Aluminum is one of the most common toxicities today. It's not enough to avoid aluminum containing deodorants, aluminum foil and cookware, etc. Due to environmental contamination, it's in the air, soil, food plants, water, etc. as well as commercial products, under a false presumption of safety.
A common argument against taking aluminum toxicity seriously is that aluminum is one of the most common elements in the earth's crust. However, it's also a highly reactive and unstable element by itself, so in nature, it's always bound to other atoms and is not readily encountered by us or other animals in a way that could cause toxicity. Other forms of aluminum exist (free ions, nanoparticles, and others) though, that do not occur in nature, and because we know that nature does not produce these other forms of aluminum without human intervention, we know that when we find it in a patient's system, that it's manmade forms that the patient was somehow exposed to, not the ambient aluminum as a normal part of the environment, causing the problem.
Why isn't this more widely recognized?
Tests routinely show false negatives because most labs are not able to test for the type of aluminum that makes up most of the exposure and/or don't test those parts of the body containing the aluminum. Still, there are a few tests available that are able to catch or more accurately measure body burden of aluminum (apheresis: a dialysis-like filtering of the blood, with analysis of the material filtered out; and tissue spectroscopy). In our office, we also use ART (Autonomic Response Testing, a form of in-office/session diagnosis) and have watched clinical results following specific treatment for years, showing that aluminum toxicity is extremely common, it's related to a wide number of symptoms, and that treatment works.
What aluminum does in the body
There are too many negative health effects of aluminum to go into detail about them all. I'm going to go into detail about the most significant and common effect that I see clinically: the collapse of the extracellular matrix. To clarify that this is by no means the only problem, here's a short and sort of technical list of some of the other known effects:
A disordered immune response including autoimmunity and inflammation, frank neurotoxicity by stimulation of inflammatory and pro-apoptotic genes (activation of which has been observed in the brains of Alzheimer's patients), loss of cellular membrane fluidity, inhibition of enzymes across the body (hexokinase - which is involved in ATP/energy production, alkaline phosphatase, acetylcholinesterase, ferroxidase, and catechol-O-methyltransferase [COMT, of methylation genetics fame) are a few), increased oxidative stress, suppressed neural development, inhibition of neurotransmitter uptake (choline, serotonin, noradrenalin, and others), inhibition of RNA synthesis, and direct binding to phosphate groups in DNA, RNA, and mononucleotides.
Collapse of the extracellular matrix (ECM)
This is a key mechanism of aluminum toxicity and even if you've never heard the term "extracellular matrix" (maybe especially if you've never hear the term), it's worth understanding why this is a problem. This is a long explanation, but it's worth it, if you want to understand for yourself, clearly and simply, why this is a real problem. There are a number of underlying concepts that, when understood and tied together at the end, show a simple and clear picture of how and why aluminum is so toxic.
Tl;dr (too long; didn't read) version: you'll just have to trust my word instead of seeing it yourself: cells can't get what they need, lose communication with the other cells and the body as a whole, and that makes them more and more sick.
The extracellular matrix surrounds every cell in the body (which is why it has the name that it does: "extra": outside; "cellular": of the cell; the matrix outside of the cell—all cells!), controlling their interaction with other cells and parts of the body near and far, controlling the entry and exit of nutrients and waste products, whether or not nearby circulation is open or choked off, whether accurate and appropriate signals from the nervous system can reach the cells, etc.
A healthy ECM is constantly restructuring itself to accommodate the changing needs of cells based on circadian rhythms, larger hormonal cycles, activities different parts of the body are doing: digesting, running, weight lifting, etc.), how long ago food was eaten, etc. Cells are dependent on the ECM functioning well, so anything that disrupts it in a significant way becomes central to health. You could think of the ECM as a wet dish sponge, with the cells of body living in the holes. If that sponge was dried out or damaged, it makes sense that cells wouldn't be as easily able to get nourishment or other things that they need.
I recommend taking a moment to skip around in the video below to see examples of the ECM in living tissue. The web-like transparent structure on the initial frame is the ECM. (Feel free to watch it in entirety if you like, but there's a fair amount of info that doesn't apply to this topic.) This physician, Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau, MD, has produced innovative footage of, and perspectives on, the ECM for years, exposing practitioners of all kinds to this little known, anatomical structure.
The ECM is a combination of 1) structural proteins (collagen and hyaluronic acid are some of the better known ones) that act and look like a cross between architectural scaffolding or bottle brushes and radio antennas, and 2) the fluid surrounding them (water with varied electrolytes, proteins, and other tiny molecules, which have a certain electric charge) which keeps the scaffolding/antennas upright and in a working position.
The structural proteins (generically called glycoproteins) are like seaweed. When seaweed is underwater, it's upright, moving, fanning, colorful, etc., but at low tide, when it's above water, it's collapsed into a goo ball on the rocks, and if you didn't know better, you would assume it was dead. In a sense it is, because many of the processes required for seaweed to survive can only happen when its structure is expanded. The inside of a human body is always "underwater". There's never a time, like low tide for seaweed, that the matrix should be collapsed, yet it can happen.
