Aluminum Toxicity and Managing Risk

Hundreds of years ago the father of Homeopathy stated, “The dose makes the poison.” For as wrong as homeopathy turned out to be, Paracelsus was absolutely correct that the dose does make the poison.

So…what’s the deal with aluminum? Or “aluminium” to those who speak the Queen’s English?

Too much elemental aluminum is obviously toxic, aluminum compounds like aluminum oxide or aluminum silicates are likely to just pass through your system without any biological activity. This is because elemental aluminum loses electrons easily to become a cation with a +3 charge, which can bind pretty tightly to proteins. The main clearance route for aluminum from your body seems to be the renal system, as people being treated for renal failure seem to be much more susceptible to aluminum buildup than those with healthy kidneys, source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31309799

The old school coffee percolator was once a common source of dietary aluminum in the western diet: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0278691584900048?via%3Dihub but all sorts of food containers and preparation vessels contribute to aluminum uptake: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1397396

Additionally the normal environmental uptake of aluminum is increasing, as worldwide use of aluminum increases: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2013/em/c3em00374d#targetText=Aluminium%20is%20excreted%20from%20the,nails%2C87%20sebum%20and%20semen.

So….is the aluminum water bottle in your bug out bag “safe” for lack of a better word? Well, mostly. If you are a healthy human being, and your environmental load of aluminum is well cleared from your healthy system, then the miniscule amount of additional aluminum you’d get from an aluminum water bottle is well below the level of quantifiable risk. I would recommend against using an aluminum water bottle as a boiling vessel if you can, because one way to generate electricity is to heat one end of a piece of metal, and aluminum with a differential heat is going to produce a mild charge, which is going to set the condition for oxidation/reduction which releases aluminum ions into the aqueous solution. It will be a small amount, and if you are healthy it shouldn’t bother you if it is an intermittent consumption.

However, do you know what your current aluminum serum levels are? I do not, and I’m writing about this. I have no clue if any of the symptoms I have should be looked at for any sort of metal toxicity or not. For what it’s worth, I avoid using aluminum products so it is highly unlikely that I would experience symptoms isolated from those around me. Since “those around me” are not exhibiting any symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, I am operating under the assumption that I’m good on that front.

So how do you really quantify risk here? Especially when the short term risk is negligible, and the long term risk is almost completely unknown? Well, you can start by choosing to not accept risk that where it is not necessary to accept risk. If you are setting up resources for a disaster, you have the choice to spend the money on an aluminum item or stainless steel. I guess the risk of a stainless steel item is that it is heavier, which might slow you down if you had to flee zombies or mutant bears, and the risk of an aluminum product is that it might give you dementia at an accelerated rate.

If you have to choose between aluminum water bottle or canteen, and no bottle or canteen, use the aluminum vessel without a second thought. The risk of death from drinking bad water is much, much higher than the risk of negative outcomes from the use of aluminum. The odds are quite good that you are well on the “safe” side of “The dose makes the poison.”

I won’t go so far to say that any amount is risky, as a nominal scientist there is a level of environmental dosage where we can’t tell the difference in doses. This “minimal level” can vary a bit depending on the population studied of course, but at some point we lose statistical relevance between dosage and effects. As long as you are below that point, whatever it is, aluminum is “safe” for you to use. The risk is that I don’t know what that is for you, as I don’t know your total intake of aluminum nor whether or not there will be complicating factors in your body clearing aluminum. But unknowns are just that, unknowns, they are not in and of themselves particularly risky if you acknowledge what it is you don’t know, and make an educated guess to answer that question.

So, an educated guess is that if you are a normally healthy, fit person, with properly working kidneys in America, an aluminum water bottle poses no immediate threat to you, and only minimal long term risk. I can’t quantify that because there aren’t a lot of hard numbers to use, but it is well in line with the research I’ve linked.

That being said, if you have a choice between aluminum or stainless steel, unless you have a compelling reason to choose aluminum I recommend the stainless steel. Because you may need to have additional “padding” in your system to deal with aluminum from elsewhere in the future.

More concerning, is that we don’t know much about how multiple heavy metals are excreted. If you have a high environmental exposure, it isn’t always obvious: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/03/magazine/lead-poisoning-military-soldiers.html so minimizing the risk of one toxic metal seems prudent to me. Those of us in the gun community routinely deal with copper, lead, tin, aluminum, and zinc particles in the air around firing lines.

So I hope this has been food for thought, and something that helps you identify risk, and minimize it where possible, and accept it when prudent or necessary.

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