Aluminum is the third most abundant element after oxygen and silicon, and it is the most abundant metal, making up almost 9 percent of the earth's crust. Aluminum is found in plants, soil, water and air. Most plants have low quantities of aluminum, but a few are known to be aluminum accumulators, including some types of tea plants, grasses and orchids.
Aluminum is used extensively in various ways:
- Aluminum can be found in food-related products including pots and pans; storage containers, such as beverage cans; and foil.
- Aluminum is found in numerous foods and beverages including fruits and vegetables, beer and wine, seasonings, flour, cereals, nuts, dairy products, baby formulas, and honey. Typically, adults ingest 7 to 9 milligrams of aluminum per day.
- Aluminum is used for manufacturing of airplanes, siding, roofing materials, paints, pigments, fuels and cigarette filters.
- Aluminum is found in health products including antacids, buffered aspirin, antiperspirants and some vaccines.
- Aluminum in vaccines
Aluminum is used in vaccines as an adjuvant. An adjuvant is vaccine component that boosts the immune response to the vaccine. Adjuvants allow for lesser quantities of the vaccine and fewer doses. The adjuvant effects of aluminum were discovered in 1926. Aluminum adjuvants are used in vaccines such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B, diphtheria-tetanus-containing vaccines, Haemophilus influenzae type b, and pneumococcal vaccines, but they are not used in the live, viral vaccines, such as measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and rotavirus.
Vaccines containing adjuvants are tested extensively in clinical trials before being licensed. Aluminum salts and a detoxified bacterial component called monophosphoryl lipid A are the only materials that can be used as adjuvants in the United States. The quantities of aluminum present in vaccines are low and are regulated by the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER).
The aluminum contained in vaccines is similar to that found in a liter (about 1 quart or 32 fluid ounces) of infant formula. While infants receive about 4.4 milligrams* of aluminum in the first six months of life from vaccines, they receive more than that in their diet. Breast-fed infants ingest about 7 milligrams, formula-fed infants ingest about 38 milligrams, and infants who are fed soy formula ingest almost 117 milligrams of aluminum during the first six months of life.
*Note: One milligram is one-thousandth of a gram. One gram is the weight of one-fifth of a teaspoon of water.
Quantities of aluminum in vaccines
- 0.125 mg/dose
Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine
- < 0.17 to < 0.625 mg/dose
Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine
- 0.225 mg/dose
Hib/Hep B vaccine
- 0.225 mg/dose
Hepatitis A vaccine (Hep A)
- 0.225 to 0.25 mg/dose (pediatrics)
- 0.45 to 0.5 mg/dose (adults)
Hepatitis B vaccine (Hep B)
- 0.225 to 0.5 mg/dose
Hep A/Hep B vaccine
- 0.45 mg/dose
DTaP/inactivated polio/Hep B vaccine
- < 0.85 mg/dose
DTaP/inactivated polio/Hib vaccine
- 0.33 mg/dose
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
- 0.225 mg/dose
Japanese Encephalitis (JE) vaccine
- 0.25 mg/dose
- Aluminum in other substances
Quantities of aluminum in other substances
- 0.04 milligrams per liter (mg/L)
Ponds, lakes, streams
- 0.1 mg/L
- 0.225 mg/L
- 0.46 to 0.93 mg/L
- 10 to 20 mg/tablet
- 104-208 mg/tablet
Given the quantities of aluminum we are exposed to on a daily basis, the quantity of aluminum in vaccines is miniscule. Aluminum-containing vaccines have been used for decades and have been given to more than 1 billion people without problem. In spring 2000, the National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO) reviewed aluminum exposure through vaccines and determined that no changes to vaccine recommendations were needed based on aluminum content. The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, part of the World Health Organization (WHO), has also reviewed studies and found no evidence of health risks that would require changes to vaccine policy.
- Health effects of aluminum
The health effects of aluminum have been studied; however, few have been shown to result from aluminum exposure. Kidney dialysis patients have developed disorders of the brain and bones due to the aluminum content in intravenous fluids and antacids following years of dialysis. Both disorders have decreased in occurrence due to improvements to dialysis systems. The bone disease was due to poor absorption of phosphate in the presence of high quantities of aluminum. Children taking large amounts of aluminum-based medications have also been found to suffer from this bone disorder.
It has been suggested that some diseases involving the brain, such as Alzheimer's disease, are caused by aluminum accumulation in brain tissues. However, studies have not consistently found increased levels of aluminum leading some to hypothesize that the aluminum accumulation may be the result of tissue damage rather than the cause of disease.
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