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Facts: Aluminum and Drinking Water

Aluminum makes up about 8% of our earth’s surface. Aluminum has numerous areas of applications in the construction industry because of its very beneficial weight-to-strengths-ratio.

Unfortunately there are many negative side effects as well, especially when ingested. Aluminum is very hard to get rid of, once it is in our bodies. The good news is that from the average amount of 5mg (5 milligrams or parts per million) ingested by the average person per day, usually just 10 parts per billion will be absorbed.

But once it is in our bodies it just keeps piling up. In order to dissolve aluminum effectively, the pH-level – the acidic concentration within a fluid – needs to be at 4.5 or lower. This is definitely not what we are looking for inside our bodies.

So what are associated risks of ingesting aluminum at higher dosages?

Kidney disease patients who are exposed to high levels of aluminum in dialysis fluids and medications, develop dialysis encephalopathy, a progressive form of dementia characterized by speech and behavioural changes, tremors, convulsions, and psychosis.

Most experts agree that high levels of aluminum in dialysis fluids and medications are responsible for the dementia, and controlling these levels of aluminum significantly reduces the incidence of this disease.

Aluminum has also been associated with severe diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Alzheimer’s disease, but the association is not completely understood, yet. An unusually high incidence of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson’s dementia in indigenous populations of Guam and New Guinea suggest a possible correlation with local environmental conditions, which include high levels of aluminum and low levels of calcium and magnesium in soil and food.

It has been demonstrated that humans with these disorders tend to have high levels of aluminum in some areas of their brains, although it has not been demonstrated that the presence of aluminum in the brain initiates onset of the diseases.

Intake of large amounts of aluminum can also cause anaemia, osteomalacia (brittle or soft bones), glucose intolerance, and cardiac arrest in humans. We do not know the effects in humans exposed to low levels of aluminum over a long period, but earlier onset or progression of a wide range of diseases of the nervous system is a distinct possibility.

Although most of our daily aluminum intake comes from food, aluminum in food appears to be bound to other food substances and thus is in a form that cannot be absorbed into the bloodstream. In fact, it seems that the body’s main defence against aluminum in food is that it does not allow aluminum to pass through the intestinal wall.

In contrast, recent research has shown that aluminum from drinking water can be absorbed to some extent in both animals and humans. This is because the aluminum in water following water treatment processes seems to be in a largely “free” (i.e. unbound) form. However, the amount of aluminum absorbed from drinking water is usually very small. One reason for this is that the presence of food in the stomach reduces the absorption. Absorption then is greatest when water is drunk on an empty stomach.

Bottom line: It is certainly a good idea to not ingest aluminum and there are very effective ways nowadays to treat our drinking water accordingly.