About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« The Perfect Papers For Each Journal | Main | Eight Toxic Foods: The Aftermath »

June 21, 2013

Eight Toxic Foods: A Little Chemical Education

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Update: You'll notice in this post that I refer to some sites that the original BuzzFeed article I'm complaining out sends people to, often pointing out that these didn't actually support the wilder claims it's making. Well, the folks at BuzzFeed have dealt with this by taking down the links (!) The article now says: "Some studies linked in the original version of this article were concerning unrelated issues. They have been replaced with information directly from the book Rich Food, Poor Food". But as you'll see below, the studies weren't unrelated at all. So when you read about links to the American Cancer Association or NPR, well, all I can say is that they used to be there, until someone apparently realized how embarrassing they were.

Many people who read this blog are chemists. Those who aren't often come from other branch of the sciences, and if they don't, it's safe to say that they're at least interested in science (or they probably don't hang around very long!) It's difficult, if you live and work in this sort of environment, to keep in mind what people are willing to believe about chemistry.

But that's what we have the internet for. Many science-oriented bloggers have taken on what's been called "chemophobia", and they've done some great work tearing into some some really uninformed stuff out there. But nonsense does not obey any conservation law. It keeps on coming. It's always been in long supply, and it looks like it always will be.

That doesn't mean that we just have to sit back and let it wash over us, though. I've been sent this link in the last few days, a popular item on BuzzFeed with the BuzzFeedy headline of "Eight Foods That We Eat in The US That Are Banned in Other Countries". When I saw that title, I found it unpromising. In a world that eats everything that can't get away fast enough, what possible foods could we have all to ourselves here in the States? A quick glance was enough: we're not talking about foods here - we're talking about (brace yourselves) chemicals.

This piece really is an education. Not about food, or about chemistry - on the contrary, reading it for those purposes will make you noticeably less intelligent than you were before, and consider that a fair warning. The educational part is in the "What a fool believes" category. Make no mistake: on the evidence of this article, its author is indeed a fool, and has apparently never yet met a claim about chemicals or nutrition that was too idiotic to swallow. If BuzzFeed's statistics are to be believed (good question, there), a million views have already accumulated to this crap. Someone who knows some chemistry needs to make a start at pointing out the serial stupidities in it, and this time, I'm going to answer the call. So here goes, in order.

Number One: Artificial Dyes. Here's what the article has to say about 'em:

Artificial dyes are made from chemicals derived from PETROLEUM, which is also used to make gasoline, diesel fuel, asphalt, and TAR! Artificial dyes have been linked to brain cancer, nerve-cell deterioration, and hyperactivity, just to name a few.

Emphasis is in the original, of course. How could it not lapse into all-caps? In the pre-internet days, this sort of thing was written in green ink all around the margins of crumpled shutoff notices from the power company, but these days we have to make do with HTML. Let's take this one a sentence at a time.

It is true, in fact, that many artificial dyes are made from chemicals derived from petroleum. That, folks, is because everything (edible or not) is made out of chemicals, and an awful lot of man-made chemicals are derived from petroleum. It's one of the major chemical feedstocks of the world. So why stop at artificial dyes? The ink on the flyer from the natural-foods co-op is made from chemicals derived from petroleum. The wax coating the paper wrapped around that really good croissant at that little bakery you know about is derived from petroleum.

Now, it's true that more things you don't eat can be traced back to petroleum feedstocks than can things you do eat. That's because it's almost always cheaper to grow stuff than to synthesize it. Synthesized compounds, when they're used in food, are often things that are effective in small amounts, because they're so expensive. And so it is with artificial dyes - well, outside of red velvet cake, I guess. People see the bright colors in cake icing and sugary cereals and figure that the stuff must be glopped on like paint, but paint doesn't have very much dye or pigment in it, either (watch them mix it up down at the hardware store sometime).

