It’s not often I research something and have a profound realisation. Encountering Chris Exley’s research has been a truly eye-opening experience for me, leading to a profound realisation about the significance of his work. The depth and impact of his investigations into aluminium and its potential effects on human health are genuinely remarkable. Thus, this article is a much longer read than my typical article.
Chris Exley’s work on aluminium biogeochemistry delves into the intricate details of aluminium’s interaction with biological systems, particularly its potential role in neurodegenerative diseases, immunological responses, and oncogenesis. His thorough investigations have generated novel insights into aluminium’s potential health impacts, while also sparking debate among researchers. In this article, we provide a deep look at Exley’s most significant findings.
We are in the ‘Aluminium age’. Aluminium has never really been bioavailable to any organism until human intervention over the last century or so. We’ve entered peculiar and unprecedented territory.
Aluminium and Silicon: A Unique Relationship
Aluminium and silicon, two of the most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust, share a unique relationship in the realm of bioinorganic chemistry. While aluminium is often associated with potential toxicity, silicon has been found to counteract some of the detrimental effects of aluminium on biological systems. The presence of silicon in the form of soluble orthosilicic acid ‘Si(OH)4’ can form stable, non-toxic hydroxyaluminosilicate complexes with aluminium ions, which dissolve so slowly that the aluminium is almost never released and almost never makes its way into the biotic cycle.
How Aluminium Became Part of the Biotic Cycle
The increased bioavailability of aluminium in the environment and its subsequent integration into the biotic cycle can be largely attributed to human activities. While aluminium is naturally abundant in the Earth’s crust, it primarily exists in insoluble forms, such as bauxite, which limits its interaction with living organisms. However, human activities like mining, industrial processes, and the burning of fossil fuels have led to the release of soluble aluminium compounds into the environment, significantly increasing its presence in soil, water, and air. As a result, aluminium has become more readily incorporated into the food chain, impacting a wide range of organisms, including humans.
We are all living in a science experiment. Aluminium is now in the biotic cycle. And so, it’s accumulated in our brains and in other tissues. It is also physically and chemically biologically reactive. That means it will react with virtually everything it comes into contact with, including biological molecules.
A Formative Experience: Exley’s Scientific Roots
Chris Exley’s scientific roots can be traced back to his early fascination with the natural world and the role of metals in biological systems. One formative experience that shaped his research interests was the study of the environmental phenomenon of acid rain in the 1980s. Acid rain emerged as a significant environmental concern, leading to widespread damage to forests and aquatic ecosystems. Exley was particularly intrigued by the connection between acid rain and aluminium toxicity in fish populations, as acid rain mobilised aluminium from the surrounding soil, making it more bioavailable to aquatic life, causing detrimental effects on fish populations and delicate ecosystems.
During his investigations, Exley noticed the protective benefits of orthosilicic acid in water. Orthosilicic acid, a soluble form of silicon, can bind with aluminium ions to form stable, non-toxic hydroxyaluminosilicate complexes, thereby reducing the bioavailability of aluminium and its potential harm to aquatic organisms. This discovery of the unique relationship between aluminium and silicon served as a foundation for Exley’s future research endeavours, ultimately guiding his focus on understanding the intricate relationship between aluminium, silicon, and human health.
Some experts suggest lead poisoning may have played a significant role in the decline of the Roman Empire. Consider the ‘Aluminium Age’.
Lead and the Fall of the Roman Empire
The fall of the Roman Empire has been attributed to numerous factors, and one of them is the widespread use of lead in the Roman society. Lead was extensively used for various purposes, such as water pipes, kitchenware, and even as a sweetening agent in wine. Over time, the chronic exposure to lead caused a plethora of health issues, including cognitive decline, reproductive problems, and various neurological disorders. Some historians and experts argue that the widespread lead poisoning contributed to the decline in the overall health of the Roman population, leading to weakened leadership, poor decision-making, and a less robust military force, all of which played a role in the fall of the empire.
Are We on a Similar Trajectory with Aluminium Toxicity?
Drawing parallels to Chris Exley’s work on aluminium and neurodegeneration, one could argue that modern society might be on a similar trajectory with aluminium toxicity. Aluminium is ubiquitous in our daily lives, found in our diet, drinking water, cosmetics, cookware, and even vaccines. Like lead, aluminium is a neurotoxin, and its accumulation in the body can lead to various neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and autism.
Exley’s research has highlighted the significant presence of aluminium in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and autism, suggesting a potential link between aluminium exposure and these conditions. As we become more aware of the potential risks associated with aluminium exposure, it is crucial to take action to mitigate these risks, much like how societies eventually recognised the dangers of lead poisoning and took measures to limit its use.
