Aluminium in Daily Life – A Health Risk?


Consumers ask
The BfR answers Aluminium in Daily Life
A Health Risk? Aluminium is the third most common element
in the earth’s crust and is thus present in many foods. It finds its way into food in different ways and can be ingested as food ingredient
originating from the soil or via certain food additives,
such as food colours. Although food and drinking water are the most
common sources of aluminium intake, it can also enter the body through products such
as cooking utensils, films, packaging materials and medications containing aluminium, as well
as cosmetics, such as lipstick, toothpaste, sun screen and antiperspirants. Aluminium partly accumulates in the body in
the course of a lifetime. Experts are examining whether and to what
extent this may damage health. Scientists at the German Federal Institute for
Risk Assessment (BfR) answered questions on the subject from consumers at the
15th BfR Consumer Protection Forum. Monitoring authorities are regularly measuring
aluminium levels in pretzels and lye rolls that exceed the maximum admissible value of
10 mg per kg of food. What is your opinion of these findings,
particularly with regard to children, who therefore quickly exceed
the tolerable intake quantities of aluminium? Prof. Dr. Dr. Alfonso Lampen
Department for Food Safety, BfR: The answer may not be quite so pleasing because
there is a maximum limit that has been set in Bavaria at ten milligrams per kilogram,
and currently we have been looking at aluminium levels considering this maximum value for
ten years now. There are repeated reports in Bavaria and
other German federal states in the course of food monitoring that this maximum value has been exceeded or
that values have been measured which are approaching the maximum
limit. We have calculated the average value over
the last ten years and it lies at 8.5 milligrams. What is the cause of this? In all probability it is because
aluminium baking trays are used which are dipped in lye so that the aluminium level in the baked
lye rolls is then correspondingly high. This is annoying – for the BfR too – because
we recommended even ten years ago that this should be reduced to the
technically unavoidable minimum and this recommendation has obviously not been fully complied with. We’ll have to consider going one step further and issuing appropriate consumption recommendations if this isn’t better implemented soon. How worrying is the intake of the various
aluminium compounds in antiperspirants via the skin, especially in the armpit area? Prof. Dr. Dr. Andreas Luch
Department of Product Safety, BfR: The data in the literature shows that this
entry path is actually minor. However, there is just one study, which is
in principle the only reliable human study currently available, and it indicates that roughly 0.01% of the aluminium salt can penetrate the skin. Although the penetration rate is so low, intake
via cosmetic products is nevertheless significant because the concentrations in the products are high. In some of these products aluminium is present
in concentrations ranging from five to six or even seven percent. If you convert that accordingly, you arrive
at a quantity that is relevant and significant. If these products are used very frequently,
possibly even on shaved skin, you can approach the range which is also covered by food, which is,
in principle, a cause for concern. To put it another way, you could say that
this would be added on top of it and would mean that the tolerable weekly intake value
derived by EFSA in 2008 could be exceeded. This certainly would not be a big problem
if this were only to happen for a short time or rarely, but it must be said that if the
value is exceeded for long periods – over weeks or months or even years –
some counteraction would become necessary. This means that we have to recommend that
all entry paths for aluminium, which include cosmetic products,
have to be minimised and reduced too. We can of course point out now that it is
up to consumers to decide whether they want to take up additional aluminium through the skin. There are aluminium-free products
but we must then make people aware that these are not antiperspirants in a strict sense. Perhaps a brief explanation is required here:
most antiperspirants contain aluminium because aluminium salts are most effective in the
prevention of sweat production. It works on the principle that aluminium blocks
the sweat pores and forms protein complexes. In contrast to antiperspirants, a deodorant works
on the principle of covering odours rather than inhibiting perspiration. It’s up to the consumer to choose accordingly
and as far as I am aware demand is rising. There are aluminium-free products and people
can use them if they want to feel a bit safer. Allergy rates are on the increase, above all
in children, more and more of whom suffer from severe life-threatening allergies. Is it aluminium in food products or infant
food that is causing this extreme increase in the prevalence of allergies? Aluminium is not a typical allergen. Typical allergens are small molecules or heavy
metals such as nickel or chromium. By contrast, aluminium has a very low allergenic
potential, if at all.

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