On Nutrition

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Aluminum cookware has been rumored to be associated with some health problems. We have been using a set of premium hard-anodized aluminum pans, but some friends who were over for a meal were saying I should replace them. These are quality products, but I do not want to put my family at risk. I noticed that this company’s product literature has dropped the word “aluminum” and now just says that their cookware is hard-anodized. -- S.L., Tucson, Arizona

DEAR S.L.: This question about the potential dangers of aluminum cookware comes up periodically. It is based on circumstantial evidence, rather than established evidence of cause and effect. The concern carries special weight because it involves the risk of Alzheimer’s disease: the progressive, as-yet incurable loss of mental faculties. Some claim that a “toxic” level of aluminum in the brain leads to the disease.

There is no evidence that exposure to aluminum through the diet is responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. One part of the puzzle is that patients’ levels of aluminum in their blood, hair and skin remain normal, which would suggest we are not dealing with an aluminum “toxicity” as much as a malfunction in brain tissue that results in aluminum’s accumulation.

It is important to understand that aluminum is present throughout our environment. In fact, it’s the third most common element in the Earth’s crust, and occurs naturally in plant and animal foods. It is also found in some food additives, medications such as antacids, and deodorants. To put this in perspective, a study in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants (Jan./Feb. 1995) reported that if you were to take an entire day’s food supply, store it in aluminum containers, prepare it in aluminum cookware and wrap it in foil, your aluminum intake for the day would be approximately 6 milligrams. If you did that for a full week, that would be a weekly intake of 42 mg. The tolerable weekly intake, set by a joint U.N./World Health Organization expert committee, is just over 3 milligrams per pound of body weight: so, for a 150-pound individual, 450 mg per week would be tolerable. That’s quite bit higher than the 42 mg if the aluminum exercise were to be done for an entire week.

Shifting from this information to other issues, the new breed of hardened (anodized) aluminum is considered safe for all foods, including high-acid foods. This means that little or no aluminum would be released into the food, irrespective of the type of food prepared. Hardened aluminum, therefore, gets moved even further down the suspect list.

I don’t know why the company changed its advertising, but it may be a desire to distinguish their product from other forms of aluminum cookware -- even though the connection between eating foods prepared with aluminum cookware and the risk of disease remains to be established.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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