And as for artificial colors causing "brain cancer, nerve-cell deterioration, and hyperactivity", well, these assertions range from "unproven" all the way down to "bullshit". Hyperactivity sensitivities to food dyes are an active area of research, but after decades of work, the situation is still unclear. And brain cancer? This seems to go back to studies in the 1980s with Blue #2, where rats were fed the dye over a long period in much larger concentrations (up to 2% of their total food intake) than even the most dedicated junk-food eater could encounter. Gliomas were seen in the male rats, but with no dose-response, and at levels consistent with historical controls in the particular rat strain. No one has ever been able to find any real-world connection. Note that glioma rates increased in the 1970s and 1980s as diagnostic imaging improved, but have fallen steadily since then. The age-adjusted incidence rates of almost all forms of cancer are falling, by the way, not that you'd know that from most of the coverage on the subject.

Number Two: Olestra

This, of course, is Proctor & Gamble's attempted non-calorific fat substitute. I'm not going to spend much time on this, because little or nothing is actually made with it any more. Olestra was a major flop for P&G; the only things (as far as I can tell) that still contain it are some fat-free potato chips. It does indeed interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, but potato chips are not a very good source of vitamins to start with. And vitamin absorption can be messed with by all kinds of things, including other vitamins (folic acid supplements can interfere with B12 absorption, just to pick one). But I can agree with the plan of not eating the stuff: I think that if you're going to eat potato chips, eat a reasonable amount of the real ones.

Number Three: Brominated Vegetable Oil. Here's the article's take on it:

Bromine is a chemical used to stop CARPETS FROM CATCHING ON FIRE, so you can see why drinking it may not be the best idea. BVO is linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss.

Again with the caps. Now, if the author had known any chemistry, this would have looked a lot more impressive. Bromine isn't just used to keep carpets from catching on fire - bromine is a hideously toxic substance that will scar you with permanent chemical burns and whose vapors will destroy your lungs. Drinking bromine is not just a bad idea; drinking bromine is guaranteed agonizing death. There, see what a little knowledge will do for you?

But you know something? You can say the same thing for chlorine. After all, it's right next to bromine in the same column of the periodic table. And its use in World War I as a battlefield gas should be testimony enough. (They tried bromine, too, never fear). But chlorine is also the major part, by weight, of table salt. So which is it? Toxic death gas or universal table seasoning?

Knowledge again. It's both. Elemental chlorine (and elemental bromine) are very different things than their ions (chloride and bromide), and both of those are very different things again when either one is bonded to a carbon atom. That's chemistry for you in a nutshell, knowing these differences and understanding why they happen and how to use them.

Now that we've detoured around that mess, on to brominated vegetable oil. It's found in citrus-flavored sodas and sports drinks, at about 8 parts per million. The BuzzFeed article claims that it's linked to "major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss", and sends readers to this WebMD article. But if you go there, you'll find that the only medical problems known from BVO come from two cases of people who had been consuming, over a long period, 4 to 8 liters of BVO-containing soda per day, and did indeed have reactions to all the excess bromine-containing compounds in their system. At 8 ppm, it's not easy to get to that point, but a determined lunatic will overcome such obstacles. Overall, drinking several liters of Mountain Dew per day is probably a bad idea, and not just because of the BVO content.

Number Four: Potassium Bromate. The article helpfully tells us this is "Derived from the same harmful chemical as brominated vegetable oil". But here we are again: bromate is different from bromide is different than bromine, and so on. If we're going to play the "made from the same atoms" game, well, strychnine and heroin are derived from the same harmful chemicals as the essential amino acids and B vitamins. Those harmful chemicals, in case you're wondering, are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. And to get into the BuzzFeed spirit of the thing, maybe I should mention that carbon is found in every single poisonous plant on earth, hydrogen is the harmful chemical that blew up the Hindenburg, oxygen is responsible for every death by fire around the world, and nitrogen will asphyxiate you if you try to breathe it (and is a key component of all military explosives). There, that wasn't hard - as Samuel Johnson said, a man might write such stuff forever, if only he would give over his mind to it.

Now, back to potassium bromate. The article says, "Only problem is, it’s linked to kidney damage, cancer, and nervous system damage". And you'll probably fall over when I say this, but that statement is largely correct. Sort of. But let's look at "linked to", because that's an important phrase here.

Potassium bromate was found (in a two-year rat study) to have a variety of bad effects. This occurred at the two highest doses, and the lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) was 6.1 mg of bromate per kilo body weight per day. It's worth noting that a study in male mice took them up to nearly ten times that amount, though, with little or no effect, which gives you some idea of how hard it is to be a toxicologist. Whether humans are more like mice or more like rats in this situation is unknown.

