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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Do oral aluminium phosphate binders cause accumulation of aluminium to toxic levels?

Ruth Pepper1, Neil Campbell1, Magdi M Yaqoob1, Norman B Roberts2 and Stanley L-S Fan1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Renal Medicine and Transplantation, Royal London and St Bartholomew's Hospitals, London, UK

2 Department of Clinical Biochemistry, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals, Liverpool, L7 8XP, UK

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BMC Nephrology 2011, 12:55  doi:10.1186/1471-2369-12-55

Published: 12 October 2011



Aluminium (Al) toxicity was frequent in the 1980s in patients ingesting Al containing phosphate binders (Alucaps) whilst having HD using water potentially contaminated with Al. The aim of this study was to determine the risk of Al toxicity in HD patients receiving Alucaps but never exposed to contaminated dialysate water.


HD patients only treated with Reverse Osmosis(RO) treated dialysis water with either current or past exposure to Alucaps were given standardised DFO tests. Post-DFO serum Al level > 3.0 μmol/L was defined to indicate toxic loads based on previous bone biopsy studies.


39 patients (34 anuric) were studied. Mean dose of Alucap was 3.5 capsules/d over 23.0 months. Pre-DFO Al levels were > 1.0 μmol/L in only 2 patients and none were > 3.0 μmol/L. No patients had a post DFO Al levels > 3.0 μmol/L. There were no correlations between the serum Al concentrations (pre-, post- or the incremental rise after DFO administration) and the total amount of Al ingested.

No patients had unexplained EPO resistance or biochemical evidence of adynamic bone.


Although this is a small study, oral aluminium exposure was considerable. Yet no patients undergoing HD with RO treated water had evidence of Al toxicity despite doses equivalent to 3.5 capsules of Alucap for 2 years. The relationship between the DFO-Al results and the total amount of Al ingested was weak (R2 = 0.07) and not statistically significant. In an era of financial prudence, and in view of the recognised risk of excess calcium loading in dialysis patients, perhaps we should re-evaluate the risk of using Al-based phosphate binders in HD patients who remain uric.