E541 - Neurotoxic Additives? Dementia?
The last three decades have seen a steady increase of unwelcome forms of aluminum in our environment and diet. Many junk and fake foods contain additives, for example raising agents in muffins and donuts - and most water utilities use aluminum sulphate to clarify drinking water. Other source include antacids, buffered aspirin and anti-perspirants. Colored candies almost always have aluminium enhanced food colors.
Aluminum (European spelling Aluminium) is harmful to all life forms. It damages all types of tissue. "Aluminum is a protoplasmic poison and a pernicious and persistent neurotoxin". No living systems use aluminium as part of a biochemical process. It has a tendency to accumulate in the brain and bones. It is under normal conditions considerably less toxic than mercury, arsenic, lead or cadmium, but it is much more common in our environment, it also appears to be more persistent than most of the other metallic poisons. The danger is one that only manifests itself over long periods of time. It is therefore prudent to avoid consumption. Avoidance is currently the best way of protecting you and your family from the serious, long term damage that can result from ingestion. Pregnant and lactating women, the young and the elderly are at risk. The most effective way of preserving your mental acuity in to your later years appears to be eliminating the sources of aluminum in the diet.
One can take steps to minimise the effects of aluminium in the environment. A sustained, three pronged attack is the most effective response;
- Avoiding it,
- Blocking its uptake with supplements (calcium, magnesium, iron)
- Eating foodstuffs that help to eliminate it from your system. Fruit on its own, green vegetables and some algaes.
Aluminum contaminated consumables are now very common. Being aware of the sources is the first step in elimination. Removing aluminum from your diet can be quite easy if a gradual approach is taken.
The principal symptom of aluminum poisoning is the loss of intellectual function; forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, and in extreme cases, full blown dementia. It is also known to cause bone softening and bone mass loss, kidney and other soft tissue damage, in large doses it can cause cardiac arrest.
Many of those who have gone on to low aluminum diets have reported a reduction in irritability, headaches and significant improvements in memory and ability to concentrate. Parents reported improvements in children suffering from behavioral problems.
Reconstituting orange juice with aluminium treated drinking water is not recommended; Judie Walton, an Australian researcher found that brain uptake could be increased tenfold by the presence of fruit acids. Aluminum compounds can be as toxic as lead under certain conditions.
One series of tests designed to find out if lead caused ADHD came up with the finding that many of the children suffering from attention deficit disorders had higher than average levels of aluminium in their hair. Experiments conducted at Toronto University have shown that those Alzheimer's Disease patients given treatment to remove aluminum from their system experience an immediate reduction in the rate of deterioration. Feeding even relatively small amounts of some aluminum salts to laboratory animals results in brain tissue damage identical to that found in Alzheimer's patients. Recent research has identified aluminum fluoride as a particularly nasty substance, shown to cause the deposition of amyloid proteins (the proven cause of the tangled brain cells in most dementia cases) in the brains of rats when they are given drinking water with only 0.5 to 1 parts per million concentration.
The following additives contain aluminium compounds: E173, E520, E521, E523 E541, E545, E554, E555 E556, E559. Antacids quite often contain aluminum trisilicate as does buffered aspirin.
Foods containing aluminium based additives include dry cake mixes, pastries and croissants made from frozen dough, processed cheeses, some donuts and waffles, check muffins for E541 (sodium aluminum phosphate), and food coloring. The list of substances containing aluminium salts is quite depressing. The caking agents added to salt can be aluminum compounds. The common ones are E544, E545 and E546.
The use of aluminum in drinking water is starting to be looked at in Canada and Australia, most utilities in Europe and the United States do exceed the recommended level of 100 microgrammes per litre, some by as much as sixty times! Another obvious and easily avoided source is aluminum cooking pots and pans, this can be quite easily remedied by using enamelled, stainless steel and cast iron pots. Cooking in earthenware and glass containers is another option. There is no need to throw out all of your aluminium pots, it is OK to fry food in aluminium pans - and intact Teflon, non-stick coatings will effectively prevent any of the aluminum from reaching the food.(not that not everyone believes that Teflon is harmless, but that is another story - Ed)
Pregnant women also those who are breast feeding their children should avoid all sources as should those on slimming and weight loss diets. Apparently when iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc levels drop, the uptake of aluminium worsens. Taking mineral supplements seems to be a good idea, particularly for vegetarians, absorption is dramatically reduced by the presence of iron in the body. As it is cumulative, slow acting and extremely persistent, older people are at particularly at risk.