I'm not going to do the whole allometric scaling thing here, because no matter how you do it, the numbers come out crazy. Bromate is used in some (but not all) bread flour at 15 to 30 parts per million, and if the bread is actually baked properly, there's none left in the finished product. But for illustration, let's have someone eating uncooked bread dough at the highest level, just to get the full bromate experience. A 75-kilo human (and many of us are more than that) would have to take in 457 mg of bromate per day to get to the first adverse level seen in rats, which would be. . .15 kilos (about 33 pounds) of bread dough per day, a level I can safely say is unlikely to be reached. Hell, eating 33 pounds of anything isn't going to work out, much as my fourteen-year-old son tries to prove me wrong. You'd need to keep that up for decades, too, since that two year study represents a significant amount of a rat's lifespan.

Number Five: Azodicarbonamide. This is another bread flour additive. According to the article, "Used to bleach both flour and FOAMED PLASTIC (yoga mats and the soles of sneakers), azodicarbonamide has been known to induce asthma".

Let's clear this one up quickly: azodicarbonamide is indeed used in bread dough, and allowed up the 45 parts per million. It is not stable to heat, though, and it falls apart quickly to another compound, biurea, on baking. It not used to "bleach foamed plastic", though. Actually, in higher concentrations, it's used to foam foamed plastics. I realize that this doesn't sound much better, but the conditions inside hot plastic, you will be glad to hear, are quite different from those inside warm bread dough. In that environment, azodicarbonamide doesn't react to make birurea - it turns into several gaseous products, which are what blow up the bubbles of the foam. This is not its purpose in bread dough - that's carbon dioxide from the yeast (or baking powder) that's doing the inflating there, and 45 parts per million would not inflate much of anything.

How about the asthma, though? If you look at the toxicology of azodicarbonamide, you find that "Azodicarbonamide is of low acute toxicity, but repeated or prolonged contact may cause asthma and skin sensitization." That, one should note, is for the pure chemical, not 45 parts per million in uncooked flour (much less zero parts per million in the final product). If you're handling drums of the stuff at the plastics plant, you should be wearing protective gear. If you're eating a roll, no.

Number Six: BHA and BHT. We're on the home stretch now, and this one is a two-fer. BHA and BHT are butylated hydroxyanisole and butylate hydroxytoluene, and according to the article, they are "known to cause cancer in rats. And we’re next!"

Well, of course we are! Whatever you say! But the cancer is taking its time. These compounds have been added to cereals, etc., for decades now, while the incidence rates of cancer have been going down. And what BuzzFeed doesn't mention is that while some studies have shown an increase in cancer in rodent models with these compounds, others have shown a measurable decrease. Both of these compounds are efficient free radical scavengers, and have actually been used in animal studies that attempt to unravel the effects of free radicals on aging and metabolism. Animal studies notwithstanding, attempts to correlate human exposure to these compounds with any types of cancer have always come up negative. Contrary to what the BuzzFeed article says, by the way, BHT is indeed approved by the EU.

Weirdly, you can buy BHT in some health food stores, where anti-aging and anti-viral claims are made for it. How does a health food store sell butylated hydroxytoluene with a straight face? Well, it's also known to be produced by plankton, so you can always refer to it as a natural product, if that makes you feel better. That doesn't do much for me - as an organic chemist, I know that the compounds found in plankton range from essential components of the human diet all the way down to some of the most toxic molecules found in nature.

Number Seven: Synthetic Growth Hormones. These are the ones given to cattle, not the ones athletes give to themselves. The article says that they can "give humans breast, colon, and prostate cancer", which, given what's actually known about these substances, is a wildly irresponsible claim.

The article sends you to a perfectly reasonable site at the American Cancer Society, which is the sort of link that might make a BuzzFeed reader think that it must then be about, well, what kinds of cancer these things give you. But have a look. What you find is (first off) this is not an issue for eating beef. Bovine growth hormone (BGH) is given to dairy cattle to increase milk production. OK, so what about drinking milk?

Here you go: for one, BGH levels in the milk of treated cows are not higher than in untreated ones. Secondly, BGH is not active as a growth hormone in humans - it's selective for the cow receptor, not the human one. The controversy in this area comes from the way that growth hormone treatment in cows tends to increase levels of another hormone, IGF-1, in the milk. That increase still seems to be within the natural range of variability for IGF-1 in regular cows, but there is a slight change.

