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No risk of Alzheimer or cancer from aluminium exposure according to various scientific assessments

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Context - Aluminium is widely used in food packaging, appliances, as part of food additives, cosmetics, etc.

Does it pose a health risk?

This is a faithful synthesis and summary of several scientific consensus reports. For the full list of sources, refer to the references.

  • Source document:EFSA ( (2008) / ANSM (2011)
  • Summary & Details: GreenFacts

Introduction

Aluminium is used in a number of applications, from water treatment and fire retardants, to consumer appliances, pharmaceuticals such as vaccines, deodorants, and food additives, packaging and cookware...

What are the potential health effects of aluminium?

It has been suggested that aluminium could be linked with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. It has also been suggested that aluminium could be linked to some cancer, since it may produces DNA damage at high doses.

However, based on the available scientific data produced since this suggestion, the Panel of the European Food & Safety Agency (EFSA) considers that there is no risk from aluminium found in food for developing Alzheimer’s and the French Agency AFSSAPS concluded that the data are insufficient to establish a specific link between the use of antiperspirants containing aluminium and breast cancer. The current way that aluminium is used in consumer products is thus deemed to not be a risk to health.

What are the main sources of aluminium exposure for the body?

There are two main sources and ways for aluminium to get into the body: through food and through the skin.

The major route of exposure to aluminium for the general population is through food. Cereals and cereal products, vegetables, beverages and certain infant formulae appear to be the main contributors. Most unprocessed foods typically contain less than 5 mg aluminium/kg but higher concentrations are often found in breads, cakes and pastries (with biscuits having the highest levels), as well as some vegetables. Aluminium in drinking water represents another minor source of exposure with the use of aluminium compounds in pharmaceuticals and consumer products.

The absorption of aluminum through the skin after dermal exposure, a.o through the use of deodorants, is still very poorly understood as the available studies are of poor quality. The French AFSSAPS therefore recommends to restrict the concentration of aluminum in cosmetic products at 0.6% and not to use cosmetics containing aluminum on damaged skin and also recommends this information to be clearly indicated on the packaging.

The amount of aluminium that enters the blood stream from the digestion is relatively small (0.1%-0.3%), but depends on the kind of aluminium compound, and some are absorbed up to 10 times more. Once in the bloodstream, it is filtered out and eliminated by the kidneys. Unabsorbed aluminium is excreted in the faeces.

What is the ”tolerable weekly limit of exposure” to aluminium, and are the actual exposure levels respecting this value?

Based on all available studies, the tolerable limit of exposure to aluminium was established at 1 mg aluminium/kg body weight/week, which is a value 100 times lower than the level from which negative effects are observed. This value is in line with that set in 2006 by the Joint FAO / WHO (JEFCA) expert committee. The results from a more recent study (2011) did not provide for any additional information that could give reason to reconsider the previous safety evaluation of aluminium-based food additives authorised in the European Union.

From an assessment of the mean dietary exposure to aluminium in the general population in Europe, it was estimated that it is likely that a significant part of the population had an intake of 2.3 mg aluminium/kg body weight/week, exceeding thus the tolerable intake limit. Meanwhile, another assessement in 2008 on the French population showed that their exposure stayed below the limit whatever the categories of the population concerned, including infants.

References:
Safety of aluminium from dietary intake the Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Food Contact Materials (AFC) of EFSA adopted in 2008;
 www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/doc/754.pdf
Statement of EFSA on the Evaluation of a new study related to the bioavailability of aluminium in food ; 2011 www.efsa.europa.eu/en/efsajournal/pub/2157.htm 
Risk assessment by the Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des Produits de Santé (AFSSAPS) related to the use of aluminum in cosmetic products.
 www.afssaps.fr/var/afssaps_site/storage/original/application/ad548a50ee74cc320c788ce8d11ba373.pdf

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