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Antiperspirants – Aluminum & Alzheimer’s Disease

This article is the second part in a series titled ‘Deodorants, Antiperspirants and Your Health’. Please click here to read the first part.

Aluminum chloride, aluminum chlorohydrate, and aluminum-zirconium compounds, most notably aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly and aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex gly, are the most widely used in antiperspirants.[1] Most of these materials are supplied as powders, and they are typically used at levels of 8-25% based on the weight of the finished product.

As stated by the FDA: Antiperspirants have an aluminum-based compound as their main, “active” ingredient, which can be any number of compounds within an established concentration and dosage form. [2]

Aluminum, also known as aluminium, has the symbol Al and its atomic number is 13. It is the most abundant metallic element in the Earth’s crust (believed to be 7.5 to 8.1 percent. Aluminum has been produced in commercial quantities for just over 100 years.[3]

We are continually exposed to aluminum due to its many uses. It is often used in cooking utensils, containers, appliances, and building materials. It is also used in paints and fireworks; to produce glass, rubber, and ceramics; and in consumer products such as antacids, astringents, buffered aspirin, food additives, and antiperspirants. [4] Another use for aluminum is in water purification, and it can therefore occur in your drinking water.

We inhale aluminum by breathing and ingest aluminum through our food and water. However, aluminum is poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract; roughly 0.1% of the dietary intake is absorbed.[5] Studies have show that high level exposure to aluminum affects the lungs, and causes neurological damage. However, this article will focus on aluminum absorption by the skin through the use of antiperspirants.

Studies on mice have found that the absorption of aluminum through the skin causes a greater burden on the body than oral ingestion. [6] Humans also absorb aluminum through the skin: a 2001 study showed that aluminum was still present in blood samples 15 days after one application of aluminum to the armpit.[7] Consequently, applying aluminum to the skin is a very effective way to get aluminum in your system, and in your brain.

In the coming months, I will write an article dedicated to aluminum, our exposure to it and the health consequences of this exposure. In this series, we’ll take a quick look at a few of the most talked about health effects of aluminum, and specifically the aluminum exposure you get by using antiperspirants.

Aluminum was first recognized as a human neurotoxin in 1886 [8], before being used as an antiperspirant. A neurotoxin is a substance that causes damage to nerves or nerve tissue.

Aluminum as a Neurotoxin: linked to Alzheimer and other neurological diseases

Post-mortem analysis of Alzheimer’s infected brains has shown increased levels of aluminum compared to people that did not die from Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s is often considered to be a disease ‘for old people’ [9], but Alzheimer’s can strike people in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Of the 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, some 500,000 people under age 65 have Alzheimer’s or a related disorder.[10] This number could be higher due to the difficulty in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the problems in establishing the link between aluminum toxicity and Alzheimer’s is the difficulty in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. Unless an autopsy is performed, the symptoms are often diagnosed as dementia or cognitive impairment. As a result, many studies in this area use dementia or cognitive impairment as the diagnosed disease, and not Alzheimer’s.[5]

It has been well established that the accumulation of aluminum in the brain can cause neurological disorders [8][5][11][12][13][14][15]. To prevent aluminum accumulation, reduced use of aluminum is of crucial importance. Awareness of aluminum is the primary factor in preventing aluminum induced toxicity.[16]

The short term symptoms of aluminum toxicity include memory loss, learning difficulty, loss of coordination, disorientation, mental confusion, colic, heartburn, flatulence, and headaches.[17] Alzheimer’s is one of the possible long term effects of chronic aluminum exposure.

C Exley, PhD., has focused his research on the ways in which aluminum impacts life on earth, he states in ‘Aluminum in Antiperspirants: More Than Just Skin Deep’:

We now know that transdermal uptake of aluminum is not only possible but may also be important. …We should not be as quick to discard this possibility as we probably were to discount the absorption of aluminum across the skin and, indeed, as many have been to reject a role for aluminum in chronic diseases such as Alzheimer disease.[18]

As mentioned in the previous section, studies have found that aluminum absorbs better through the skin than orally. When using antiperspirants, one only applies very little aluminum to the skin. However, daily use results in chronic exposure to aluminum. One study has asserted that the use of aluminum based antiperspirants increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60%. [8]

In the monograph for antiperspirants [19], the FDA states:

…several citizen petitions have raised concerns about the amount of aluminum absorbed from topical antiperspirant drug products. The agency has no data showing that products containing up to 35 percent aluminum chlorhydrates or aluminum zirconium chlorhydrates increase aluminum absorption and is not revising the monograph to provide for powder roll-on dosage forms containing up to 35 percent antiperspirant active ingredient, without additional safety data being provided.[19]

Above, the agency states it “has no data showing” the “increase [of] aluminum absorption”. Notice that the FDA does not state that it has data that shows there is no absorption of the neurotoxin aluminum.

