Interview by SafBaby Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson
In 2010 Dr. Christoper Exley, Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry, and his team at Keele University examined 16 branded, ready-made and powdered milks for infants and found concentrations of aluminum were up to 40 times higher than are present in breast milk and several times higher than are allowed in drinking water.
Over a year after the study has been published, we wanted to know if manufacturers lowered levels of aluminum and if the government set a limit to protect the most vulnerable consumers . We also wanted to know if there is a way to remove Aluminum from the body safely and we went to Dr. Exley for the answers.
The following is our exclusive interview with him regarding our concerns with aluminum in our babies and children’s foods.
Interview with Dr. Christoper Exley – Aluminum Expert
You tested only UK formula milk brands, do you think/know if the US brands contain as much Aluminum?
We purposely measured the Aluminum content of the most popular brands of infant formula in the UK. However, these are all international brands owned by multinational companies and it is highly likely that our measurements reflect all infant formula available world-wide. A recent survey in Canada (Dabeka, R., A. Fouquet, et al. “Lead, cadmium and aluminum in Canadian infant formula, oral electrolytes and glucose solutions.” Food Additives and Contaminants Part a-Chemistry Analysis Control Exposure & Risk Assessment 28(6): 744-753.) found similar levels of aluminum but did not identify the specific brands.
“There is absolutely no legislation anywhere in the world concerning the aluminum content of any foodstuffs, infant formulas or otherwise.” – Chris Exley
Since you published your study, have manufacturers lowered the level of aluminum or changed the packaging? Has the government in the EU or US set a lower limit to protect consumers?
There has been no official response from those organization in the US, UK or Europe or anywhere, responsible for protecting consumers. See the Letters associated with our paper on the BMC Pediatrics website.
How much Aluminum is legally allowed in food in the US and EU? How much in infant formula?
There is absolutely no legislation anywhere in the world concerning the aluminum content of any foodstuffs, infant formulas or otherwise. The aluminum industry has never been required to demonstrate the safety of their product for consumers. This complacency on behalf of those organizations responsible for ensuring our safety is the real scandal.
Why does formula contain aluminum? (through processing, food source or packaging?)
There was a time when aluminum salts were added to milk powders to prevent the powders from forming clumps (to make them free-flowing). We asked the manufacturers of the infant formulas in our study if this was still the case as the powdered products contained more aluminum than the ready-to-use products. They said that they did not add aluminum in this way any longer.
Some of the aluminum in the soy-based products will come from the soy as this plant is known to accumulate aluminum. However, the majority of aluminum in all products, if not added, must come from the individual ingredients and probably the processing of the products. It is also possible that some of the aluminum originates from the packaging as many of the products used aluminum-based packaging.
“Silicon in bottled water may be able to lower exposure and remove aluminum” – Chris Exley
Does breast milk contain less aluminum than formula? How much less?
Yes, generally breast milk will contain significantly less aluminum. Perhaps 10-100 times less. There will be some mothers who have higher levels of aluminum in their breast milk, for example, smokers, but even in these individuals the levels of aluminum are unlikely to come close to those in infant formulas.
Breast milk contains 10-100 times less aluminum!
What formula contains the most aluminum? Is Organic Formula safer?
We found no evidence that any particular type of formula contained less aluminum. For example, the ‘organic’ brands were at least as bad as others while the formula for the preterm infants was by far the worst!
Can ingested aluminum easily be excreted?
A significant proportion of the aluminum which enters the blood will be excreted in the urine via the kidney. There are few data to identify whether this proportion is 50% or 90% and there are no such data at all for infants or children. The proportion that is not excreted in the urine will accumulate throughout the body.
Why are children more prone to absorb aluminum in their bodies?
Infants and particularly those up to about 4-6 months of age are particularly vulnerable to aluminum. For example, their gastrointestinal tract is not yet full developed and will allow more aluminum to be absorbed into the blood from the diet; their kidney function is not yet fully developed and so they are less efficient in removing aluminum from the blood; their blood-brain-barrier is incomplete and so is less likely to prevent aluminum entering their brain. All of these factors should be ringing alarm bells and ensuring that the exposure of infants to aluminum is kept at the lowest possible level.
