For years I understood that using aluminum in my cooking and personal products was going to increase my risk of Alzheimer’s Disease. I avoided it almost religiously with some exceptions and even made homemade deodorant even though I’m not normally a DIY personal products kind of girl.
I have to tell you – I was almost disappointed to find out that it’s probably not even a true correlation.
In a Facebook conversation a few months ago, I went down a rabbit trail of information and ended up here:
2014: Is the Aluminum Hypothesis Dead? – in the 1960s, researchers found that aluminum in the brains of rabbits caused something similar to dementia. Then another research team in the 70s found higher levels of aluminum in Alzheimer’s Disease patients’ brains. That launched the “Aluminum Hypothesis” that warned that there may be a correlation between aluminum and dementia/Alzheimer’s, but both studies were quickly called into question: The rabbits ended up not being a very good example and the aluminum-in-the-brain had no proof of cause, or effect. (In other words, Alzheimer’s patients’ brains could have been more likely to allow aluminum to accumulate because of the disease, not the other way around.)
The author set out to review other research articles to determine “whether or not there is sufficient empirical evidence for the proposition that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s Disease.” On the basis of some of the question above, inconsistency in findings, and questions of exposure and causation, the author determines that empirically, there is nowhere near enough evidence to say that aluminum is a causal factor in AD.
He then explores the reasons why the public still believes this so strongly, and it comes down to a 7th Day Adventist who single-handedly initiated the myth, and the commercial marketing of “aluminum-free” products ” to perpetuate it.
So Aluminum Causing Alzheimer’s is a Myth?
I was a little shocked to find out that most researchers (according to this one) didn’t put any stock in the Aluminum Hypothesis, and that, also according to this article, no one is really even looking into it anymore. I also am never one to want to fall prey to marketing to tell me what to buy; I’m deeply offended.
But then, of course, upon further investigation, I found these:
- 2000: Study investigated the effect of aluminum in drinking water on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and found that a high concentration may be a risk factor in AD.
- 2008: Review of existing studies about aluminum (Al) and Alzheimer’s Disease from 1990-2005 found that “68% established a relation between Al and AD, 23.5% were inconclusive and 8.5% did not establish a relation between Al and AD.”
- 2012: Aluminum foil DOES leach into food and is absorbed by our bodies, especially under heat and when the food is acidic or using spices. These chemical engineers begin with: “Minimal exposure of aluminum to our bodies is not a problem. Human bodies can excrete small amounts very efficiently; an aluminum tolerable daily intake of 1 mg/kg body weight /day has been established by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nation (UN). But unfortunately due to many reasons, most of us get exposed to and ingest more than what our bodies can handle.” This source also explains that grilling with foil definitely causes little pieces to get straight into your food, and Ghada Bassioni, who did the research I just cited, says unequivocally in this HuffPo piece that cooking in aluminum foil “is above the permissible limit set by the World Health Organisation.”
- Whereas my friend from the 2014 review thinks that because there is not conclusive evidence that aluminum is unsafe, we should keep using it and not really study it anymore, others believe that because of inconsistencies in research results, “the toxic effect of aluminum on human health cannot be ruled out either, and thus exposure to aluminum should be monitored and limited as far as possible.”
You can guess which perspective I agree with and make your own choice, of course.
But Aluminum is EVERYWHERE – How Does That Impact Our Health?
My favorite article is actually this one on Forbes, written by a random immunologist via Quora. Terrible sourcing, but a very comprehensive article! The author discusses many studies that I’ve already mentioned and ultimately comes to the conclusion that “there is little evidence that exposure to metallic Al, the Al oxides or its salts increases risk for AD, genetic damage or cancer.”
And he may be right, in spite of the minor reviews that seem to claim the opposite. His sources reviewed far more studies and far more rigorously than my sources above. But he also points out that one reason it’s difficult to obtain consistent results from research is that aluminum is the third most prevalent material on earth, thought to be the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust.
And that’s my favorite part – this chart:
My chemical engineering friends shared that our amazing human bodies can excrete aluminum at a rate of 1 mg/kg of body weight per day. Now the figures on that chart are much lower than 1 mg (hooray!), BUT – if we add up all the daily sources listed, then throw in some aluminum for cooking that is not included, then account for what we don’t yet understand, then say, “But what if someone’s body doesn’t excrete that efficiently?” (And remember what Bassioni stated.) Well, the numbers are starting to get too questionable for me.
I err on the side of great caution when it comes to my health, but I am at least encouraged that our bodies are most likely taking care of this problem for us. However –
Use Safe Alternatives to Aluminum Foil
- Aluminum is a non-renewable resource. There is a finite amount of aluminum on the planet, and when we use it all up, that’s it. End of story. No more aluminum. That’s why it bugs me so much when people use it prolifically and toss it in the trash. There’s a lack of knowledge there.
- The production of aluminum is very environmentally intensive.
- Aluminum is very efficiently recyclable – almost 100% is reclaimed in the recycling process – but with foil, almost everyone just throws it away instead. Recycling plastic bags, for example, costs more than making new ones. Many other items generate a good bit of waste that cannot be remade into another item when they are recycled. When aluminum is recycled, however, almost 100% of the raw material can be made into another aluminum item, and it doesn’t cost more than the production using new aluminum. It’s a win-win situation to recycle your aluminum. (“Recycling of aluminum requires only 5% of the energy needed for primary extraction.” source)
- Save money: Since you have to purchase aluminum (foil, for example), it’s worth your time to find an alternative or at least reuse it to save money, especially since you’re saving the earth at the same time.
