Aluminum foil can likely be found in almost every home in the United States. After all, it’s cheap, readily available and useful in a variety of situations. But new evidence suggests that this ordinary household item may pose a hidden danger to the people who use it.
And although the product is also commonly referred to as tin foil, it hasn’t actually been made from tin since the early 20th century. This was because that particular substance often left a metallic taste on the food it was used to wrap. Additionally, the original foil was stiffer and more expensive to produce than its modern-day counterpart.
The first example of aluminum foil, then, was made in Switzerland in 1910. And the plant where it was produced was owned by J.G. Neher & Sons, who used the hydroelectricity generated by a waterfall to power their rolling machine. In this way, modern foil was born.
Furthermore, aluminum foil was also initially used by food manufacturers to package their products; Tobler wrapped its chocolate Toblerone bars in it, for example. And by 1913 the foil was being used in the United States to cover Life Savers and other candy.
Today, however, around 660,000 tons of aluminum foil is manufactured in the U.S., with 75 percent of it being used to package products like food, cosmetics and cigarettes. And, helpfully, the foil itself can be recycled, making it a more environmentally friendly choice than equivalents such as plastic wrap.
Plus, aluminum foil is frequently used during barbecuing. In essence, by using foil when cooking on the grill, people can keep clean up to a minimum. Worryingly, though, experts are now warning that this could be a terrible idea.
After all, when you cook using aluminum foil, tiny particles of the metal may transfer to the food you plan to eat. And even though the aluminum flecks might not be visible, you could nevertheless be ingesting them. Worse still, high doses of the metal have been linked to various ailments, including Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis. In extreme cases, kidney failure could even result as a result of high aluminum levels in the body.
It’s worth noting, though, that most people do take in a varying amount of aluminum in their day-to-day lives; the metal is found in cheese, tea and many antiperspirants, for example. And that’s okay, since the human body is pretty adept at absorbing and expelling small amounts of aluminum.
Moreover, the World Health Organization has claimed that the body can take in 40 mg of aluminum without the metal causing damage. If you cook food using foil, however, your body may eventually absorb as much as six times that safe amount, according to a 2012 study by researchers from the American University of Sharjah. Their findings also established that one piece of meat could potentially carry as much as 400 mg of the metal.
And, unfortunately, the situation may be exacerbated when food is cooked in spices or acidic substances such as lemon juice. Given that fish is often baked in foil, then, this so-called healthy food could end up containing worrying levels of aluminum.
And it isn’t just through cooking that we are exposed to aluminum on a regular basis. The chemical compound aluminum sulfate is used in the water purification process, for instance. Combined with other sources, then, the amount of aluminum in your body could add up.
But despite the ramifications of the contents of the 2012 study, elements of its findings have nevertheless come under question. Some argue, for instance, that although cooking with foil means that food could have a higher aluminum content, this may not actually matter. Indeed, according to one report published in 2011, the body absorbs less than 0.4 percent of the aluminum it ingests.
Moreover, of that tiny amount, only a small percentage actually makes it to your brain. Consequently, it makes it very unlikely that the food you eat can give you Alzheimer’s – regardless of how that food is cooked. Just 1 percent of absorbed aluminum ends up in the brain, in fact.
And, so, if one assumes that a piece of meat cooked in foil is carrying 400 mg of aluminum, your body will absorb on average about 1.6 mg of that. It follows, then, that just 0.016 mg of aluminum will find its way to your brain.
Indeed, in order to create unnatural levels of aluminum in your body, and in particular your brain, it’s said that you would need to ingest a huge amount of the metal. Not only that, but you would have to do so extremely regularly. So, where did the theory that aluminum gives you Alzheimer’s disease come from?
Well, the idea that aluminum and Alzheimer’s are connected began years ago, when scientists noticed that people who had died of the disease often appeared to have a buildup of plaque in their brains. Subsequently, this plaque was discovered to contain aluminum.
And ever since, debate has raged about just how much of an effect aluminum levels have on the incidence of Alzheimer’s. It’s been argued, for instance, that although there are some links between aluminum in drinking water and the disease, these have not been shown to be conclusive. Likewise, it’s said that data produced does not suggest that aluminum is a key factor in inducing Alzheimer’s.
Furthermore, while food cooked on foil could contain relatively higher levels of aluminum, it’s also the case that tea may also harbor a significant amount of the metal. Consequently, it might be that the current fears over foil are unfounded; people have been drinking tea for centuries, after all.
Be that as it may, there are actions you can take if cooking with foil is something you’re concerned about: put bluntly, you’ll need to stop using it. Instead, when barbecuing, you could place your food directly on a rack above the heat source; if using an oven, though, put it in some aluminum-free bakeware.
And whether you believe that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s or not, there is still one safe way to use foil: that is, simply for wrapping. After all, high levels of aluminum have only been recorded when food is wrapped in foil and then subjected to heat.
There is, however, another popular household item that can pose a risk to your health – and it’s usually used in the summer months. That’s right, if you find that you’re too hot in bed at night, experts recommending thinking twice before reaching for that electric fan. As it turns out, having cool air circulating your boudoir while you sleep may come at a price.
