People around the world spread this metal on their underarms; cook and store their food in it; receive vaccines containing it; and treat their heartburn, color their lips, and protect their skin from sunburn with it. Aluminum, the most widely distributed metal in the environment, is extensively used in modern daily life. Does antiperspirant cause cancer? Should you be concerned about aluminum toxicity?
This means humans are easily exposed to this toxic metal through cosmetics, medicines, food, water, and air. There is no known role for aluminum within the body and its presence causes a number of adverse effects. Among the most concerning are aluminum’s harmful effects in breast tissue and the brain. The potential role of aluminum toxicity in Alzheimer’s disease and breast cancer is finally gaining more traction in the research world, with experts now calling for reductions in aluminum exposure and discovering ways in which natural therapies can remove aluminum from the brain and body.
In part 1 of this special series on aluminum, we look more closely at the question: does antiperspirant cause cancer?
Aluminum Toxicity and Breast Cancer
Aluminum is present in numerous cosmetics, particularly antiperspirants, in which aluminum salts are the primary active ingredient to block the production of sweat. Research shows that aluminum appears to get absorbed through the skin, accumulate in breast tissue, and increase the risk of breast cancer.[1-5] The evidence linking aluminum to breast cancer has now grown so strong that a diverse group of European researchers recently called for the urgent reduction of this metal in antiperspirants.
Research on Aluminum and Breast Health
In their published review of the research, the investigators noted how recent studies demonstrate that aluminum from antiperspirants can be absorbed through the skin and can accumulate in mammary glands, where it interferes with the functioning of certain types of breast cells, thereby promoting a cascade of cellular changes that represent the early phases of cancer. In addition, they cited several studies that suggest that the presence of aluminum in human breast tissue could influence the process of cancer growth.
Aluminum has now been measured in the human breast at higher levels than in the blood. The amount of aluminum in breast tissue is high enough to interfere with normal healthy breast cell functioning, disrupt the stability of genes, cause cells to proliferate excessively, and interfere with the action of estrogen. The presence of aluminum in breast tissue may also cause oxidative damage, inflammation, and alterations to cells’ ability to move around.
“As a consequence, given that the toxicity of Al [aluminum] has been widely recognized and that it is not a physiological component in human tissues, reducing the concentration of this metal in antiperspirants is a matter of urgency,” concluded the study’s authors.
What’s in Your Deodorant?
If you’re not using a natural “deodorant,” but instead using an antiperspirant to block the normal production of sweat, it is extremely likely that it contains a salt of aluminum as its primary, active ingredient. If you haven’t yet, consider switching to a natural deodorant that neutralizes odor without blocking sweat pores. While you may still sweat, the newer natural deodorants on the market are remarkably good at keeping body odor at bay as long as you’re also washing your armpits daily. You can still use aluminum-based antiperspirants every once in while, but you can reserve their use for special occasions.
Other Sources of Aluminum Exposure
Of course, antiperspirant isn’t the only source of aluminum exposure. To reduce your chances of aluminum accumulating in your breast tissue and in other areas of your body (like your brain), it is important to try and limit your exposure from other sources as well. In addition to antiperspirant, consider the following sources of aluminum exposure:
- Foods and cookware. Aluminum oxides are used in foods as additives, preservatives, fillers, coloring agents, anti-caking agents, emulsifiers and baking powders. Cooking foods in aluminum pots and pans or in aluminum foil can increase their aluminum content. To reduce your aluminum exposure from foods, avoid using aluminum cookware and, more importantly, eat less processed/packaged foods and fewer baked goods. Also replace aluminum reusable water bottles with stainless steel.
- Medications and supplements. A number of medications and supplements contain aluminum either as an active ingredient or a contaminant. Drugs that contain aluminum as an active ingredient include certain antacids, such as Mylanta, and buffered aspirin, both of which can cause aluminum toxicity when taken regularly. Drug and supplement additives that have been shown to be contaminated with aluminum include magnesium stearate, microcrystalline cellulose, and talcum. Some calcium, iron, and B-complex tablets have been found to contain high levels of aluminum, presumably because of these contaminated additives. For this reason, it is important to purchase only high-quality supplements that are preferably hypoallergenic, additive-free, and in capsule rather than tablet form.
- Cosmetics. Aluminum is added to lipsticks to keep colors from bleeding. Almost all lipstick applied gets ingested. It has been estimated that heavy lipstick users can ingest potentially hazardous amounts of aluminum. Choose your cosmetics wisely and incorporate make-up-free days into your routine.
- Vaccines. Aluminum is used in some vaccines as an adjuvant (to increase the vaccine’s effectiveness). Some experts worry that this could constitute an unacceptably high aluminum load in susceptible individuals.[9,10] Administration of aluminum to baby mice in vaccine-relevant amounts is associated with long-term nervous system and brain abnormalities.
- Water. In recent years, acid rain has changed aluminum-containing minerals into a more soluble form of aluminum that has ended up in residential drinking water. Despite the fact that drinking water is estimated to account for only a very small proportion of aluminum intake compared to other sources, the aluminum in water is more bioavailable and contributes to aluminum accumulation in the human body. Cognitive decline and the risk of dementia, for example, are higher for people who ingest large amounts of aluminum from drinking water. Reverse osmosis and distillation are two water purification methods that remove aluminum from water.
Does Antiperspirant Cause Cancer? A Summary
The potential link between aluminum and breast cancer is a very real and valid concern that researchers are only beginning to untangle. Nevertheless, a number of research groups are calling for reducing aluminum in products like antiperspirants to lower exposure and potentially decrease cancer risk. In addition to switching from conventional antiperspirant to natural deodorant, you learned of some other ways to lower your aluminum exposure with the goal of decreasing your risk not only for breast cancer, but for other diseases associated with aluminum toxicity as well.
In part 2 of this article, you will learn more about the ongoing research identifying aluminum as a cause of Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the nervous system. And in part 3 you will see all the natural products, including nutrients and herbal extracts, that have been shown to prevent and decrease aluminum toxicity. In other words, there is more you can do to reduce aluminum’s harmful effects besides just trying to avoid it.
Originally published in 2014, this post is regularly updated.