Until the water utilities get the level of aluminium down to recommended levels it is prudent to use untreated spring or mineral water for drinking and cooking. Few of us are wealthy enough to spend two months in the year at a health spa, however you can help eliminate toxic metals including simply by drinking sulfur containing spring water such as "San Pellegrino". Beans and garlic are known to release detoxifying sulfur compounds. The sulfur detox has been shown to remove mercury and arsenic and other toxic metals which act in conjunction with aluminium. (Aparently the sulfur compounds are effective with most heavy metals but not aluminum - Ed)
Some are more susceptible than others, we mentioned some groups in the previous paragraph but there is a sizable proportion of the population who have a genetic predisposition to accumulate aluminum, Down Syndrome sufferers are such a group and another group are people who have the genetic defect most commonly associated with Alzheimer's; a DNA sequence disruption on chromosome 21.
If you suffer from a bone disease such as osteomalcia or other form of bone softening disease it is recommended that you contact your water utility to find out how much is in the tap water supplied.
Many of those who have gone on to low aluminum diets have reported a reduction in irritability, headaches and significant improvements in memory and ability to concentrate. Parents reported improvements in children suffering from behavioural problems.
Unfortunately in the USA there is a strong and vocal effort by interested parties who use extremely well funded and organised lobbying and proxy organisations to present aluminum compounds as harmless minerals, however is is not all gloom and doom as there are now many independent researchers who are doing their own tests to establish the toxic effects of the metal. Check out the references below
Despite the noise and doubts generated by powerful vested interests there is more than enough evidence to justify avoiding it in our diet.
If you follow some of the links at the foot of this article you will find research that shows that aluminum is twice as effective as cadmium in producing the neurofibrillary tangles that are characteristic of Alzheimer's Disease. There is also a paper that describes tests of a substance, aluminium fluoride which is present in drinking water. Minute quantities, as little as 0.5 parts per million were found to result in the formation of beta amyloid proteins, characteristic of Alzheimer's
Update - July Still adding Aluminum additives
Two more Aluminum containing food additives; E1452 and E598.
Update - BBC 15th December 2005 Disease link to water poisoning
"A post-mortem test on a woman who drank water during the Camelford water poisoning incident has found abnormally high levels of aluminium in her brain. It is the strongest evidence yet of a possible link between the poisoning and a disease similar to Alzheimer's.
Water in the Cornish town was contaminated with 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate in 1988. Hundreds of people became ill after the toxic chemical was put into the wrong tank at a treatment works.
West Somerset Coroner Michael Rose released the post-mortem examination results on Thursday. He asked leading neuropathologist Prof Margaret Esiri to examine the woman's brain and spinal cord following her death in Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton, in February last year".
Update -- 6th November 2004
In the UK the uptake of aluminium from cereal products has tripled in the last three years.
Allegedly UK based quality food stores Marks and Spencer's has baked items on their shelves which contain aluminum raising agents. Attempts to regain market share are probably responsible for the drop in standards.
Update -- 17th November 2003
Food colors are changing and some of the newer dyes appear to be more natural, however they are frequently produced using an aluminum treatment to enhance and brighten the color. The new dyes contain small amounts of substances that are likely to accumulate in the brain.
Update -- 5th October 2003.
A dangerous new fad is using Alum crystals to rub under arm areas to inhibit perspiration. Even some apparently reputable health food stores stock them, claiming falsely that they do not have the type of aluminum that gets in to the body. Ask if they are from Bauxite and the assistant will usually agree but usually they will be quite unaware that Bauxite is the principal source of aluminum and every bit as harmful as the antiperspirant sprays.
Update -- 10th October 2002. As fewer food companies use aluminum additives the manufacturers of the additives are looking for markets in developing countries. Chinese dumplings are one outlet, beware of the trip to the Chinese restaurant. It is not only Monosodium Glutamate that you have to look out for. (Incidentally some researchers have identified neurotoxic properties in MSG -see Mikhail B. Bogdanov, Richard J. Wurtman and others)
Tips and queries on the Aluminum Problem submitted by reader
Varner JA, et al. (1998). Chronic administration of aluminum-fluoride and sodium-fluoride to rats in drinking water: Alterations in neuronal and cerebrovascular integrity. Brain Research 784: 284-298. This paper found evidence that levels of aluminium fluoride as low as 1 part per million had adverse affects on brain development in rats