There’s a curious irony about trying to sleep during the summer: you’re exhausted from the heat, but it’s those same scorching, sticky temperatures that prevent you from drifting off. To cool things down, then, you might turn to an electric fan. But unfortunately, it turns out that choosing this solution could have seriously detrimental effects on your body – at least, that is, according to some scientists.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for a wide variety of reasons, from obvious benefits including better work performance, to less tangible effects such as improved heart and brain health. Exactly how much sleep you need, however, is less concrete. Indeed, although adults are generally thought to need between seven and nine hours per night, that figure can vary for everyone.
As much as we’d all love to get a consistent eight hours’ sleep every night, there are matters outside our control that can put paid to that notion. Yes, as if switching off your brain weren’t already difficult enough, you also have factors such as the weather to contend with.
For example, you’re more likely to experience difficulty in getting to sleep if it’s particularly humid. There are a few obvious solutions, though; you can try opening the window, for instance. But if it’s really hot and sticky outside, with no breeze to speak of, then that plan isn’t going to be of much help.
Alternatively, there are ways to stop your bedroom from getting too warm in the first place. In the U.K., the NHS advises “using shades or reflective material outside the windows.” But if that’s a no-go, you can keep things cool by simply closing the curtains. Bear in mind, though, that you’ll need light-colored curtains, as darker drapes may unfortunately have the opposite effect.
However, many people simply resort to placing an electric fan in their bedroom. And there are actually a few genuine reasons why it could be beneficial, even beyond just cooling down the room. For instance, a fan sounds like white noise, which can be helpful for drowning out noisy neighbors or any other background sounds.
Meanwhile, a fan can also keep air circulating throughout the room, preventing things from getting musty. But even with these supposed benefits in mind, it’s worth weighing them against the potential downsides of keeping one running throughout the night.
Indeed, in some parts of the world, it’s considered a very bad idea. Take Korea, for example, where “fan death” is a common superstition. The belief goes that a fan left on in an otherwise closed room can be fatal. There’s no scientific evidence to support this irrational fear, of course, but even beyond this theory, there are seemingly legitimate reasons for not running a fan overnight.
We’re not just talking about the size of your electricity bill here, either. You see, according to scientists, sleeping by a fan may have some serious consequences for your body and your health. And while these won’t necessarily affect everybody in the same way, they could be worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to use a fan to keep cool.
After all, it’s not just air that a fan circulates; any lingering dust or pollen particles will also be sent zooming around the room. And if you suffer from hay fever, asthma or allergies, chances are you don’t want those entering your airways. So check your fan blades to make sure they’re not coated in dust.
And while this may not exactly be a huge issue, it’s still a real risk, according to allergy expert Dr. Clifford Bassett. Indeed, as he told The Independent in July 2018, “If you experience sneezing or worsening nasal symptoms, and you have indoor allergies, due to air forcefully blowing up your nasal passages causing sneezing, which is actually a protective mechanism, it can be annoying and perhaps cause a flare-up in your nasal allergies.”
Triggering allergies isn’t the only downside to running a fan all night long, however. Air continually hitting your skin can cause it to become parched, according to Mark Reddick of The Sleep Advisor. And you’ll then need to slather on extra moisturizers and lotions to counteract the dryness.
Meanwhile, if you don’t sleep with your eyes fully closed – which, according to Reddick, does happen – the air blasting out of the fan can apparently redden them. And, we’ve all known the pain of waking up with a dry mouth – something that Reddick says a constantly running fan will only exacerbate.
But even if you sleep with your eyes and mouth tightly shut and you don’t have any allergies, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re free from consequence. “The constant stream of air also has a tendency to dry out your nasal passages, which could affect your sinuses,” Reddick says. “If the dryness is particularly extreme, it can result in your body producing excess mucous to try to compensate. Then, you’re more susceptible to blockage, stuffiness and sinus headaches.”
Lastly, if you’re sleeping with the fan in close proximity to your face or any exposed areas of your body, you may wake up feeling a little sore. That’s because, according to Reddick, the cool air from the fan can adversely affect your muscles.
Not all experts agree on the consequences of sleeping with a fan running, however. For example, Dr. Dasha Fielder told lifestyle website Mamamia in 2016 that the link between waking with a sore throat and a fan having been on all night is purely coincidental. “I think what happens at times when people do wake up with a sore throat is that it has nothing to do with having the fan on and much more to do with sleeping with your mouth open,” she said. “That may happen when you are hot.”
Dr. Fielder did admit, though, that it’s important to upgrade your fan if you’ve had it for a while. “Obviously, all equipment has its expiry date. If you’ve had a fan for ten or 15 years, I think it’s time to replace it,” she said. “However, for the general population I cannot see a problem with a fan.”
Others, meanwhile, say the problem is the fan itself – whether you’re sleeping with it on or not. Indeed, according to a 2012 study from the Cochrane Library, electric fans apparently become ineffective at a certain temperature. The machines may end up doing “more harm than good,” in fact, according to the study’s authors.
That’s because if the temperature rises above 95 degrees, you’re no longer blowing cool air around. Instead, you could end up blowing air that’s warmer than your body temperature over yourself. This, then, increases the risk of heat exhaustion from excess sweating – even if the fan still feels like it’s doing its job.
Whether it’s during the day or at night, then, leaving a fan on could well have potential health consequences. And this is particularly the case if you’re prone to allergies. So, next time you’re finding the heat too much, you may want to reconsider turning on that fan.