Introduction and Interview by SafBaby Founders Sandra Blum and Samantha Fox Olson

Last week we shared our article Alarming Levels Of Aluminum In Infant Formulas And Other Foods Still Unregulated: FAQ with Aluminum Expert. In that article we interviewed Christopher Exley, a Biologist with a PhD in the ecotoxicology of aluminum from the University of Stirling. If you have not checked out that post please do, there is lots of great information there regarding how aluminum makes it’s way into our foods. The particular topic of that post was around infant formulas and it really got our minds questioning other concerns that we are thinking plenty of parents have as well as we do.

This is another exclusive interview with Christopher Exley about where aluminum is hiding and how to lower exposure for your children and yourself. We found this information to be really helpful and hope you do too.

Aluminum Exposure Through Cookware and Packaged Foods

Do you know if high levels of Aluminum can leak into food by cooking with Aluminum pans or Aluminum foil?  I heard that using citrus fruit on aluminum foil is especially bad.

Modern aluminum-based cookware is much more inert than the old-fashioned pans made of aluminum and so should not release too much aluminum into any cooked foodstuffs. However, it is wise to avoid cooking any acidic foods in all aluminum-based pans as the acidity will increase the amount of aluminum which is leached from the pan into the food. The same applies to aluminum foil. When used to cover food it should not represent any significant problem. However, if it is used as a surrogate cooking vessel and especially for any acidic foods then it will release aluminum into the food during cooking.

Also, soft drinks and chocolate powder are sold in cans with aluminum linings and chocolate in aluminum foil, can it leak into drink/food?

There is always the possibility that products stored in aluminum-based packaging will be contaminated by aluminum from the packaging. These problems are probably worse for liquid products such as fruit juices packaged in long-life cartons such as Tetra-Pak. The longer the product remains in these cartons the more likely it will be contaminated with aluminum.

Aluminum In Baking Powder

Another concern is baking powder. Kids love baked sweets. Is the exposure concerning?

Many baking products contain significant amounts of aluminum. As a general rule of thumb choose the least refined products as these are less likely to have been contaminated with aluminum during the processing of the products. They are also less likely to have aluminum added to the products.

How can parents know if a food product contains Aluminum? (Do  you look for Sodium aluminum phosphates on food label?)

It is almost impossible to find information on the aluminum content of food unless you are a scientist with access to the scientific literature. It may be included as SALP as you suggest but not always and very rarely will it be given as a specific amount. Several e numbers are aluminum-based,e.g. E173, 520, 521, 522, 523, 554, 555, 556, 559, 541. Since there is no legislation covering the amount of aluminum in food and drink there are no requirements to list it as an ingredient and/or contaminant of the product.

Aluminum in Processed Foods

Does processed cheese and pickled food contain high amounts of Aluminum?

In general all processed food contains higher amounts of aluminum. However, you are correct that both processed cheese and pickles are quite high in aluminum as aluminum is added to these products in processing.Aluminum products are widely used in food processing.

You said Soy may contain high amounts of Aluminum, so do you suggest kids avoid soy products (including soy milk, soy cheese, tofu etc.).

Yes probably. If you can avoid aluminum in everyday life without the act of avoidance creating significant difficulties then it is good practice to do so. Soy is presumably an avoidable source of aluminum?

Aluminum in Deodorants, Medications and Vaccines

How about deodorants? Do they contain high amounts of Aluminum?

Most antiperspirants are made of aluminum. Most deodorants that are not antiperspirants too are free of aluminum. Some antiperspirants which are marketed as aluminum-free (often call crystal or natural) contain aluminum in the form of alum (potassium aluminum sulphate) as opposed to aluminum chloride in conventional antiperspirants. They all contain aluminum.

How about aspirins and antacids?

Many antacids are aluminum salts as they are extremely effective in helping to control acidity in the stomach. Many aspirin products, often referred to as buffered, contain significant amounts of aluminum in their formulations.

How much aluminum is used in vaccines and do all vaccines contain aluminum?

Aluminum salts are the most common form of adjuvant in vaccinations and so approximately 80% of all vaccinations use aluminum-based adjuvants. While the aluminum content of a single vaccine is quite small it is the biological response to the aluminum which is of significant interest and may be one underlying reason why a small number of individuals respond badly to vaccines containing aluminum adjuvants. Again, much more research is required to understand how aluminum adjuvants work in boosting the immune response to an antigen (the vaccine) and if the aluminum can induce an adverse response in some individuals.

Christopher Exley: The Mechanism of Toxicity of Aluminum-Based Adjuvants

About Christopher Exley

Christopher Exley, Biologist, University of Stirling)

Christopher Exley is a Biologist with a PhD in the ecotoxicology of aluminum (University of Stirling). 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 inimical to life. Investigating this mystery has required research in a myriad of 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.

Christopher Exley PhD, Professor in Bioinorganic Chemistry
Honorary Professor, UHI Millennium Institute
The Birchall Centre, Lennard-Jones Laboratories, Keele University, Staffordshire, ST5 5BG, UK.