The links between IGF-1 and cancer have indeed been the subject of a lot of work. Higher levels of circulating IGF-1 in the bloodstream have (in some studies) been linked to increased risk of cancer, but I should add that other studies have failed to find this effect, so it's still unclear what's going on. I can also add, from my own experiences in drug discovery, that all of the multiple attempts to treat cancer by blocking IGF-1 signaling have been complete failures, and that might also cause one to question the overall linkage a bit.

But does drinking milk from BGH-treated cows increase the levels of circulating IGF-1 at all? No head-to-head study has been run, but adults who drink milk in general seem to have slightly higher levels. The same effect, though, was seen in people who drink soymilk, which (needless to say) does not have recombinant cow hormones in it. No one knows to what extent ingested IGF-1 might be absorbed into the bloodstream - you'd expect it to be digested like any other protein, but exceptions are known.

But look at the numbers. According to that ACA web summary, even if the protein were not degraded at all, and if it were completely absorbed (both of which are extremely unrealistic top-of-the-range assumptions), and even if the person drinking it were an infant, and taking in 1.6 quarts a day of BGH-derived cow milk with the maximum elevated levels of IGF-1 that have been seen, the milk would still contribute less than 1% of the IGF-1 in the bloodstream compared to what's being made in the human body naturally.

Number Eight, Arsenic. Arsenic? It seems like an unlikely food additive, but the article says "Used as chicken feed to make meat appear pinker and fresher, arsenic is POISON, which will kill you if you ingest enough."

Ay. I think that first off, we should make clear that arsenic is not "used as chicken feed". That brings to mind someone pitching powdered arsenic out for the hens, and that's not part of any long-term chicken-farming plan. If you go to the very NPR link that the BuzzFeed article offers, you find that a compound called roxarsone is added to chicken feed to keep down Coccidia parasites in the gut. It is not just added for some cosmetic reason, as the silly wording above would have you believe.

In 2011, a study found that chicken meat with detectable levels of roxarsone had 2.3 parts per billion (note the "b") of inorganic arsenic, which is the kind that is truly toxic. Chicken meat with no detectable roxarsone had 0.8 ppb inorganic arsenic, threefold less, and the correlation seems to be real. (Half of the factory-raised chickens sampled had detectable roxarsone, by the way). This led to the compound being (voluntarily) withdrawn from the market, under the assumption that this is an avoidable exposure to arsenic that could be eliminated.

And so it is. There are other (non-arsenic) compounds that can be given to keep parasite infestations down in poultry, although they're not as effective, and they'll probably show up on the next edition of lists like this one. But let's get things on scale: it's worth comparing these arsenic levels to those found in other foods. White rice, for example comes in at about 100 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic (and brown rice at 170 ppb). These, by the way, are all-natural arsenic levels, produced by the plant's own uptake from the soil. But even those amounts are not expected to pose a human health risk (says both the FDA and Canadian authorities), so the fifty-fold lower concentrations in chicken would, one thinks, be even less to worry about. If you're having chicken and rice and you want to worry about arsenic, worry about the rice.

This brings me to the grand wrap-up, and some of the language in that last item is a good starting point for it. I'm talking about the "POISON, which will kill you if you ingest enough" part. This whole article is soaking in several assumptions about food, about chemistry, and about toxicology, and that's one of the big ones. In my experience, people who write things like this have divided the world into two categories: wholesome, natural, healthy stuff and toxic chemical poisons. But this is grievously simple-minded. As I've emphasized in passing above, there are plenty of natural substances, made by healthy creatures in beautiful, unpolluted environments, that will nonetheless kill you in agony. Plants, fungi, bacteria, and animals produce poisons, wide varieties of intricate poisons, and they're not doing it for fun.

And on the other side of the imaginary fence, there are plenty of man-made substances that really won't do much of anything to people at all. You cannot assume anything about the effects of a chemical compound based on whether it came from a lovely rainforest orchid or out of a crusty Erlenmeyer flask. The world is not set up that way. Here's a corollary to this: if I isolate a beneficial chemical compound from some natural source (vitamin C from oranges, for example, although sauerkraut would be a good source, too), that molecule is identical to a copy of it I make in my lab. There is no essence, no vital spirit. A compound is what it is, no matter where it came from.