“My worry is and my concern is: do we need to be concerned about the arrival of something which is highly biologically reactive for the first time in biochemical evolution?”
The Various Routes of Aluminium Exposure
Human exposure to aluminium occurs through a variety of sources due to its ubiquitous (and now bioavailable) presence in the environment. Some of the most common sources of aluminium exposure include diet (from fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, and processed foods), infant formula, drinking water, cosmetics (such as antiperspirants and makeup), cookware (like aluminium pots, pans, and foil), food packaging (cans, foil, and baking trays), vaccinations (as an adjuvant), medications (antacids and buffered aspirin), and environmental pollution (industrial processes, mining, and aviation and vehicle emissions). These everyday items and practices contribute to the aluminium burden in our bodies, making it essential to understand the potential health implications associated with the metal and the ways to mitigate its impact.
Excretion of Aluminium
Recent research has suggested that our bodies may excrete more aluminium through sweat than through urine, which is surprising and fascinating. However, this area is still being studied, and more research is needed to fully understand how aluminium is eliminated from the body. Along with sweat and urine, aluminium is also excreted through faeces (making up approximately 70-90% of ingested aluminium), as well as through the skin, nails, and hair. It has also been detected in semen and is likely present in menstrual blood as well.
Nature’s solution: drinking water naturally high in orthosilicic acid (silicon). Look for concentration: 30 mg/L or 30ppm
The Protective Effects of Mineral Water with Orthosilicic Acid (Silicon)
In Chris Exley’s research, he has extensively studied the protective effects of orthosilicic acid against aluminium toxicity. Orthosilicic acid is a naturally occurring compound found in some drinking water sources, and it has the unique ability to bind with aluminium. Exley’s work demonstrates that when orthosilicic acid is present, it forms complexes with aluminium, reducing the metal’s bioavailability and preventing its absorption by the body. It is effective in removing stored aluminum from the body.. This process effectively reduces the potential for aluminium toxicity and its associated health risks. By promoting the consumption of water rich in orthosilicic acid or supplementing with orthosilicic acid, individuals may be able to mitigate the harmful effects of aluminium exposure and protect their overall health.
Exley recommends a minimum concentration of 30 mg/L or 30ppm of orthosilicic acid (written as ‘silica’ on the label) in mineral water and suggests drinking 1L per day on an ongoing basis. Personally, just intuitively, I would prefer not to consume this water every day, in case it binds to essential minerals like iron and creates other deficiencies. For this reason, I plan to cycle my intake of orthosilicic acid periodically.
Consuming imported and bottled water feels wrong to me, but I’m empathetic towards those battling illness. It seems counterintuitive to solve a problem with the same unintended consequences that I seek to resolve – more pollution. Thus, I’ve been searching for a source in Australia. So far, I have found that the town of Moree, NSW, has artesian mineral springs flowing at 22mg/L silica and the town of Hepburn Springs, VIC has 64mg/L silica. That’s where I plan to get my water from. Exley suggests avoiding supplementation as the supplements are like “sand in a bottle”. However, I have found supplements containing Monomethylsilanetriol MMST (Potassium Salt), which claim to break down into orthosilicic acid – the brand I have chosen for my needs is ‘BioTrace Bioactive Silica’. I’m confident that my needs will be met through occasional trips to Hepburn Springs, consumption of silicon-rich foods like brown rice and barley, and supplementation with MMST. Additionally, I’m pleased to discover that beer typically contains about 20mg/l of dietary silicon.
Although Exley doesn’t really provide public advice on how to test for aluminium, I believe we could approach it similarly to heavy metal testing. Comparison testing (Tri-test) and a provoked metal challenge using water containing orthosilicic acid as the chelator, I believe, would be the most effective testing methods.
Comparison testing (Tri-test): This involves testing blood, hair, and urine to determine aluminium levels and their mobilisation throughout the body.
A provoked metal challenge: This method (borrowed from heavy metal testing) involves administering a chelator (possibly soluble silica water in this case), to provoke the release of stored metals. Thereafter, urine is collected for the next 6-24 hours depending on the protocol followed. This is essential for testing long-term exposure rather than just acute exposure (exposure in the past three months).
Therapeutic Trial: Although not technically testing, in some cases, it may be appropriate to start a safe therapy as a way to diagnose a medical condition. This approach is known as a therapeutic trial. In this case, drinking soluble silica water is a very safe treatment and may be an effective means of determining if aluminium burden is affecting your well-being. Consider therapeutic trail as a means of indirect testing for aluminium burden.
In extreme cases, a tissue biopsy may be performed to measure aluminium levels directly in specific tissues, such as the brain, liver, or bone. This is an invasive procedure and is reserved for extreme cases where a definitive diagnosis is needed.