Many people are concerned about vaccine ingredients. I have written elsewhere about two preservatives used in some vaccines (Mercury in retrogade and Formaldehyde in us and vaccines), but here I take a look at aluminum, which is a vaccine adjuvant used in Diptheria-Tetanus, Hepatitis, Haemofilus influenza type b, and pneumococcal vaccines (you can find aluminum concentrations for each vaccine from the Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia).
Adjuvants are substances that enhance the immunological response to the vaccine, so they help make the protection long lasting without going through the full-blown disease and its consequences. Aluminum has been broadly used as an adjuvant in vaccines for 80 years. Local reactions such as redness, swelling and/or tenderness at the injection site are common side-effects of aluminum adjuvants.
Most killed vaccines contain a very small amount of aluminium-based adjuvant. Although aluminium can be toxic in large quantities, no harmful effects are seen with the level of aluminium used in such small amounts in vaccines.
For a scientific study looking at safety of aluminum as an adjuvant, you can read more in this review: Adverse events after immunisation with aluminium-containing DTP vaccines: systematic review of the evidence.
We found no evidence that aluminium salts in vaccines cause any serious or long-lasting adverse events.
Or here, in a study on Updated aluminum pharmacokinetics following infant exposures through diet and vaccination:
Using these updated parameters we found that the body burden of aluminum from vaccines and diet throughout an infant’s first year of life is significantly less than the corresponding safe body burden of aluminum modeled using the regulatory MRL. We conclude that episodic exposures to vaccines that contain aluminum adjuvant continue to be extremely low risk to infants and that the benefits of using vaccines containing aluminum adjuvant outweigh any theoretical concerns.
On this personal blog is another table of vaccines and the aluminum they contain, this time calculated per infant and child blood volume.
Sources and levels of aluminum
Something most people probably don’t realise is that they eat larger amounts of aluminum each day than what is found in vaccines. Luckily these levels are not high enough to cause us problems. Mostly our aluminum intake comes from diet. Tea is one of the major sources, with 1-6 mg per liter – a cup of tea will average roughly 0.75 mg of aluminum (or range from 0.25 – 1.5 mg). Other major sources include herbs, spices, bread, and salt.
Aluminum entering the bloodstream is quickly excreted in the urine. Over at Happocrates speaks you can find an excellent and well referenced look at aluminum chemistry, its use and effects. To put aluminum in perspective, they write:
At any one time, we have around 30-50 mg of aluminum in our bodies, many times more than is found in any vaccine. At worst, we face local reactions when we get an aluminum-containing vaccine.
For children, the aluminum comes mainly from mothers milk or formula. A pdf from the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia on what you should know about aluminum in vaccines, reports:
“During their first 6 months of life, if getting all recommended shots babies receive 4 milligrams of aluminum. By comparison during the same period of time a breastfed baby gets 10 milligrams; a formula fed baby gets 40 milligrams while a soy-based formula fed baby gets 120 milligrams.”
Informative site on aluminum, its sources and effects by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the CDC. They give an idea how wide-spread aluminum is in our food. Some quotes:
An average adult in the United States eats about 7–9 mg of aluminum per day in their food.
Vaccines may contain small amounts of aluminum compounds, no greater than 0.85 mg/dose.
Most aluminum in food, water, and medicines leaves your body quickly in the feces. Much of the small amount of aluminum that does enter the bloodstream will quickly leave your body in the urine.
Several cities have reported concentrations as high as 0.4–1 mg/L of aluminum in their drinking water.”
However, there are cases where aluminum ingestion far exceeds that of the normal, very commonly so with the use of antacid medicines (which neutralise stomach acids). A person using antacids for heartburn is increasing their aluminum intake by *a thousand* (from a few milligrams to a few grams). Even this thousandfold amount of aluminum will seldom cause problems, and benefits of treating heartburn by far outweighs the risks from aluminum. From the World Health Organisation:
Aluminium intake from foods, particularly those containing aluminium compounds used as food additives, represents the major route of aluminium exposure for the general public, excluding persons who regularly ingest aluminium-containing antacids and buffered analgesics, for whom intakes may be as high as 5 g/day (WHO, 1997).
In experimental animals, absorption of aluminium via the gastrointestinal tract is usually less than 1%.
Human uptake of aluminum from food is estimated to be about 0.1% from the amount ingested or in average 0.008 mg per day. To compare: there is 0.17 mg of aluminium salts in the DTaP vaccine, which is the most frequent of the aluminum-containing childhood vaccines (4 shots by 6 years of age). You ingest approximately a DTaP vaccine shot’s worth of aluminum (0.14-0.18 mg) every twenty days from your food into your bloodstream. Those levels are about a thousand times greater for people on antacid or aspirin medication. That is, too, the most important area when it comes to avoiding excessive aluminum intake (for people with kidney disease, for instance). From the Toxicity Substances and Disease Registry of the CDC:
Limiting your intake of large quantities of aluminum-containing antacids and buffered aspirin and using these medications only as directed is the best way to limit exposure to aluminum from these sources.
While there have been no evidence of problems with aluminum in vaccines, it is wise to avoid aluminum in excess, as aluminum can be harmful in high doses. It can be a problem for people with renal failure. There are some concerns about aluminum and its connection to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), for instance. Steven Novella MD has made a summary on AD and aluminum research:
The evidence of aluminum and AD is mixed, without a clear direction. At present the best answer we have is that aluminum probably does not cause AD but appears to be playing some role, perhaps influencing severity. But even after 42 years, there remains a question mark next to these conclusions. We can rule out that aluminum is the single cause of AD, but whether or not it is an independent risk factor is a qualified “probably not.”
The mainstream scientific and patient or disease-oriented groups accurately reflect the above interpretation of the research. But the complexity of the results make it very easy to exploit for the purpose of fear-mongering. The notorious crank website, Rense.com, for example, cherry picks the evidence that suggests there is a correlation and piles it up to present a very distorted view of the issue. There will likely persist rumors, scare e-mails, and conspiracy websites promoting the idea that aluminum causes AD regardless of how the research progresses
Please consider the above when reading more about aluminum research. To avoid misconceptions, we should always review and weigh scientific evidence as a whole. People who aim to scare the public on mainstream science can choose one study or misquote another one out of context in order to make their message sound more powerful. These scare messages are also employed by people who themselves stand to profit from turning people away from evidence-based medicine. It is important to note that aluminum in medicines is under strict scrutiny and regulation, whereas many alternative ‘natural’ products (ironically aluminum, which is naturally occurring, could also be classified as a natural ingredient, and is found in herbs, spices, and tea) can be sold with the aura of wholesome healthfulness, whether they actually work, or even contain the ingredients promised on their labels – feat possible only thanks to the lack of regulation on supplements. You can read more about this in my piece Following the money.