Reducing aluminium intake can minimise potential health risks
For parts of the German population aluminium intake from various sources might result in an increased health risk. This is the result of a new study by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). The study conducted for the first time a health assessment of the population's entire oral and dermal intake of aluminium from various aluminium sources. The study has now been published in the scientific journal "Archives of Toxicology". Sources of intake include food, cosmetics like aluminium containing antiperspirants, toothpaste and sun cream as well as consumer goods like uncoated aluminium menu trays and aluminium foil. The BfR study shows that the tolerable weekly intake can be significantly exceeded in all age groups. The BfR therefore recommends reducing aluminium intake from all avoidable sources in order to avoid an increased health risk. "There are still scientific uncertainties, especially in the assessment of the long-term consequences and the actual absorption of aluminium via the skin," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.
Those who want to reduce their aluminium intake should use uncoated food contact materials, aluminium containing antiperspirants and other cosmetic products sparingly. The BfR generally advises against the preparation and storage of foods from uncoated aluminium containers or aluminium foil, particularly if they are acidic or salty. It is therefore possible for consumers to influence their aluminium intake. If the aforementioned and avoidable sources of exposure are reduced, most consumers are not expected to suffer any adverse health effects.
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The BfR study estimated the total aluminium intake for the different age groups - infants, toddlers, children, adolescents, adults - as well as for normal and high consumers.
The Institute has based its exposure assessment and health assessment of food on concentration and consumption data from the German Pilot Total Diet Study and the National Nutrition Survey II. It shows that the health-based guidance value derived from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which corresponds to a tolerable weekly intake (TWI) of 1 mg per kilogram of body weight, is on average exhausted by approximately 50% by food.
To assess the total aluminium exposure, the BfR also estimated the contribution from food contact materials such as uncoated aluminium menu or baking trays, from cosmetics such as aluminium containing lipsticks, toothpaste, antiperspirants or sun cream, and from vaccines and drugs. The total intake calculated in this way may exceed the TWI derived by EFSA for all age groups.
The BfR has identified special risk groups for high aluminium exposure and the associated health risks:
- infants and toddlers fed on specially adapted soy-based, lactose-free or hypoallergenic food. The BfR therefore recommends exclusively breastfeeding infants up to the age of six months and subsequently feeding them a normal diet.
- children (between 3 and 10 years of age) who frequently eat food packaged, heated or kept warm in uncoated aluminium articles (aluminium foil, aluminium menu trays). They may ingest aluminium concentrations that could be harmful to health.
- adolescents (11 to 14 years old) and adults (over 14 years old) who frequently use aluminium containing antiperspirants and whitening toothpaste and often consume food packaged, heated or kept warm in uncoated aluminium articles (aluminium foil, aluminium menu trays).
- Since aluminium is stored in the body for a very long time, high exposure to aluminium is particularly critical for young people. Aluminium can pass through the placental barrier. If young women have a high aluminium exposure, for instance through cosmetic products, the unborn child could also be exposed to an increased concentration of aluminium during pregnancy. From the BfR’s perspective, any aluminium intake from an avoidable source of exposure over a longer period of time should therefore be critically evaluated, especially by young women.
Foods containing aluminium include tea, coffee, spices and food that contains cocoa, such as chocolate. However, pulses, vegetables and cereals may also contain larger amounts of aluminium. In addition, food can be contaminated by the transfer of aluminium from food contact materials. In this context, the BfR has indicated the high aluminium concentration in lye biscuits baked on aluminium sheets or apple juice stored in uncoated aluminium tanks.
If the aluminium intake is too high over a longer period of time, increased health risks are possible. A high intake of aluminium compounds can cause developmental disorders of the brain and motor functions as well as damage to the kidneys, liver and bones. This is because aluminium compounds can trigger inflammatory effects or oxidative stress in cells, thereby damaging them. In addition, the cell metabolism is influenced and the cells can no longer sufficiently supply themselves with energy, which can lead to the death of the cell (apoptosis). As the most sensitive endpoint for deriving its health-based guidance value, EFSA has used developmental neurotoxic effects (development of the brain with regard to learning behaviour and motor skills) as a basis. The most sensitive endpoint is the adverse health effect from all observed effects that occurs with the lowest dose.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.