Another assumption that seems common to this mindset is that when something is poisonous at some concentration, it is therefore poisonous at all concentrations. It has some poisonous character to it that cannot be expunged nor diluted. This, though, is more often false than true. Paracelsus was right: the dose makes the poison. You can illustrate that in both directions: a beneficial substance, taken to excess, can kill you. A poisonous one, taken in very small amounts, can be harmless. And you have cases like selenium, which is simultaneously an essential trace element in the human diet and an inarguable poison. It depends on the dose.

Finally, I want to return to something I was saying way back at the beginning of this piece. The author of the BuzzFeed article knows painfully little about chemistry and biology. But that apparently wasn't a barrier: righteous conviction (and the worldview mentioned in the above three paragraphs) are enough, right? Wrong. Ten minutes of unbiased reading would have served to poke holes all through most of the article's main points. I've spent more than ten minutes (as you can probably tell), and there's hardly one stone left standing on another. As a scientist, I find sloppiness at this level not only stupid, not only time-wasting, but downright offensive. Couldn't anyone be bothered to look anything up? There are facts in this world, you know. Learn a few.

Comments (384) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Current Events | Snake Oil | Toxicology


1. rt on June 21, 2013 11:13 AM writes...

Hear, hear. A fantastically well researched and written post Derek.

Permalink to Comment

2. Cellbio on June 21, 2013 11:18 AM writes...

Fantastic Derek! I will steer many to this wonderful piece.

Permalink to Comment

3. Sigivald on June 21, 2013 11:22 AM writes...

The key is in the header at Buzzfeed - "Original list found in Dr. Jayson Calton and certified nutritionist Mira Calton’s new book, Rich Food, Poor Food."

The "author" at Buzzfeed just recapped a Typical Food Hysteria Book for linkbait. That's what Buzzfeed does.

From the author bio for the book, we see the usual bullshit: all varieties of Holistic or Integrated health.

Junk all the way down.

Permalink to Comment

4. Captain Ned on June 21, 2013 11:24 AM writes...

Not a chemist and not a scientist. However, I did pay attention (and get straight As) in those required STEM classes in HS and college and know BS when I see it. I come here for Derek's literary evisceration of the BS. That, and the "Won't work with" series, which really needs to be a book.

If it were not for this blog, I'd never have known about John Clark's "Ignition". Making rocket propellant research humorous and a good read might be considered impossible, but he did it.

Permalink to Comment

5. Hap on June 21, 2013 11:26 AM writes...

You seem to have this (unwarranted) assumption that facts and the phenomena they give evidence for should have a greater effect on what we should do and how we should act than what and how strongly I feel about something. That obviously can't be right - because then I wouldn't have anything to talk about...

Perhaps the author has been having too many political arguments in public, or has been having flashbacks to being a four-year-old, where the likelihood of getting what you want and the purported benefits to all are directly proportional to the volume and intensity of the discourse. (No, accuracy is not a relevant quality).

Permalink to Comment

6. robopox on June 21, 2013 11:29 AM writes...

Derek: "Another assumption that seems common to this mindset is that when something is poisonous at some concentration, it is therefore poisonous at all concentrations."

Man in Black: "What you do not smell is called Iocaine powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadlier poisons known to man."

I've spent that last few years building up an immunity to iocaine powder.

Permalink to Comment

7. Hap on June 21, 2013 11:29 AM writes...

Original list found in Dr. Jayson Calton and certified nutritionist Mira Calton’s new book, "Rich Food, Poor Food."

Yep, a rousing endorsement for nutrionists, right there...

Permalink to Comment

8. MoMo on June 21, 2013 11:36 AM writes...

Good synopsis Derek, and you should be commended for this. Its also a fact that fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of natural toxins that far surpass the toxicities of anything man has added, except for glyphosate, which you are still wrong about. But you are batting a 0.500 on the consumer chemical report average!

Bruce Ames would be proud! Rachel Carson, not so much!

Permalink to Comment

9. robbbbbb on June 21, 2013 11:37 AM writes...

