green tea being poured from a teapot, spicy green tea, scalding tea

Q. I try to avoid aluminum as much as possible after reading that it was toxic to the brain. I was astonished to learn recently that tea is high in aluminum. I drink 4 or 5 cups of hot tea a day during cold weather and in the summer I drink glass after glass of iced tea.

I would have a hard time giving up tea, but I am worried about the aluminum exposure. Please clarify this confusing story.

A. There is evidence that tea may have higher concentrations of aluminum than many other beverages.

That is because aluminum is found naturally in soil and can be concentrated in tea leaves, depending upon various factors such as acidity in the ground, growing conditions, fertilizers and type of tea. A study in the journal Natural Resources (online, Sept. 2011) notes that:

“Tea leaves (Camellia sinensis) are among the most conspicuous vegetal species recognized as aluminum accumulators, reaching contents up to 10,000 mg·kg. Commercial teas, in spite of the fact of being produced from young leaves shoots, contain relatively high concentrations of aluminum, becoming a potential source of bioavailable aluminum in the diet. Matsumoto et al. have reported concentrations around 30,000 mg·kg-1 of aluminum in old tea dry leaves. Ruan and Wong mentioned concentrations of aluminum in some tea varieties from 468 to 930 mg·kg.

“For many years aluminum has been considered innocuous for human beings, since most chemical forms are not damaging for living organisms. However, if pH soil values are low, aluminum tends to form chemical species that are potentially absorbed by plants, especially tea, and become toxic for living organisms. In this sense, there has been controversy on the impact of this metal on biological systems particularly in the last years. Concerning human health recent studies have demonstrated that bioavailable aluminum is related to some diseases such as Alzheimer, Parkinson, and dialysis encephalopathy.”

The Mexican researchers who conducted this study found that both black and green tea infusions had concentrations of aluminum that were “higher than the level accepted in Mexico for drinking water…”

There is growing evidence that aluminum is indeed problematic for the brain and other biological systems. A recent article in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (online, Feb. 20, 2014) summarizes one perspective thusly:

“Industrialized societies produce many convenience foods with aluminum additives that enhance various food properties and use alum (aluminum sulfate or aluminum potassium sulfate) in water treatment to enable delivery of large volumes of drinking water to millions of urban consumers. …Mechanisms that underlie the risk of low concentrations of aluminum relate to (1) aluminum’s absorption rates, allowing the impression that aluminum is safe to ingest and as an additive in food and drinking water treatment, (2) aluminum’s slow progressive uptake into the brain over a long prodromal phase, and (3) aluminum’s similarity to iron, in terms of ionic size, allows aluminum to use iron-evolved mechanisms to enter the highly-active, iron-dependent cells responsible for memory processing. Aluminum particularly accumulates in these iron-dependent cells to toxic levels, dysregulating iron homeostasis and causing microtubule depletion, eventually producing changes that result in disconnection of neuronal afferents and efferents, loss of function and regional atrophy consistent with MRI findings in AD [Alzheimer’s disease] brains. AD is a human form of chronic aluminum neurotoxicity. The causality analysis demonstrates that chronic aluminum intake causes AD.”

Despite this rather gloomy assessment, there is some good news about tea and aluminum. It turns out that tea also contains reasonably high concentrations of an amino acid called L-Theanine. A recent study in Drug and Chemical Toxicology (March 24, 2014) reports that L-Theanine has “neuroprotective effects.” The authors studied the negative impact of aluminum on rat brains and concluded that:

“Aluminium induction also caused histopathological changes in the cerebral cortex, cerebellum and hippocampus of rat brain which was reverted by pretreatment with L-Theanine. The present study clearly indicates the potential of L-Theanine in counteracting the damage inflicted by aluminium on rat brain regions.”

So, although tea is high in aluminum, perhaps the fairly high levels of L-Theanine in tea counteract the potentially negative effects of the aluminum. Because we are tea lovers ourselves, we are not likely to give up our morning cup because of aluminum content.

You may want to pay more attention to your antiperspirant than your tea bag, however. All antiperspirants are quite high in aluminum. That’s because the FDA requires aluminum in such products to stop sweating. There is quite a lot of controversy about how much aluminum is absorbed through underarm skin. Until recently we suspect that the FDA assumed there was little, if any, absorption. But drugs can be absorbed through this sensitive tissue. In fact, there is a commercial on television for a product called Axiron. It is a topical testosterone solution that is specifically applied to underarms, suggesting that drug absorption from this area is efficient.

