“I stopped using antiperspirant yesterday, y’all.”
Yes, that is one of the many terrible things I’ve inflicted on my family over the years. I explained that my motive was not ice cold revenge for that time (27 years ago) I paid my brother $20 of hard-earned chore money for the GodMode cheat code in Duke Nukem only to have him erase the game two days later. Nope. As heartbreaking as it was, I had recently learned that the active ingredient in antiperspirant, the magic bullet I credit with getting me through some of my most aggressive social anxiety as a teenager, was linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
As a perpetually anxious perspirer (spellcheck says that’s not a word, but I’m making it a word #IDoWhatIWant), I was beyond reluctant to give up my antiperspirant. It was almost as vital to my survival as coffee. And I am a coffee before people person. Still, the specter of early onset Alzheimer’s weighed more heavily in my (sort of) still functioning brain.
So I did what I always do and turned to PubMed to investigate. After all, one study doesn’t make it science. Sometimes one study just makes it an accident, or a data analysis error. I hoped.
Know what I found in PubMed, and what you would find? This terrifying statement:
… aluminum is a widely recognized neurotoxin that inhibits more than 200 biologically important functions and causes various adverse effects in plants, animals, and humans
Aluminum, the most abundant metallic neurotoxin in the biosphere, is an extremely pro-inflammatory, pathological and genotoxic element that is particularly deleterious to the normal homeostatic operation of brain cells.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. And, they’re from peer reviewed scientific publications. These aren’t my mom’s favorite crunchy granola blog telling you to wear a magnet headband to banish stress dreams. They are scores of scientists talking about aluminum, the thing that snaps your sweat glands shut, as an incredibly powerful, cell killing substance with a special attraction for your brain cells.
I know what you’re thinking. Is this something I really need to worry about? Wouldn’t there be some kind of warning from the FDA or the CDC by now? No, no there would not. In order for the FDA or CDC to make a pronouncement about the negative health effects of something in widespread use with far-reaching financial implications for stakeholders who make millions of dollars of political contributions, you need to have a smoking gun, four eye-witnesses, DNA evidence, and a time-stamped, live broadcasted video of the substance in question murdering a bunch of people.
So how can we know whether or not to embrace the nauseating musk of our ancestors who never lived without the possibility of spontaneous pit stains?
We investigate the science.
Aluminum Is Elevated In Alzheimer’s Brains… ?
No, the ellipsis question mark is not a mistake due to my own personal aluminum exposure. It’s a punctuationary embodiment of the disagreement within the scientific community over the years. In 1996, this group of scientists called their paper, “Content of brain aluminum is not elevated in Alzheimer’s disease.” For scientists, that’s the equivalent of, “Obviously aluminum is not involved in Alzheimer’s, you idiots.” But it contrasts starkly with recent findings in the field, likely due to the development of advanced aluminum measurement tools.
And y’all, that’s something about science that we all have to kind of accept. Sometimes our initial findings are WRONG. They’re wrong, because we had terrible tools or didn’t understand that our results were contaminated. We are always learning new things, and those new things often invalidate older findings. That’s the nature of science. #ItsScienceYall
In the publication I initially stumbled across, a group of scientists in England found that, in 60 human brains (an admittedly small sample size) with 700+ tissue samples, the median aluminum content was about 1 microgram of aluminum per gram of brain tissue. In another study of Alzheimer’s only brains, the same research group found what they termed extremely high levels of aluminum – some more than ten times the “normal person” median discovered in their earlier study.
The sample sizes in both studies were relatively small in light of the almost 7.5 billion people in this world. But, they still begin to demonstrate a correlation between aluminum in the brain and Alzheimer’s. Of course, correlation is not causation. But these aren’t the only data points we have. Let’s take a quick tour of a few others:
- 20,000 people ingested high levels of aluminum in contaminated water and exhibited various cognitive impairments 10 years later.
- A study found higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in areas with high levels of aluminum in drinking water.
- This review notes that 9 of 13 published epidemiological studies showed statistically significant (i.e. real) relationships between aluminum in drinking water and higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
- In a 15 year study, higher aluminum exposure either through drinking water or environment lead to higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.
- One publication summarized all the scary things aluminum does once inside a cell (which isn’t a given!)
- This study and this other one have shown that aluminum can change the shape of β-amyloid proteins and promote plaque formation, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
With all that information, it’s not surprising to discover the quote below while scanning the literature:
However, recent reports concerning sporadic AD and environmental and occupational exposure to aluminium have allowed the conclusion to be drawn that, under certain conditions, it is inevitable that aluminium will contribute towards Alzheimer’s disease.
As a scientist, I’m going to admit that the above statement, though pulled directly from this publication, is an opinion. There is no evidence as yet to indicate a direct causal link between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease.
Is there enough evidence, combined with the widely accepted fact that aluminum is a neurotoxin, to make this scientist limit aluminum exposure?
Limit Your Aluminum Exposure – All The Cool Kids Are Doing It!