The presence of the fluid, along with its proper mildly positive electrical charge, is what keeps the scaffolding, which has a mild negative charge, upright and fanning. As an example to make the point: dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can both cause collapse of the ECM, more severely, the more severe the dehydration or imbalance is.
This can be seen visually by the pinch test, a quick means to determine whether someone has dehydration (though the test doesn't work for anything less than severe, life-threatening dehydration): pinch the patient's skin, release it, and it should bounce back to its normal position immediately. If it is delayed or doesn't bounce back, that's the ECM equivalent to a pile of seaweed salad on a plate that you can mold into a certain shape and all it will do is sit there, whereas if you stuck your hand in an aquarium and balled up living seaweed, once you let go of it, it would immediately resume its flexible, fanned-out shape.
Aluminum ions also collapse the structure. Some of the aluminum that we are concerned about has a 3+ charge. "3+" is chemistry terminology for how electrically strong or weak a charged particle is (neutral is 0), and therefore how strongly it will attract or repel other charged particles.
Size of the particle also matters, because whatever charge(s) a molecule has, simplified, is spread over the surface of that molecule, so smaller particles, since the charge is concentrated in a smaller area, will have a stronger attractive/repulsive force. Al3+ (chemistry shorthand for aluminum with a 3+ charge) is a particularly small ion (its atomic number/the number of protons it has, which indicates its size, is 13; by comparison, lead is 82, mercury is 80), and 3+ is a strong charge for an ion.
When these Al3+ particles are thrown into the ECM, they completely override the milder positive charge of the diffuse ambient fluid, draw the negatively charged structural proteins to them, and hang on tightly, collapsing them like seaweed drying on the shore, and keeping them in that collapsed state until the aluminum is removed, if it ever is.
What happens to the cells when the ECM has collapsed?
The cells, surrounded by a collapsed network of glycoprotein goo instead of the adaptable, flexible, moving matrix, are physically and electrically gummed up and all tasks become less efficient and less accurate. Further, since the ECM also controls the routes of nutrients in and waste products out, fundamental needs for survival become limited.
As an example: imagine that you cannot, for any reason, leave your house. Even though you can't leave, there's someone who delivers food to your house regularly and a garbage truck and the plumbing take away your waste. Now imagine, Sleeping Beauty style, that huge thorn bushes have grown up all around your house. The food deliverer sometimes can't get in at all, and when he can make it through the thorns, he might have dropped half of the food on the way. The garbage truck driver has basically given up getting his truck anywhere close and trash is piling up, and the roots have broken through the plumbing.
At the same time that trash and poop is building up in your house, you're starting to starve. All kinds of problems are going to arise, eventually leading to death. If this "person in the house" is a liver cell, the body will not detox as well. If it's a neuron, there is going to be some abnormal neurological activity (too much: seizures, twitches, pain, excessive sensitivities to stimuli, etc.; or not enough: numbness, paralysis, brain fog, etc.). If it's a muscle cell, it will be weak and fatigue easily. Whatever that cell is supposed to do, it will not do it effectively.
Organs or cells that were already weak due to some past trauma, infection, psychological issue, etc. are going to struggle more and fail faster than those that had a full reserve of health to begin with, which in part explains why individuals will have different systems affected and different types of symptoms from the same pathology of the ECM being clogged due to aluminum toxicity.
The ECM transmits electricity and other energies as well. There is some evidence that the energy of the meridians, as recognized in Chinese and other forms of medicine, is transmitted through the ECM. While there are other reasons as well, I have observed that patients with collapsed ECM's tend to not respond to acupuncture, homeopathy, and other forms of medicine that manipulate the bodily energy at that level.
A collapsed ECM makes someone poor at grounding, no matter how much they stand barefoot outside, because the electrical signal, wherever it enters the body, faces a lot of electrical resistance, and this can cause some of the localized symptoms of electrohypersensitivity, like headaches or other symptoms in specific areas of the body, often including those parts that are closest to WiFi routers, cell phones, baby monitors, etc. Further, aluminum coating the cells makes a person an antenna, like old school television rabbit ears, boosted with fans of aluminum foil. In my clinical experience, in some cases, the main cause of electrohypersensitivity is an ECM having lost its conductance.
Perspective on the problem
After all of these words about how bad aluminum toxicity is, I need to clarify that aluminum is not some inherently evil substance, worthy of demonization. It's a natural component of the earth, presumably a key component (because everything in the natural world is a product of something else and contributes to the production or creation of something else, ad infinitum), even if we don't understand exactly why. Aluminum oxide, crystallized, is corundum, the class of minerals that includes rubies, sapphires, and rarer gems. Biological life did not evolve with the massive amounts and unnatural types of aluminum and other metals in our environment. Our systems are not adept at dealing with it, because until a few generations ago, they never had to. It's a new insult and, to anthropomorphize a bit, it's not the aluminum's fault that humans dug it out of the earth and transformed it into a poison.
Stay tuned for part 2: treatment of aluminum toxicity.