There have been reports of aluminum absorption from antiperspirants. Women who shave their underarms may be especially susceptible to this effect.

Until the issue of aluminum is resolved, we like to use alternate solutions for preventing body odor. One we learned about several years ago was milk of magnesia (MoM). At first we tried pouring it into our palms and then sloshing in on our underarms. It worked, but it was messy. That is why we developed our People’s Pharmacy Milk of Magnesia Roll-On Deodorant. It is convenient and avoids the most common ingredient in antiperspirants, aluminum cholorohydrate

Instead of giving up tea, just try to reduce your exposure to aluminum from other sources. If you have used milk of magnesia as a deodorant, please comment below and let us know how it has worked for you.

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  1. Richi

    Why do people use anti-perspirants? They should be banned.
    If you are worried about your smell, then take a quick shower.
    I sweat buckets every day, but take a shower afterwards, and then no problem.

  2. Julie W
    South Africa

    I have been worrying because tea contains high amounts of fluoride. Now I read that it also contains large amounts of aluminium! Plus caffeine prevents the absorption of Vitamin B which gave me symptoms of beri-beri once, believe it or not. I drank masses of tea when pregnant, thinking how good I was not to drink alcohol, and both my children have trouble concentrating and remembering things. I hope to heaven I did not mess up their neurological systems. I really worry now that drinking tea is basically bad for you.

  3. Marie-Rose

    I wonder if tea leaves are infected with al from the soil, then I guess food could have the same issue ? I’m thinking of spinache and other vegetables

  4. Andreas

    One very important element in this whole conversation needs to be added. The country of origin of the tea is crucial! My research has shown that teas from China are the worst. Teas from India, particularly Assam had the lowest aluminum content. Some teas from China elevated the aluminum content of one cup of tea, after 3 minutes of steeping, to levels higher than the FDA recommended allowance.

  5. David

    Drinking Fuji or Volvic mineral water has been shown to leach Al from the body, has had some interesting effects in clinical studies as well.

    I drink lots of tea but make sure I make it with either of the aforementioned water.

  6. GP

    My husband and I switched to MOM a couple of years ago, after reading an article on aluminum absorption into the body and it works great!

  7. Laura

    Another possible natural deoderant is baking soda. I’ve used it for about 25 years. Granted, I’m a female that tends to just perspire rather than sweat (unless it’s summer and I’m doing physical labor). However, I rarely have any body odor, though I might get “moist” under the arms when it’s hot (and I live in the South where it gets HOT!). I just dab it on with a tissue while my armpits are still moist after showering.

  8. CarolP

    Is there any information re: aluminum content of organic teas? What about herbal teas (infusions ) like camomile. rooibos, etc?

    • J.M.
      central Texas

      Good idea. I use zinc oxide ointment — rub in a pea-sized dab and no odor at all. You can still perspire – a good thing, necessary for de-tox. It does not stain.

      You can even do this before bedtime instead of morning and you’re still good to go the next day – no waiting to dress in case it might rub off on your day clothes.

      It’s a white ointment in a tube at drugstore. Good for lots of other things, too — heals babies’ diaper rash, I remember, tho I don’t have one of those lil darlins right now.

  9. JB

    Pubmed and PLOS are both good sources for additional research. The article in question is open access, so anyone can read it in full. Whether the tea is green or black, whether there is sucrose or ascorbic acid (to mimic sugar and/or lemon added) and how long it is steeped all make a difference, sometimes negligible, in the end numbers. They also said they picked the most popular brands of black & green tea, but don’t mention country of origin or whether or not it’s organic. Researchers already know that the type of fertilizer and the P.H. level of the soil the tea is grown in can also make a difference in the numbers, none of which was specified in this particular article, so I don’t think it offers as much info as I’d like. I’ve also heard white tea has less aluminum. If I’ve minimized aluminum from my deodorant, cookware, meds and OTC meds, baking ingredients, and other sources (some vaccines in the U.S. contain it), and use non-fluoridated water (fluoride exacerbates the toxicity of aluminum) & keep anti-oxidants in my diet, I’m happy to ditch the other stuff and keep the tea, which offers so many positives it would be impossible to list them here.

