Aluminum is an environmentally abundant element to which we are all exposed. Although it is considered a “light” metal compared with the other heavy metals because of its low atomic weight, it still causes serious health problems in those exposed to unsafe levels. Inhaling aluminum is one of the more harmful exposures, because this transports the metal through nerves in the nose directly to the brain.
Workers who inhale aluminum dust may have lung problems, from coughing to chronic emphysema. Some workers who breathe aluminum dust or fumes showed decreased performance in tests that measure nervous system function. People with kidney disease typically store excess aluminum in their bodies, increasing the risk of developing bone or brain diseases.
Some studies suggest that aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease—a condition in which cognitive function and memory diminish over time, eventually leading to senility and dementia. The cognitive function of Alzheimer’s patients is reported to improve when aluminum is removed from the body with desferroxamine, a chelating agent. Chelating agents are used to bind metals and remove them from the body.
Aluminum exposure may be associated with the following symptoms and conditions:
- Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive difficulties, headaches
- Bone loss, muscle aches, physical weakness
- Higher susceptibility to colds and flu
- Severe dryness of the mucous membranes and skin
Common sources of aluminum include:
- Aluminum cans, paints, silicates, and spray paints
- Antiperspirants, deodorants, and shampoo
- Automobile exhaust
- Baking powder
- Buffered aspirin
- Cat litter
- Cigarette filters and smoke
- Food additives
One study documented that the concentration of aluminum in water heated in an aluminum coffee pot is increased by 75 times. The use of aluminum cookware is probably the most common source of exposure in daily life, despite public awareness of the problem.