Before I jump in here, let me say it one more time: there is no definitive data indicating that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s disease. There is just a lot of correlation between the two. Because of that correlation, I personally made a choice to limit my aluminum exposure. I want to continue annoying the crap out of my brothers for as long as possible, and that means I need to stay at the top of my game.
So how can we minimize aluminum exposure?
According to various sources, including the European Food Safety Agency, the largest exposure risks come through food, specifically breakfast cereals, pots, pans, aluminum foil, and aluminum cans. I have a bit of a hard time with that due to the fact that aluminum testing of canned drinks reveals a content of between 0.1 and 74 ppm. So… 74/1,000,000 of a canned drink is aluminum. Besides, most aluminum cans are lined with something else we apparently need to worry about. But we’ll talk about that in a later post.
By my estimation, as well as this publication, the things we really need to avoid are antacids, allergy shots, dialysis, and industrial air, but I also choose to avoid antiperspirants. They carry 25x more aluminum than water and 50% more than a vaccination, and most people use them daily if not multiple times daily.
If you Google this topic, you’ll probably stumble upon a few articles, some from reputable places, that will tell you there’s nothing to worry about with your antiperspirant. Carry on as usual. None of that aluminum can get through your skin anyway, silly!
Spoiler Alert: that’s not true!
Antiperspirant Can Get Through Your Skin
The argument against antiperspirant as an aluminum exposure risk hinges on the concept of your skin as a physical barrier. So putting something on your skin couldn’t possibly expose the interior of your body to it, right?
Have you ever used topical anesthetic or Icy Hot? Do you think that stuff is making your skin numb (or psychotically alternating between hot and cold) through psychokinesis and good intentions? It’s not, I assure you. It is being applied to your skin, passing through it, and getting right down to your nerves, where it prevents them from sending information to your brain. Passing materials through your skin is actually a really common mode of drug delivery. Think about those old school birth control patches, nicotine patches, anti-nausea patches.
Usually when a scientist or physician is trying to pass a therapeutic substance through the skin, it needs to meet certain criteria (smaller than 500 kD). Not everything will pass through, that’s true. But, it’s actually a well-accepted phenomenon in the dermatology world that many of the substances we believe should not get through the skin do sneak in somehow. Even some that are 100 times larger (or 1000!) than the aluminum salt found in antiperspirant are known to ninja their way through and exert effects on cells several layers beyond the external skin barrier.
So, should we trust someone who makes the blanket proclamation that something applied topically can’t possibly get through to your skin simply because skin is a barrier?
No, y’all, we should not.
Because that’s kind of like saying, “My kids won’t throw a party while I’m gone this weekend, because they’re supposed to be studying and doing the dishes.”
I have cleaned up after that party.
So if you put aluminum on your skin, it is likely that you are putting at least some aluminum in your body. Is it more than the safe level? That’s hard to say. But wouldn’t you rather err on the side of not Alzheimer’s?
You Don’t Have To Embrace The Musk
Don’t despair just yet though. Abandoning antiperspirant doesn’t mean you have to embrace agoraphobia. There are options. You just have to (1) ensure you are grabbing something that DOES NOT say ANTIPERSPIRANT. Because if it does, it has aluminum in it. For sure. And then (2) pick something that smells good enough to make you believe it’ll survive your day.
I’ve tried a lot of different things, and this is what I know. None of these work as well as antiperspirant. That’s just the truth. But, there are a couple that work almost as well and don’t contain ingredients that I think will contribute to any cognitive decline or an inexplicable desire to listen to Nickelback non-stop.
- Primal Pit Paste | Jasmine
This stuff smells nice, and works pretty well. The essential oils can irritate your skin if applied directly after shaving though.
- Schmidt’s Deodorant Stick | Rose + Vanilla
I can’t smell the vanilla in this at all, which is great, because I wouldn’t be a fan of smelling baked goods all day. But, it is hands down my favorite for scent, efficacy, and low tendency to irritate skin. And that’s saying a lot for someone who sweats as much as me (from all the cardio, y’all).
- Tom’s of Maine | Unscented
I have a love hate relationship with Tom’s deodorant. I love it because it’s super kind to skin. I hate it because it always ends up smelling weirdly like lemongrass, no matter which flavor I buy. Still, I keep some on the shelf for days when my skin is feeling extra stabby.
One last thing – if you absolutely can’t survive without antiperspirant, and it’s so life altering that even a causal relationship with Alzheimer’s wouldn’t sway you, that’s cool. You do you. But maybe try to alternate. Don’t wear antiperspirant every day. Do what you can to limit the amount of high aluminum content you’re slathering all over your skin.
And I know this post isn’t about antacids, but y’all, don’t eat them like candy. It seems like that’s a terrible idea. OR, know what makes a great antacid? Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream.
That’s not science though. Unless we do a study on it…
Aight – that’s it for me today. If you’ve tried life without antiperspirants or have a great zero aluminum deodorant, please share that awesome info in the comments!