Live long and perspire?

Dear Lucy: I’ve heard that aluminum deposits have been found in the brains of people who have died of Alzheimer's disease. Will using underarm deodorants or antiperspirants with aluminum compounds cause aluminum to enter the body? Also, will wearing pierced earrings made of silver introduce silver into the body? —Heavy Metal

Dear Metal: Lucy, long an advocate of deodorant use, nearly broke a sweat at the suggestion that its use might be endangering the perspiring masses. Anxious for the best information she could find on this question, Lucy consulted Dr. David V. Diamond, a former MIT Medical primary care provider and a specialist in environmental and occupational medicine.

According to Diamond, while some studies have found higher-than-normal aluminum concentrations in brains from Alzheimer’s patients, it isn’t clear that there is any causal relationship between these aluminum levels and the disease. And, in any case, the aluminum compound in antiperspirants is not easily absorbed by the body. “One study found that less than 1/10,000th of a topical application labeled with a tracer was found internally,” Diamond observes. “Relatively speaking, you absorb more aluminum from the foods you eat than you would from daily antiperspirant use.”

Still, Diamond notes, for individuals who want to avoid aluminum whenever possible, there are alternatives to antiperspirants that include aluminum compounds as an active ingredient. Check out the personal-care aisle at your local health food store, he suggests, or buy a conventional deodorant instead of an antiperspirant. Most deodorants that don’t say “antiperspirant” on the label are aluminum free, though you can read the ingredient list to be sure.

As for your earrings, Diamond explains that elemental silver is poorly absorbed through intact skin. “In fact,” he notes, “silver is a main ingredient in one of the best anti-infective creams used extensively in treatment of burn patients. Studies of these patients have failed to show systemic effects of silver exposure, even after many days of extensive exposure to damaged skin.

“The bottom line,” Diamond concludes, “is that it's probably safe to go out wearing both antiperspirant and silver earrings.” 

As relieved as she is by this news, in the interest of public decency, Lucy feels compelled to add that it’s probably best to wear something else as well. —Lucy

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