- And as always with me, if there’s a reusable alternative and even a question of human safety – why bother? Sure, scientists disproved this correlation (for now). But since aluminum is reactive (it can enter into the food we’re cooking in it), it might be causing our complex bodies some other problem we don’t yet understand.
I’ll still use aluminum foil once or twice a year for camping, because foil packets are a treat that deserves a little caution thrown to the wind. But I’ll never be one to deliver a plate of brownies covered in foil to a party or grab some to wrap leftovers or baked potatoes.
There are too many far safer and more responsible alternatives to foil for that.
How to Avoid Using Aluminum Foil in the Kitchen:
- To bake potatoes: KS readers have plenty of ideas for reusable alternatives for foil when baking potatoes, from placing them on a cookie sheet or in a covered roasting dish to using parchment paper instead. See how I do it without fiol in the box below.
- To cover dishes in the oven: Simply use an inverted cookie sheet on top of a casserole dish when necessary. If you’re buying a new dish, look for one with a ceramic or glass lid that matches.
- Grilling vegetables: Some can go directly on the grill grates (cut them long) or at home we use a nice grill basket
- To line a messy pan for easy cleaning: A silpat (silicone mat) or parchment paper works just as well.
- To wrap fish: Many people find good luck with parchment paper; I simply pan fry fish.
At the very least, if you’re still using foil to bake potatoes or cover brownies, reuse it again and again until it falls apart.Print
Want to avoid aluminum foil because of the negative health effects, budget savings or just to be kind to the earth? You don’t need it to bake potatoes.
- Wash and scrub potatoes as usual (scrub hard, especially if they’re not organic! They are often on the Dirty Dozen Produce list).
- Cut out any eyes or green spots (not good for you!).
- While the potatoes are still wet, sprinkle some coarse salt on the outside (Kosher works well). You can optionally grease them with a little olive oil, but it’s not necessary.
- Make sure they’re either pricked with a fork or cut an “X” in the top skin. The cross-cut looks really snazzy and even more restaurant-presentable. (This step is really important, by the way. If the skins are intact, the potato can explode in your oven. This happens to me more than I’d like to admit! It makes a big mess! Here’s how I clean my oven without toxins or two hours of natural gas energy!)
- Arrange on a cookie sheet (non-aluminum, or use a silicone mat or parchment paper underneath) or glass casserole dish. You can also put them right on the rack and save dishes.
- Bake as usual (350-400 degrees for 45-60 minutes, until they give when you squish them).
Added bonus: The skins (almost completely) peel right off with this method, so you can easily make potato salad without having to bother with a veggie peeler.
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I always figure if it doesn’t take much time, energy, or funding, I should default to “playing it safe” when it comes to the chance of a major disease. Using less aluminum foil, covering my aluminum cookie sheets, switching out my baking powder and deodorant are all fairly simple steps, so I choose to avoid aluminum in these areas. I can’t avoid it everywhere, but I accept the Baby Steps!
Other diseases possibly linked to aluminum:
- Breast Cancer
- Bone damage/disease
- Kidney disease
- Stomach & Intestinal Ulcers
- Gastrointestinal Disease & Stomach Aches
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Skin Problems
- Mental Retardation in Infants
- Learning Disorders in Children
- Liver Disease
- Colicky Pain
- Lack of Energy
- WiseGeek says there are few if any proven risks…always something contradictory!
Where do we find aluminum?
Here’s the list of places I’ve been paying attention to over the past year:
I’m surprised to find out that treated city water is one of our greatest sources of aluminum. That just makes my list of “Things I Need to Avoid in my Water” one item longer. Just one small part of the reason we use a Berkey water filter (chlorine and fluoride are two other reasons).
PLUS this incredibly daunting list:
- soda cans
- foil wrappers around chocolate bars
- baking powder (conventional)
- storebought crackers/quick breads/cookies/brownies, etc. (b/c they use the baking powder)
- all sorts of frozen/refrigerated doughs
- processed cheese
- pre-grated cheeses, sometimes
- aluminum water bottles
- aluminum bottle tops (like twist caps)
- antidiarrheal drugs
- buffered aspirin
- aluminum baby formula cans
- conventional salt (as an anticaking agent)
- styptic pencils
- municipal water (treated with aluminum sulfate)
- whitening toothpaste (aluminum oxide)
- foil blister packs for medicines
- foil lips on juice boxes/single serve milks
- construction items used in and around the house like the gutters and flashing and eves
- some paints
- lots of tools
- lots of metal decorations (like metal photo frames or hanging mobiles)
- self-rising flour (due to baking powder)
- Aluminum silicate found in Kaopectate
- Animal feed
- Automotive parts
- Automotive exhaust
- Cigarette filters
- Dental amalgams
- Insulated wiring
- Nasal spray
- Medical compounds
- Tobacco smoke
- Vanilla powder
It’s estimated that people ingest 7-9 mg of aluminum each day in their food. Most city water has less than 1 g/L, and pots and pans aren’t going to leach very much aluminum. It’s hard to say how much aluminum one might ingest via their skin when it comes to antiperspirant. Possibly the scariest products include buffered aspirin at 10-20 mg per tablet and antacids, 100-200 mg per tablet. That seems like a major amount, and I don’t care if the info says we don’t take much of that into the bloodstream. If I don’t direly need an antacid, I’m not going to take one, that’s for sure.