  10. Cindy M. B.

    GOOD GRIEF!!!!!! Here we are presented the ASTONISHING and extremely upsetting fact that TEA contains more aluminum than what Mexico considers safe for its drinking water…! AND YET EVERY SINGLE COMMENT IN THIS COMMENT THREAD IS ABOUT USING MOM FOR DEODORANT???? I simply can’t believe it. I drink tea all day. I drink green tea in the first half of the day, then hibiscus tea in the afternoons/evenings. According to this report, that supplies me with loads of aluminum, something I have studiously tried to avoid. I’ve changed all my cookware. I only use the MOM deodorant (works great), etc. BUT NOW THIS?!
    This is horrible news, especially since tea has loads of great cancer-fighting and longevity properties. Yes, it’s somewhat comforting how L-Theanine, also found in tea, might ameliorate some of the aluminum damage — but not so comforting when you read that the POTENTIAL of this benefit is only INDICATED…. in rat brains! Not exactly a done deal.
    SO, WHAT EXACTLY AM I TO DO ABOUT THE TEA CONSUMPTION? This is very very scary, Peoples Pharmacy. I’m drinking my beloved tea right now, and feel like pouring it down the drain.

  11. jean

    I now use MOM deodorant exclusively. I also shave my underarms biweekly because the mild sweating is obvious by then.

  12. JOW

    Another aluminum question…
    What about aluminum pots and pans? I’ve been using them for over 40 years.
    Could they have contributed to my stage 3 kidney disease as well as the antiperspirant?

  13. ELB

    To those who “sweat terribly” I offer this consolation: Sweating is a great provision of nature since it rids the body of toxins which need to be expelled. And since the deodorant is effective and the perspiration cooling, you are
    ahead of the game.
    [May I return to this week’s original concern, though it may not belong among these Comments? As “a shameless and inveterate tea drinker,” I’d greatly appreciate the stats on the levels of aluminum in the several kinds of tea tested and the levels of theanine in them. Such trade-offs are important to consider–e.g., the high caffeine in chocolate might have ruled it out for a daily mug of warm cacao, which I may have learned about in the Pharmacy;
    but it so restored my brother’s esophagus after a severe bout of walking pneumonia that he could soon eat solids and regain his strength.
    Similarly, let’s defend the good repute of tea, if that’s justified by systematically measuring up aluminum vis-à-vis theanine in each tea variety.]

    • Christine
      California USA

      I do know that aluminum pans can leach aluminum into the food so I’d avoid them!

      Don’t know how that might have affected your specific issue.

      • J.M.

        Aluminum pots and pans leach aluminum only into high-acid foods such as tomatoes, peaches, etc., when cooked or left in the pot for a significant time period. Just don’t use your aluminum utensils for those. I regret overreacting and getting rid of some excellent pots and pans before I realized we’d been “had” by manufacturers marketing new items.

  14. njf

    I have been using your MOM deodorant for over a year now and love it. So far no one around me has complained.

  15. Andrea

    I have also use Magnesium as odor control, but not the milk of Magnesium. I use the Magnesium Chloride Flakes and put one tablespoon HOT water and one Tbl sp. magnesium flakes and shake until dissolved in to a very fine oil. This will prevent odors, on any body part AND the skin will take up the badly needed magnesium as a trace mineral! Older folks are really in need of more magnesium, so you kill two birds with one stone!
    It may sting a little in the beginning, but will soon go away, that is your clue that the skin is reacting to the magnesium and taking it up into the body!! good for bones, skin, hair, and nails, LOL!

  16. C

    I love your MOM deodorant! Been using it for years and have turned many people onto it. Works just as well for me on a hot summer hike as the antiperspirants I used to use. And I’ve tried everything from Whole Foods in the past and most natural deodorants were useless, just a temporary cover up.
    I use your MOM 100% of the time and will never use anything else.

