Friday, April 4, 2014

Aluminum More of a Threat Than Thought? German "Feds" Say: Stay Away From Antitranspirants and Beware of the Dozen of Other Aluminum Containing Junk in Your Life

Cancer, Alzheimer's - The X* effect?
*Most deodorants don't contain aluminum.
I have to admit that I missed the original publication of the inconspicious statement of the Bundesintitut für Risikobewertung (BfR. 2014). I am not sure if there is a US or UK equivalent to the BfR, but if there was an US counterpart, those would be the guys that would tell the FDA what they should do, if the industry, the FDA is actually supposed to control had not already taken their job ;-)

All (sadly true) jokes aside, basically the short paper is a re-evaluation of the safety of aluminum - not aluminum in general, but the amount of aluminum in our immediate surrounding. Sources like the particularly nasty Aluminum from antitranspirants
Table 1: Overview of the "worst offenders" among foods and bakery products scientists from the University of Kentucky (Saiyed. 2005)
Processed foods provide the toxic baseline: Antitranspirants are part of the problem, but as usual it's processed food that supplies the baseline of yet another hazardous substance. If you take a look at the list of "worst offenders" Saiyed et al. identified in a 2005 study in a random selection of food from US supermarkets, it's obvious that all of them belong to the processed, convenient or as some of the enlightened people would say "junk" food category.
The BfR assessed the aluminum absorption from antitranspirants based on experimental data on the its dermal obsorption in healthy individuals and found that the systemic absorption for people with intact skin health is 10.5µg. That's ~2µg more than the EFSA says, the contemporary available evidence would suggest to be safe for a healthy 60kg human being.

This means that the uptake of aluminium from antitranspirants is above the maximal tolerable daily exposure levels. For people with skin problems or someone who uses the antitranspirants after damaging the protective layer of the skin while shaving the systemic aluminum uptake is several magnitudes larger. Consequently someone who shaves and applies his antitranspirant afterwards may exceed his total weekly limit (1mg per week) within the first hour of the day!
Figure 1: Tabular overview of the risk profile the BfR released for aluminum containing transpirants; I have translated the relevant parts of the overview, if you want to, you can download the original here.
As the scientists point out, antitranspirants are yet by far not the only potential aluminum sources in our life. Foods like tomatoes, kitchenware and - above all - other cosmetic products like shampoo, lipsticks, cremes (esp. anti-wrinkle and -aging - funny, eh?), toothpaste, and sunscreen all contain significant amounts of aluminum that can make it through our skin or digestive tract right into our blood.

It is thus no wonder that the following tabular overview (I deliberately use the German original) with translated captions) informs us that it is well possible that the aluminum in antitransparent is a health-hazard for the general population. Luckily, "keine unmittelbare Beeinträchtigung" means that you do not have to expect immediate serious adverse health effects - great, ha?

Much ado about nothing and all is good, right?

In view of the fact that the significance of the currently available data is also still insufficient, one could thus assume that you would be overreacting if you threw your aluminum containing antitranspirants away. If you take a closer look at the last row in tabular overview in Figure 1, though, you see the words "kontrollierbar durch Vorsichtsmaßnahmen" = "manageable by safety measures", though. Now what kind of safety measures could you possibly take?
Figure 2: Auluminum has been linked to all sorts of pathologies. The only decently convincing does yet exist for breast cancer (mechanism | left; cf. Darbre. 2013) and Alzheimer's where the negative effect on cognitive abilities has even been confirmed in controlled animal studies (right | exposure to increasing amounts of aluminum leads to corresponding increases in the rates of cognitive decline; cf. Walton. 2013)
Personally I know only two, though: Never apply aluminum-containing antitranspirants to damaged skin parts - A rule that applies for freshly shaved skin, as well! Or, even better stop using aluminum containing antitranspirants altogether.  I know that this is not feasible for some people, but many of us are just so used to it that we do not realize that the stench from puberty is no longer around.

In the end, the message of the statement that provides additional information about the potential involvement of chronic aluminum exposure in the etiology of breast cancer and Alzheimer's, as well as the more recent publication of a similar warning about aluminum containing cometics in general (BfR. 2014) would yet still suggest that you better replace the shampoo, creme, tooth paste, lipstick, sunscreen and antitranspirant of your choice, if they contain aluminum.
What the wise FDA says: It's funny, that the FDA documents say about thee "GRAS" additives, i.e. substances that are generally recognized as safe, such as the aluminum based food additives that "ingested in excessive amounts, their [sic!] appears to be associated with interference in phosphorus metabolism resulting in rachitic or osteomalacic effects, kidney damage, and interference with glucose metabolism, apparently due to interference with phospho- rylating enzymes." Now, this is obviously no reason to be concerned, because "[t]he high intake of phosphorus in the American diet may provide a protective effects"... hmm, great! So the high amount of phosphor of which scientists long say that it's making people sick "protects" you, my American friend from something the FDA is supposed to protect you from - glorious!
Bottom line: Start with the cosmetics! Unlike the aluminum that leaches into the food from its packaging, the aluminum that makes it from the soil into conventional and organic produce, the aluminum that makes it from the feed into the animals and animal products you eat and the good damn aluminum the f*** up "food" industry adds to their products in form of colorings E 173, stabilizers E 520 (aluminum-sulfate), E 521 (aluminum-sodiumsulfate), E 522 (aluminum-potassiumsulfate), E 523 (aluminum-ammoniumsulfate) and as the leavening agent 541 (acid sodium-aluminumphosphate) in all sorts of baked goods, the "alu lipsticks" are comparatively easy to avoid - to find alternatives that last for a similarly long time and survive kissing and making out, on the other hand, is not going to be easy, I suppose.

If you are no "processed junk junky", ditching antitranspirant & co you cut your intake back to a tolerable 14–35 mg aluminum per week - at least this is what the EFSA estimates a 70kg human being will be exposed to withing 7 days. With a limit of max. 70 mg, you would thus reside in a "green zone" of which no one probably knows how "green" it actually is... in view of an estimated half-life of seven years (Yokel. 1989), I could understand, though, if you say that this is not 100% comforting.
  • BFR. "Aluminiumhaltige Antitranspirantien tragen zur Aufnahme von Aluminium bei" Position Statement 007/2014 issued by the BFR on February 26, 2014.
  • BFR. "Fragen und Antworten zu Aluminium in Lebensmitteln und verbrauchernahen Produkten" FAQ issued by the BFR on February 26, 2014.
  • BFR. "Fragen und Antworten zur Risikobewertung von kosmetischen Mitteln" Updated FAQ  issued by the BFR on March 3, 2014.
  • Cashman, Allison L., and Erin M. Warshaw. "Parabens: a review of epidemiology, structure, allergenicity, and hormonal properties." Dermatitis 16.2 (2005): 57-66.
  • Darbre, Philippa D., Ferdinando Mannello, and Christopher Exley. "Aluminium and breast cancer: Sources of exposure, tissue measurements and mechanisms of toxicological actions on breast biology." Journal of inorganic biochemistry 128 (2013): 257-261.
  • FDA. "Aluminum hydroxide." SCOGS-Report 43 (1975). ID Code: 21645-51-2. CFR Section: 184.1139
  • Walton, J. R. "Aluminum’s Involvement in the Progression of Alzheimer’s Disease." Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 35 (2013): 875.
  • Yokel, Robert A., and Patrick J. McNamara. "Elevated aluminum persists in serum and tissues of rabbits after a six-hour infusion." Toxicology and applied pharmacology 99.1 (1989): 133-138.