If you’ve been keeping up with the health community, you’ve probably heard that aluminum in certain antiperspirants can lead to breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, this claim has exploded in popularity, and different versions of it have been iterated: 1) aluminum in the antiperspirants is absorbed by the skin, which then enters and becomes deposited in the brain, 2) the lymph nodes around the breast become clogged due to the non-release of sweat/toxins in the sweat, and 3) nicks from shaving allow for the increased absorbency of aluminum.
To begin our discussion, we should investigate the question: what is it? Aluminum is a metal which occurs naturally in small amounts in many foods, drugs, cosmetic products, antiperspirants, and forms of drinking water. Although it is present in many foods, it is not a necessary nutrient for the body. As with most nutrients, aluminum can be toxic in high amounts; studies have shown that high exposure to aluminum can cause confusion, muscle weakness, seizures, bone problems and speech problems. Additionally, excess aluminum that the body is unable to excrete will be stored in the lungs, bones, muscles, liver and brain. However, the source of controversy arises from the question of whether increased aluminum in the body actually contributes to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease or breast cancer.
Those who believe that high levels of aluminum contribute to breast cancer often cite studies that have shown that breast cancer patients do have a higher concentration of aluminum located in the affected breast. It should be considered that it is not yet determined whether the higher concentration of aluminum contributed to the onset of the cancer. Additionally, aluminum is known to have mutation-causing properties and interfere with estrogen receptors, which could potentially support the idea that aluminum can cause certain cancers, but are unproven. According to the American Cancer Society, “a carefully designed epidemiologic study of this issue published in 2002 compared 813 women with breast cancer and 793 women without the disease. The researchers found no link between breast cancer risk and antiperspirant use, deodorant use, or underarm shaving.”
Similarly, high amounts of aluminum have been found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is not known whether the elevated content of aluminum can be attributed to the onset of the disease, or whether it is a result of the degradation of the brain that occurs during Alzheimers. In addition, the major source of controversy concerning this has to do with aluminum found in drinking water, not in aluminum found in antiperspirants.
So, as is concluded by the National Institute of Health, “There is currently no evidence for an association between aluminum exposure and the development of breast cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.” However, it should be considered that more research needs to take place regarding the source of the high amounts of aluminum present in Alzheimer’s and breast cancer patients. Aluminum in antiperspirants isn’t necessarily something to worry about, but from the perspective of preventative medicine you may want to steer clear of aluminum-containing antiperspirants.
Photo: Thompson Tee