Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. For most of human history, aluminum was not bioavailable; however, it became so in the late 1880s when chemists developed and patented the smelting process that helped turned the metal into the fixture of modern life—and the omnipresent “ecotoxin”—that it is today. Roughly 130 years later, it is no exaggeration to say that aluminum has become an active (albeit unhelpful) “participant in human evolution.”
The scientist citing aluminum’s outsized biological influence—Professor Chris Exley of the United Kingdom’s Keele University—is one of the world’s foremost aluminum experts. He points out that because aluminum exposure is largely insidious, complacency about aluminum’s effects persists despite the nearly universal body burden that human beings now carry. While the metal’s effects appear to be “invariably deleterious,” variables such as age and gender also shape vulnerability. Infants in their first year of life are particularly susceptible to aluminum bioaccumulation, raising concerns about the high levels of absorbable aluminum reported in infant formula and in the parenteral (intravenous) nutrition solutions given to premature babies. Suggesting that these reports represent the “tip of an iceberg,” one group of researchers cautions that not only does aluminum constitute a “significant component of newborns’ exposure to xenobiotics and contaminants,” but the consequences of aluminum overload in the perinatal period can have pathological consequences that persist into adulthood.