Breathing causes cancer. Of course, failure to breathe has other side effects.

Permalink to Comment

10. GMS on June 21, 2013 11:39 AM writes...

Your claim below surprised me because I had read that cancer incident rates were rising:

*The age-adjusted incidence rates of almost all forms of cancer are falling, by the way, not that you'd know that from most of the coverage on the subject.*

And so I looked that up quickly and found this from the National Cancer Institute website:

Which says that while cancer incidence rates for some cancers are declining, rates of others are rising:

"including melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, childhood cancer, cancers of the kidney and renal pelvis, leukemia, thyroid, pancreas, liver and intrahepatic bile duct, testis, myeloma, and esophagus."

Permalink to Comment

11. GMS on June 21, 2013 11:40 AM writes...

sorry, wrong link:

Permalink to Comment

12. Semichemist on June 21, 2013 11:45 AM writes...

That was an extremely well-written, well-researched ass whupping.

Permalink to Comment

13. Derek Lowe on June 21, 2013 11:48 AM writes...

#10/11: Check out this link in that same report:

"All sites combined: Overall incidence was on the rise from 1975 to 1989, with non-significant changes in rates from 1989 to 1998. From 1998 to 2008, incidence has significantly declined."

It's my understanding that the rise during the 1980s was due to better diagnostic techniques, but if someone has more info, I'll revise that opinion. . .

Permalink to Comment

14. Andre on June 21, 2013 11:49 AM writes...

I'm surprised he didn't list Dihydrogen Monoxide, that's some seriously nasty stuff, just check out

Permalink to Comment

15. David Borhani on June 21, 2013 11:54 AM writes...

Great post, Derek! I used to work with azodicarbonyl compounds, but I never new that azodicarboxamide was used in flour/baking to (presumably) crosslink cysteines to cystine, making for tougher dough (see I used more reactive analogs to oxidize (secondary) alcohols, and do other weird and wacky things...

Permalink to Comment

16. Non3 on June 21, 2013 12:01 PM writes...

Just came here to rant...

I consider myself a sensible human being (a biochemist working in the pharma industry) and I support scientific progress, but there are just many things I feel are wrong about how you Americans approach your food systems.

I agree there are animal studies being conducted and we have a lot of data about food aditives, but no one is looking at the long term safety of these compounds in humans in the real world environment (it's just not possible). What about the interaction of all the possible additives, in suspectible people, in the elderly with kidney/liver diseases? I'm sceptical about animal models...

Yes, cancer rates are dropping, but could they be dropping more?

Do we need to put xenobiotic stuff into our food? Why? Why put artificial dyies in your food (are there not naturally occuring dyes found in our regular diet)? Why add BVO at all (is it that hard to shake your drink before use)?

(Yes I know nature make some nasty stuff too)

Who here would feed baby formula coloured with an artificial dye to their kid?

Sorry :)

Permalink to Comment

17. lazy guy on June 21, 2013 12:33 PM writes...

As I say, I'm lazy, but it seems to me if Europe and the US handle food so much differently, and it is so much more "natural" and "safe" in Europe, one should see clear signs:

is there a lower incidence of cancer in Europe?
is the lifespan longer?
are people healthier?

If the answer favors Europe, are there other factors?

My sense* is that the answer to the three questions is no, not much and perhaps.

* I'm lazy, so haven't looked up. My question is sincere - if Europe is a lot healthier, we should be asking why and trying to reproduce it. If they aren't, they should stop telling us how dangerous we're all living.

Permalink to Comment

18. Joshua Cranmer on June 21, 2013 12:48 PM writes...

I shudder to think what this author would think about what we put in our water. Having worked at a water treatment plant, key additives are industrial-strength acid, industrial-strength base, bleach (hypochlorite), window cleaning fluid (ammonium), hazardous exhaust fumes (ozone), fluoride, phosphoric acid, plastic^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hpolymer (because they're totally the same thing), aluminum chlorohydrates (which are apparently also used as deodorants, according to Wikipedia, although my deodorant throws zirconium into the mix.). Most of what we stick into the water supply, though, is intended specifically to kill everything in it, so it shouldn't be surprising that the "ingredients" of water basically read like a list of every cleaning supply you've ever used.

