Friday, 9 June 2017

Switzerland May Ban Aluminium in Deodorants

If you've been to Switzerland, you know that it is an absolutely beautiful country, especially if you are into snow- or lake-related sports. Now, we may have another reason to love them: on the 5th of May, their National Council voted to approve a bill instructing their Federal Council to ban the use of aluminium in deodorants, based on research that the mineral could cause cancer.

Switzerland. Source: Andrew Bossi (CC: 2.5)
One of the studies that this proposed law is based on suggests a link between aluminium and breast cancer. First, the Swiss scientists exposed normal human breast cells to aluminium, and over time exposure caused some to turn into cancer cells. Then, injecting small amounts of aluminium into mice had the same effect: the mice developed tumours, which grew and spread to other areas of the body. Their earlier research was met with scepticism, but increasing evidence showing that aluminium could be a carcinogen meant that follow-up studies were easier to publish. While the study does not completely confirm that it causes cancer, co-author Andre-Pascal Sappino still stated that "I think we should avoid all deodorants containing aluminium salts". He draws an analogy between aluminium and asbestos, as they are both cheap and have attractive industrial potential, and despite all of the research condemning asbestos as a dangerous carcinogen, it took 50 years for the substance to be banned. Fortunately, it is now banned in Switzerland and across the European Union, as well as other countries like Australia. But this doesn't change the fact that so many people died of cancer before this link was confirmed and asbestos was banned. Also like asbestos, aluminium does not cause genetic mutations in bacteria, but they do in animals. And like the tobacco industry, the oncologists who performed this research now expect backlash from the cosmetics industry, who are likely to say that proof in humans is lacking.

Another recent study adds further weight to the link between aluminium and breast cancer. Partly because of the use of deodorants, aluminium has been found in higher concentrations in the breast than in the blood. Aluminium can cause instability in the genome, inappropriate cell division, and increase migration and invasion of already-established breast cancer cells. Additionally, it can act like an oestrogen, despite being a mineral. The most common benign disorder of the breast is gross cystic breast disease, and there is even evidence that aluminium could cause this too. To make things even worse, aluminium has been implicated in Alzheimer's disease too. The brain tissue of people with Alzheimer's disease generally contains a much higher concentration of aluminium than that of age-matched controls. In people with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, the concentration is even higher.

As you could tell, the Switzerland love doesn't stop there. A recent referendum (their democracy is also very well-developed) voted in favour of phasing out nuclear power, which will be replaced by clean renewable energy. No new licenses will be given to nuclear plants, and when the existing ones reach the end of their lifespan, they will not be replaced. Nuclear power generates just over a third of Switzerland's electricity, and clean renewables generate almost two-thirds, so while there is a lot of work to do, their goal is achievable. Overall, there is hope for a world where we can live longer, healthier lives without this current cancer epidemic, but often we have to look to other nations for inspiration.

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