Rather than ordering research that proves safety, the FDA will not act on information it deems to have insufficient support instead it claims that:

…the majority of researchers investigating the [cause or origin] of Alzheimer’s disease would consider current evidence insufficient to link aluminum to Alzheimer’s disease. …current scientific information does not support the need to reclassify the safety of aluminum-containing antiperspirants.[19]

There is an established link between aluminum intake and Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders, contrary to what the FDA implies. Flaten states in a 2001 Brain Research Bulletin that considerable evidence exists that aluminum may play a role in the cause/origin or in the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the question that is still open to debate is whether aluminum is the main cause of Alzheimer’s.[5]

As Exley states in ‘Does antiperspirant use increase the risk of aluminium-related disease, including Alzheimer’s disease?’:

…as the frequent use of aluminium-based antiperspirants has been linked to a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease, manufacturers of these products cannot afford to be complacent.[20]

The Alzheimer’s Association does not acknowledge the information that has been presented in many studies. In the association’s brochure ‘Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease’, it claims:

During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in causing Alzheimer’s disease. This suspicion led to concerns about everyday exposure to aluminum through sources such as cooking pots, foil, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Almost all scientists today focus on other areas of research, and few experts believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.[21]

Click here to download this brochure.

When looking into subjects that involve health, you will notice that there are often contradictions between the findings of researchers and the information that is distributed by main stream organizations like (in this case) the FDA and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Before I was exposed to health related information, I assumed that all products on the supermarket shelves were vetted and deemed safe. It turns out that this is often not the case, I also found that ‘harmless’ or in FDA terms ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ (GRAS) is highly subjective.

GRAS means that there are no ingredients that have obvious severe short term side effects. GRAS does not mean that a product is safe for the long term – How would the FDA test the long term impact of any product? The FDA’s main goals are risk management and correct labeling of products. As stated in 1999 report from the FDA’s ‘Task Force on Risk Management’:

The Agency approves a product when it judges that the benefits of using a product outweigh the risks for the intended population and use. A major goal of the premarketing review is to ensure that products are truthfully and adequately labeled for the population and use. Labeling is given considerable emphasis because it is the chief tool the Agency uses to communicate risk and benefit to the healthcare community and patients.

Once medical products are on the market, however, ensuring safety is principally the responsibility of healthcare providers and patients, who make risk decisions on an individual, rather than a population, basis. They are expected to use the labeling information to select and use products wisely, thereby minimizing adverse events.[22]

When the FDA makes a GRAS claim about for example antiperspirants, it does not mean that the product has proven to be safe. It merely means that according to the FDA, the product is not harmful enough to prevent it from being sold.

In conclusion, the link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s has been well established. The sources used for this article represent a small portion of the research that has been done in this area. This is contrary to the Alzheimer’s Association’s claim that “Almost all scientists today focus on other areas of research, and few experts believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.” [21]

As stated by Prasunpriya, “Awareness of aluminum is the primary factor in preventing aluminum induced toxicity”[16] Limiting your aluminum intake will only benefit your health.


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References

  1. “Deodorant.” Wikipedia. 7 Jan. 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiperspirant>.

  2. Rados, Carol. “Antiperspirant Awareness: It’s Mostly No Sweat.” FDA Consumer Magazine. July-Aug. 2005. US Food and Drug Adminitration. 4 Jan. 2008 <http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2005/405_sweat.html>.

  3. “Aluminium.” Wikipedia. 9 Jan. 2008 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminium.

  4. “Definition of Aluminum.” MedicineNet.Com. 9 Jan. 2008 <http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=39609>.

  5. Flaten, Trond P. “Aluminium as a Risk Factor in Alzheimer’s Disease, with Emphasis on Drinking Water.” Brain Research Bulletin 55 (2001): 187-196. 19 Jan. 2008 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/03619230.

  6. Anane, Rachid, Michelle Bonini, Jean-Marie Grafeille, and Edmond E. Creppy. “Bioaccumulation of Water Soluble Aluminium Chloride in the Hippocampus After Transdermal Uptake in Mice.” Archives of Toxicology 69 (1995): 568-571. PubMed. 22 Jan. 2008.

