Health and Medicine Question #392

Citre, a 18 year old male from the Internet asks on June 8, 1998,

What is an aluminum lake? Does it contain aluminum?

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The answer

Barry Shell answered on June 8, 1998

The term "lake" is used in food science to describe colour additives usually used in food and cosmetics. It does not contain elemental aluminum, but it contains alumina which is aluminum oxide. The US Food and Drug Administration describes the use of "lakes" as follows:

  • A lake is a straight color extended on a substratum by adsorption, coprecipitation, or chemical combination that does not include any combination of ingredients made by a simple mixing process. Because lakes are not soluble in water, they often are used when it is important to keep a color from "bleeding," as in lipstick. The name of a lake is formed from the name of the color additive combined with the name of the basic radical and the word "Lake". For example, the name of the lake prepared by extending the aluminum salt of FD&C Blue No. 1 upon alumina would be FD&C Blue No. 1 - Aluminum Lake.
  • If a lake is prepared by extending an FD&C color additive on a substratum other than alumina such as blanc fixe, gloss white, clay, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, talc, and rosin, the symbol "FD&C" will be replaced by "D&C". For example, the name of the lake prepared by extending the aluminum salt of FD&C Blue No. 1 upon a substratum other than alumina would be D&C Blue No. 1- Aluminum Lake.

Aluminum Lake is a colour additive, typically blue. It is the blue in pill coatings and many other foods and drugs and in particular blue eye make-up products. Judging from more information listed at the FD&C site,  aluminum lakes of other colours are available as well, e.g. yellow. It also seems to involve combining Alumina (which is aluminum oxide, Al2O3, a naturally occurring mineral called corundum) a clear crystal or white powder, with a dye to make the lake. The alumina apparently acts as a vehicle or carrier for the dye.

Aluminum lake, therefore, is not the same as elemental aluminum.

People often worry about aluminum being toxic, and visitors to this page often ask if aluminum can build up in the body because of taking many blue pills coloured with Aluminum Lake.

The chance of this is very low. From what is available online, it appears that aluminum and especially alumina, an oxide of aluminum and the main ingredient of aluminum lake, are virtually non-toxic. Here is one example: "Workers were treated with 350 mg/m3 of respirable alumina powder for 10 minutes/day as a treatment for silicosis (Stokinger, 1981). Over 42,000,000 treatments were given over a 27-year period, and no adverse effects were observed."

Alumina is a major part of clay. Aluminum is the 3rd most abundant element on earth. It's everywhere. Rest assured that our species (and essentially all life forms on the planet) over hundreds of millions, and even billions of years, has evolved very solid metabolic mechanisms to deal with aluminum in our environment, and in our bodies. Here are the top five elements on earth: Oxygen, Silicon, Aluminum, Iron, and Calcium. None are toxic in naturally occurring amounts. I would not worry about this. However, it certainly cannot hurt to err on the side of safety and avoid aluminum-containing products. Association of aluminum with disease is statistically and scientifically somewhat tenuous. There are theories, e.g. for Alzheimers and ALS, but aluminum is fundamentally not a worrisome toxin. Far from it. Worry about something else. Your car's exhaust for instance. Try to leave the car at home one day per week. That would improve your health much more significantly than avoiding aluminum.

Barry Shell answered on June 20, 2015

Many people who visit this page wonder if aluminum causes Alzheimer's Disease. There were one or two studies that **appeared** to show a connection between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease in the 1960s but in almost 50 years of further research THESE STUDIES HAVE NOT BEEN CORROBORATED. Hence even the World Alzheimer Association considers that the association of aluminum with Alzheimer’s disease is a myth. Here is what they say on their website:

Myth 4: Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
Reality: During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources such as pots and pans, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.
A clear explanation of the origin of the misconception of aluminum causing Alzheimer’s disease is given in this excellent Scientific American commentary by Dr. Charles DeCarli, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center. DeCarli's comments are halfway down the page.
In any case, any attempt to avoid aluminum is kind of silly since aluminum is in so many things. For instance, clay is mostly aluminum. So that means that pottery, china, all ceramic dishes, even bullet-proof glass and the tough glass screens of every smartphone contain aluminum. Sand is made of a lot of aluminum in the form of feldspars (NaAlSi3O8, KAlSi3O8, & CaAl2Si2O8). You would have to stay away from the beach. Most rock and stone on earth contains a lot of aluminum. Bricks and mortar contain aluminum as various oxides and other minerals. Rubies are aluminum, hence every red laser contains aluminum. Virtually all precious stones such as emerald and saphire are various oxides and minerals of aluminum. Toothpaste and dental polishes typically have oxides of aluminum as abrasives. All sandpaper and many abrasive cleansers contain aluminum. Aluminum is ranked as the third most common element on earth precisely because it is in nearly everything. Please do not worry about aluminum causing diseases or being bad for your health.

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