Aluminum as an Essential Nutrient
Speculation that aluminum is an essential nutrient has persisted for at least 70 years (330)
; yet to
date, there is no conclusive evidence for its essentiality in the diets of animals or humans (6,7)
One of the earliest speculations about the essentiality was by E. E. Smith, president of the New York
Academy of Sciences in the early 1900s. In his 1928 book on aluminum, he described the effects
of adding different elements to milk on the growth and fertility of rats consuming only a milk
. Aluminum was one of the added elements that appeared to be necessary for
normal fertility and survival of offspring. On this basis, and the fact that aluminum was present in
tissues of the rat, Smith concluded that aluminum 'exercises a true and essential biological function.'
This early research with milk diets must be considered equivocal, however, and has never been
Since this early work, few studies have directly addressed the question of aluminum's essentiality.
In 1980, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the existing research and stated that
'aluminum has not been proven to be essential to animals, but indirect evidence suggests it may be'
. The indirect evidence included accumulation of aluminum in regenerating bone, stimulation
of certain enzyme systems, effective use as an adjuvant, and a report that aluminum stimulated
growth in poultry.
Despite this optimism, recent reviews conclude that the evidence for the essentiality of aluminum
remains quite limited (6,7)
. The reports of aluminum accumulation in regenerating bone,
stimulation of certain enzymes, and the often-cited ability of aluminum to combine with fluoride
and activate the guanine nucleotide (GTP) binding regulatory element of adenylate cyclase (333)
are actions of aluminum that have never been proven to be required for normal biological function
in any organism. This leaves, then, two isolated studies indicating that a deficiency of aluminum in
the diet may modestly inhibit the growth of goats and chickens as the only support for essentiality
. These studies, however, have yet to be validated by others. If aluminum is ever shown to be
essential, it appears that the levels required in the diet are so low (less than 200 µg kg-1
diet in the
goat study) that dietary deficiency would be very rare.