  7. Flarend, R, T Bin, D Elmore, and S L. Hemb. “A Preliminary Study of the Dermal Absorption of Aluminium From Antiperspirants Using Aluminium-26.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 39 (2001): 163-168. 22 Jan. 2008 <http://www.elsevier.com/locate/foodchemtox>.

  8. Jansson, Erik T. “Aluminum Exposure and Alzheimer’s Disease.” Journal of Alzheimer\’s Disease 3 (2001): 541-549. 9 Jan. 2008 <http://iospress.metapress.com/link.asp?id=wb0qym7m9212er2t>.
    Also available at: http://www.deptplanetearth.com/pub/jad3jansson.html

  9. “ALZHEIMER’s DISEASE : the Brain Killer.” World Health Organization (WHO). 17 Jan. 2008 http://www.searo.who.int/en/Section1174/Section1199/Section1567/Section1823_8066.htm.

  10. “Alzheimer Myths.” Alzmeimer’s Association. 17 Jan. 2008 http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_myths_about_alzheimers.asp.

  11. Jacqmin-Gadda, Hélène, Daniel Commenges, Luc Letenneur, and Jean-François Dartigues. “Silica and Aluminum in Drinking Water and Cognitive Impairment in the Elderly.” Epidemiology 7 (1996): 281-285. JSTOR. 17 Jan. 2008.
    Partially available at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1044-3983(199605)7%3A3%3C281%3ASAAIDW%3E2.0.CO%3B2-H

  12. Martyn, Christopher N., David N. Coggon, Hazel Inskip, Robert F. Lacey, and Wendy F. Young. “Aluminum Concentrations in Drinking Water and Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.” Epidemiology 8 (1997): 281-286. JSTOR. 17 Jan. 2008.
    Partially availabe at: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=1044-3983(199705)8%3A3%3C281%3AACIDWA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-7

  13. Andrade, Luis Gustavo Modelli, et al. “Dialysis Encephalopathy Secondary to Aluminum Toxicity, Diagnosed by Bone Biopsy.” Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation 20 (2005): 2581-2582. 18 Jan. 2008 <http://ndt.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/20/11/2581>.

  14. Exley, C, and M M. Esiri. “Severe Cerebral Congophilic Angiopathy Coincident with Increased Brain Aluminium in a Resident of Camelford, Cornwall, UK.” Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry 77 (2006): 877-879. 18 Jan. 2008 <http://jnnp.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/77/7/877>.

  15. Rozas, V V., F K. Port, and W M. Rutt. “Progressive Dialysis Encephalopathy From Dialysate Aluminum.” 138 (1978). Abstract. Archives of Internal Medicine.
    Available at: http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/138/9/1375?ijkey=6ff7390e79d14d972e1a27b0a111bec198b2f024&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha

  16. Nayak, Prasunpriya. “Aluminum: Impacts and Disease.” Environmental Research 89 (2001): 101-115. 18 Jan. 2008 <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00139351>.

  17. “Heavy Metal Toxicity.” Life Extension. 17 Jan. 2008 <http://www.lef.org/protocols/prtcl-156a.shtml#alum2>.

  18. Exley, Christopher, Phd. “Aluminum in Antiperspirants: More Than Just Skin Deep.” The American Journal of Medicine 117 (2004): 969-970. 18 Jan. 2008 <http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0002934304006941>.

  19. United States. Department of Health and Human Services. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Skin Protectant Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Final Monograph. 4 June 2003. 2 Jan. 2008 <http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/98fr/78n-0021-nfr0001-vol1.pdf>.

  20. Exley, Christopher. “Does Antiperspirant Use Increase the Risk of Aluminium-Related Disease, Including Alzheimer’S Disease?” Molecular Medicine Today 4 (1998): 107-109. 20 Jan. 2008 <http://www.biominerais.com.br/artigos/alumiantipe.pdf>.

  21. Basics of Alzheimer’s Disease. Alzheimer’s Association. 17 Jan. 2008 <http://www.alz.org/national/documents/brochure_basicsofalz_low.pdf>.

  22. United States. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Food and Drug Administration. Managing the Risks From Medical Product Use – Creating a Risk Management Framework. May 1999. 17 Jan. 2008 <http://www.fda.gov/oc/tfrm/executivesummary.pdf>.

 

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