Context - Aluminium is widely used in food packaging, appliances, as part of food additives, cosmetics, etc.
Does it pose a health risk?
Latest update: 24 February 2017
Aluminium is used in a number of applications, from water
treatment and fire retardants, to
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
However, based on the available
scientific data produced since this
suggestion, the Panel of the European Food &
(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
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.