Aluminum hydroxide has few reported side effects in healthy individuals, with most adverse effects reported in patients under treatment for renal failure. Renal failure impairs the body's ability to eliminate aluminum from the system. It is unclear whether the use of alumina in cosmetics contributes to skin irritation in sensitive individuals.
Ingestion of Alumina
When aluminum hydroxide is ingested the majority of the aluminum in the compound is eliminated through the digestive process. There is some indication that not all the aluminum is removed and that some may remain in bones and organs. While aluminum hydroxide is not toxic, an accumulation of aluminum in the body's tissues may result in health problems. Aluminum hydroxide is used as a treatment for patients with renal failure to reduce excessive phosphates in the blood.
Injection of Vaccines Containing Alumina
Aluminum hydroxide is used as an adjuvant in vaccines for tetanus, hepatitis A and B and anthrax.
An adjuvant is a substance which stimulates an immune response, making the vaccine more effective. In recent years there has been some controversy regarding possible aluminum hydroxide side effects in vaccines. Researchers in France are investigating a possible link between alumina in vaccines and recently a diagnosed form of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Inhalation of Aluminum Hydroxide
In the workplace, inhalation of aluminum hydroxide is considered to be low risk, although it may result in inflammation of the lungs in some individuals. Those working with the alumina in powder or granulate form should take safety precautions and use a mask or respirator to avoid inhaling dust. Alumina is not prescribed as an inhalant and only individuals that encounter the chemical in the work environment are likely to be exposed to the powder or dust.
Long Term Adverse Effects
In therapeutic doses, the most reported aluminum hydroxide side effect is stomach upset. This is primarily in patients suffering from renal failure. Medical studies indicate that in these patients aluminum can be found in deposits in the bones, joints, organs and brain. While no conclusive studies have been performed, there has been a reported correlation between aluminum deposits in the brain and Alzheimer's disease.
Adverse Effects in Vaccines
Although there is no clinical evidence linking alumina hydroxide to the various side effects blamed on injected vaccines, certain groups outside the medical community believe it may have long term effects including autism and leukemia. Most side effects of vaccines include localized swelling or nausea, low fever and fatigue that can be attributed to the immune response they invoke. To date no link has been found between aluminum hydroxide and adverse reactions to vaccines.
Aluminum hydroxide side effects have primarily been reported in renal patients receiving therapeutic doses while undergoing dialysis. The impaired renal function of these patients results in greater accumulation of aluminum in the body than would be present in healthy individuals. Aluminum deposits in the brain and joints may be responsible for the development of Alzheimer's disease and rheumatoid arthritis, but additional studies are needed.