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. When we’ve thrown it all away, it’s gone.
- 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 of aluminum requires only 5% of the energy needed for primary extraction.” source)
- 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.
- As many whole potatoes as you like
- (optional) olive oil
- (optional) Real Salt (kosher is great)
- 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).