Good, bad or worse?

The NIN study found that our aluminium intake depends not only on the kind of aluminium vessels used but also on the food we eat. For instance, green vegetables, pulses and spices contain aluminium that can accumulate in the body. Aluminium intake by the average Indian varies between I milligram (mg) and 10 mg, says the NIN. According to the World Health Organisation standards, the provisional tolerable weekly intake (referred to as PTWI) of aluminium should not be more than 7mg for adults and 2mg for children. This data, however, is based on short-term toxicity studies, and could well change as more comprehensive, long-term studies become available.

Acidic preparations with green vegetables, dal (pulse) made with tomato, for instance, cause greater leaching of aluminium into the food from the utensils. Leaching is significantly more in new containers, especially when green leafy vegetables and legume, preparations are cooked in them, say NIN researchers. Containers, as old as 10 years, were found leaching aluminium into food.

But not all the aluminium in our body comes from the food we eat. It is added to drinking water as aluminium sulphate for purifying purposes. Then there are packaging materials like foils, frozen dinner trays and wrappers that also add to the aluminium content in our body. Further, food additives such as buffers, neutralising agents, dough strengtheners, leavening agents, emulsifying agents, stabilisers, thickeners and texturisers use sodium aluminium pbosphate/sulphate and aluminium silicate. Several over-the-counter drugs like anti acids, analgesics and anti-diarrhocals, too, can contribute as much as 800 to 5,000 mg of aluminium per day.

Past research has also linked alumimum with the dreaded Alzheimer's disease. Though researchers have found traces of the metal in the brains of several Alzheimer's patients, they are not sure if aluminium is actually an active agent behind the disease. However, as the number of Alzheimer patients is expected to double to 3.7 million by 2020, the role of aluminium deserves a much closer look. What is more worrying is that the deficiency of certain nutrients such as iron and calcium, only enhances the uptake and tissue accumulation of aluminium.