum-free alternatives. It is also important not to apply the cosmetics on damaged skin (such as a shave or sunburn), since the aluminum is then easier to penetrate. In addition to deodorants and toothpaste, aluminum compounds are used, among other things, as coatings of nanoparticles in some sunscreens or as color pigments in lipsticks.
What health hazards threatened by a persistently high aluminum load?
In the short term, aluminum ingested through food is not a major hazard to the body, healthy people excrete much of it again. However, in humans with kidney disease, this mechanism may be disturbed. In addition, aluminum can also accumulate in healthy people in the body when they absorb larger amounts over a longer period. Possible consequences include developmental disorders of the brain and the motor system and damage to nerves, kidneys and bones.
It is also frequently discussed whether deodorants with aluminum increase the risk of breast cancer. Studies had suggested a possible connection. So far, however, there are no studies that could prove that actually the aluminum contributes to the development of breast cancer - and does not accumulate because of the disease aluminum in the cancerous tissue.
Also, animal studies have so far failed to detect any carcinogenic effect of the metal, even if the animals were exposed to very high doses. This not only applies to breast cancer, but also to other cancers.