Health & Family

Is it true that aluminum in antiperspirants is harmful?

Q. I have heard about a link between aluminum in antiperspirants and breast cancer. I have also read that aluminum may be associated with Alzheimer's disease. Every antiperspirant I have checked has aluminum as its main ingredient, which worries me.

I switched to a deodorant of mineral salts to get away from aluminum, but I've just discovered that it contains alum. Is that aluminum? The crystal works great, but I don't want aluminum in my life in any form. Is there anything I can use that doesn't contain aluminum?

There is controversy about links between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease and breast cancer. Neither association has been proven. Nevertheless, there is some troubling research suggesting a possible connection. Scientists do not know whether enough aluminum is absorbed from antiperspirants to pose a risk.

Alum, which is found in many “natural” rock or stone deodorants, is aluminum potassium sulfate. Ammonium alum (ammonium aluminum sulfate) is also used in deodorant crystals.

We don't know whether there is a problem with such products, but there is a safe alternative: milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide). We recently received the following message from a reader: “After searching the Web for how to get rid of strong underarm odor, I found your article on the laxative method. I have been using milk of magnesia under my arms ever since. It is a lifesaver!”

Certo for arthritis

Q. I read in your column that someone used Certo in juice to relieve painful arthritis in the hands. Is this the pectin with which one makes jelly? I did buy some and started putting a tablespoon in 8 ounces of pomegranate juice, as I have horrendous arthritis in my hands.

Certo is in fact a liquid pectin product used by home canners to make jams and jellies thicker. Readers have told us for 10 years that Certo mixed with grape juice can help ease arthritis pain.

Fiber and cholesterol

Q. Oatmeal and barley have lowered my cholesterol significantly. How does it work?

Oatmeal and barley are rich sources of soluble fiber. They bind to cholesterol in the digestive tract and keep it from being absorbed.

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