  17. J.B.

    I bought the MoM product also and it worked well for me. I’m not sure I would want my body to stop sweating – armpits are very close to lymph nodes, which are part of the body’s system to get rid of bad stuff. Sweating is part of the body’s way to get rid of toxins. I don’t want to smell, so I’m happy with deoderants instead of antiperspirants.
    I also started buying aluminum free baking powder and baking soda for cooking. Aluminum is a known neurotoxin, so I decided I didn’t want to be eating it, either.

  18. WO

    Surely if tea were a major player in the development of Alzheimer’s, countries with a high tea consumption (China, England?) would show higher incidence of Alzheimer’s. Or …? How can the consumer determine foods that have added aluminum?

    • Stinky B

      I can’t comment on China, but here in the UK our our levels of Alzheimer’s are very high. This news about tea has really shaken me. I worry that all my efforts to avoid aluminium might have been in vain.

      • Christine
        California, USA

        I’m from the UK. My mother and I had a hair analysis and both of our test results showed aluminum that was through the roof. Since my aunt died with Alzheimer’s it scared me. We both, of course, were raised drinking the traditional black tea. I now drink mostly green tea.

        I detoxed (twice, each time for 3 months) using DMSA.
        My next hair analysis showed my aluminum within the normal range.
        I now use Chlorella daily to keep it that way. Oops, a reminder to myself that I just ran out. Gotta go and order some more….

  19. L

    I sweat terribly, and while the MoM helps with odor, it has not helped me with the sweating, unfortunately. Can’t wait till somebody comes up with a solution for that!

  20. BC

    A friend who had breast cancer told me about the toxins in anti-perspirants and suggested MOM. I have been using it for about nine years and found it works much better than other “natural” deodorants I have tried.

  21. KBM

    I have recently made my own deodorant using coconut oil, shea butter, beeswax, and aluminum-free baking powder. It can be extended using arrowroot flower, also. It really works well.

  22. RSH

    I had been using regular deodorant (NOT anti-perspirant) for years, and about two years ago I switched to People’s Pharmacy Roll-On Milk of Magnesia deodorant. It has worked beautifully for me. I gave some to my daughter, but she didn’t get the same results. Could be that she’s not as persistent as I. I think it may take a week or two for your body to adjust–particularly if you’re using an anti-perspirant.

  23. Diana

    I’ve been using the MoM deodorant for a couple of years now and really like it. I had some doubts about its effective initially but once I started, it works great. The hardest part of switching to a deodorant is the initial wetness you notice but since I had made the switch to a deodorant already, there was no transition from the “crystal” roll on deodorant to the MoM one.
    I love it and live in Florida where it really needs to work in the summer and I have no problems. Thanks Peoples Pharmacy!!

  24. Judy

    I’ve been using your MOM deodorant for a while now. It stops odor well, but since it’s not an antiperspirant my clothes still get wet from sweat. I’ve found that letting the MOM dry and then dusting my armpits with cornstarch keeps me dry longer. The cornstarch is in a shake bottle like talcum powder. I will say that if I’m going to an important event I just put on regular antiperspirant. I figure a little aluminum once in a while isn’t going to hurt.

  25. SK

    My husband and I both use milk of magnesia as a deodorant. We pour it into a smaller holder which we even take traveling. We shake it and then place a small amount on our finger tips. Then we place on our underarms.
    My husband was skeptical at first but it worked. Now he is now a believer too.

  26. JC

    You say “all antiperspirants have aluminum,” then say you have a fix which is to use a deodorant. I would just like to note that deodorants can be found easily in any store that do not have deodorant. It is antiperspirants that are the problem. Are there any antiperspirants that do not contain aluminum?

  27. Richard

    I have been using Milk of Magnesia roll-on for several years. For me, it is more effective than any of the typical commercial deodorants. It lasts longer, doesn’t stain or itch, and has no odor of its own. MoM may not work for everyone but I find it superior to other products.

  28. lw

    What a surprise! Milk of Magnesia actually seems to work as a deoderant…and alleviates the concern about exposure to aluminum. Thanks PP!

  29. MCS

    I have two teenaged daughters. We have all changed to natural deodorants. Being over 40, I can now use just a slightly watered down lemon juice that I put inside an empty roll on deodorant container through a well placed hole that I later plug. The lemon juice acidity must kill the bacteria on the skin that creates underarm odor. It won’t stain clothes and there is no hard-to-wash-off residue like regular antiperspirants.

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