Why does Soy formula contain more aluminum?
It doesn’t always contain MORE than all other formulas but the aluminum in soy-based formulas may come from the soy itself as this plant is known to accumulate aluminum during its normal growth.
What are the short term and long term health effects linked to Aluminum?
These are largely unknown and particularly so for infants. What we should not forget is that we do know that aluminum is biologically reactive and that it is a known neurotoxin and bone toxin in humans. It has been shown to have an extremely wide range of toxicity in animals and plants! I am attaching a recent chapter I have written on Aluminum and Medicine which you can post for interested parties to read.
Chapter by Christopher Exley: Aluminum and Medicine
You can download the chapter here: Exley Chapter Al and Med
Silicon-rich Water Can Remove Aluminum From the Body
How can we lower Aluminum exposure?
Avoidance of aluminum in everyday life is almost impossible. We are working on a way to provide everyday protection against our everyday exposure to aluminum. We have been able to show that aluminum can be removed from the body by drinking silicon-rich mineral waters. The silicon helps to remove aluminum from the body via the urine. It may be that by including a silicon-rich mineral water in your everyday diet, an example in the US would be Fiji Water, you may be able to lower your exposure to aluminum both that which comes from the diet but also all other forms of exposure. This research has some way to go but our early work in this area is very promising. We need funding for this work if there are any philanthropists out there who might be interested!
“We have been able to show that aluminum can be removed from the body by drinking silicon-rich mineral waters.” – Chris Exley
Is silicon and silica the same?
Silicon is the element, Si. Silica is really silicon dioxide, SiO2, but you often see silicon and silica used synonymously. On mineral waters the silicon content is often written as silica. For example, on Fiji it is written as 91 mg/L (or ppm) silica. This equates to approximately 45 mg/L Si (or silicic acid).
Which water is silicon rich?
Anything which advertises a silica content above 30 mg/L. Following water is silicon rich: Fiji Water (US), Volvic (Europe), Spritzer (Asia).
You say silicon rich water is good. Are there any silicon rich foods that would be helpful to eat or silicon supplement?
The short answer is no. Silicon in food is primarily present as (solid) silica of different types. This is not a good source of silicic acid. In addition there are many silicon supplements sold in healthfood stores. These will not be a good source of silicic acid either (the biologically available form of silicon).
What are the alternatives to formula if breastfeeding isn’t an option?
I have no expertise in this area. However, if you have to use formula and you use powdered formula then it might be a good idea to make the formula up in a silicon-rich mineral water instead of tapwater?
About the Study: Aluminum in Infant Formula
The research published in BMC Pediatrics is freely available here.
Essentially we measured the aluminum content of 15 of the major UK brands of infant formula and we found that all brands included too much aluminum while some brands and especially one for preterm babies contained very high levels of aluminum.
The Mechanism of Toxicity of Aluminum-Based Adjuvants
About Christopher Exley
Christopher Exley is a Biologist with a PhD in the ecotoxicology of aluminium from the University of Stirling. He is currently a Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry at the Birchall Centre, Lennard-Jones Laboratories, at Keele University and is an Honorary Professor at UHI Millennium Institute. His research career (1984-present) has focused upon an intriguing paradox: how come the third most abundant element of the Earth’s crust (aluminum) is non-essential and largely inimcal to life. Investigating this mystery has required research in myriad fields from the basic inorganic chemistry of the reaction of aluminum and silicon to the potentially complex biological availability of aluminum in humans.
He is also fascinated by the element silicon in relation to living things which, as the second most abundant element of the Earth’s crust, is also almost devoid of biological function.
One possible function of silicon is to keep aluminum out of biology (biota) and this forms a large part of the research in his group. For more information on the Bioinorganic Chemistry of Aluminium and Silicon research group, visit their site.
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