I'm also mildly surprised that the author didn't bring up things like genetically-modified crops.

Permalink to Comment

19. Matt Herper on June 21, 2013 12:52 PM writes...

Olestra. It's now used in paint.

I wrote about it:

one of my favorite silly magazine headlines.

Permalink to Comment

20. Richy B. on June 21, 2013 12:57 PM writes...

It reminds me of an old Jasper Carrot joke which goes something like "Hot dogs are deadly! They fed 100 rats 40 hots dogs each and all the rats died! What of? Mustard poisoning."

Yes, you can pull the conclusion "Hot dogs are deadly" from the "evidence" - but it wouldn't be the correct one (and certainly wouldn't scale: who would eat 40 hot dogs three times their size to start with? And the mustard didn't have to be on the hot dogs!).

Permalink to Comment

21. Anonymous on June 21, 2013 1:32 PM writes...

So this post tells that "any food additives are NOT toxic to you unless 100/100 studies show that they are". It is also hilarious to see the author's self-righteous stubbornness. The whole part of BGH additive defending paragraph sounds like "although there are many studies show elevated IGF-1 is linked to cancer, because there are a few of others failed to find that link I choose not to believe all the ones that say there is a link". Come on, are you a real scientist?

Permalink to Comment

22. lI on June 21, 2013 1:32 PM writes...

#16. I see you believe there are natural and "unnatural" substances. If one defines unnatural as not biologically produced...of course proving (or even demonstrating) a negative is, from time to time, difficult. I do agree that aesthetic additives could be better depreciated, however it is clear that appearance and texture are important characteristics in foods.
Your criticism is that no one is doing the impossible??? Really?? If you aren't, you embarrassed to have written that.
You are certainly correct to be skeptical of animal models. Since you single those out, what models are you (or should we be) NOT skeptical of? That is, what information should we accept on faith or authority?
For your amusement, compute the number of directed acyclic graphs possible given 5,7 or 10 nodes. (I suggest that each node be considered a measurable and directed lines indicate a causal connection, the number of DAGs indicates the experimental space for a given set of variables.)
I also suggest that with the increasing ability to culture human tissue in vitro, we will, within this century, have standard human sub-systems to use to gauge metabolic fate and predict certain long term effects.
Here's one problem I see with "natural". The implication is that natural means adapted to. (I will dismiss the alternative, that natural implies folk knowledge which is a good proxy for toxicity). Given the selective pressures on our species over evolutionary time, what level of toxicity would be significant enough to select for the adaptation? I suggest that it is orders of magnitude higher than levels of toxicity we would find acceptable today. How many foods have actually been part of our diet for a sufficient length of time to allow our adaptation? Finally, how much of our microbiome is novel (on time scales of generations)? Is it natural? If its dynamic, malleable, variable, then is it reasonable to ignore its interactions with our diets?

Permalink to Comment

23. average moron on June 21, 2013 1:34 PM writes...

how am i supposed to read all of this there's too much. at least put the important parts in all caps

Permalink to Comment

24. Dale A on June 21, 2013 1:34 PM writes...

Thanks for smacking down some ignorance with good science. What always entertains me about such hysterical "oh my god, do you know what's in your food" screeds is that the authors of such pieces apparently don't remember--or choose to ignore--that our esophagus is only one point of access to the temple that they perceive their body to be. One could ask why we should focus on what's in our food (when in developed countries we eat a varied diet anyway, i.e.- we limit our exposure to any particular component, well, other than fat it seems) when the air we breathe and the water in which we swim are pretty well messed up in most locales. The time spent writing such bad 'science' would be better spent riding a bike or walking as opposed to driving a car. It's just easier to rage about others' behaviour than to modify one's own.

Permalink to Comment

25. flem on June 21, 2013 1:37 PM writes...

Reading this article is like watch Charles Bronson pay-back beatings in Death Wish. Unfortunately this is an all to frequent example of feeding what the public wants to hear.

Permalink to Comment

26. Jeff on June 21, 2013 1:37 PM writes...

@Richy B - You can't be suggesting they serve those poor rats hot dogs without mustard? That's just uncivilized!

Permalink to Comment

27. wearing beads on June 21, 2013 1:43 PM writes...

good post. Where is Bruce Ames when we need him?

Permalink to Comment

28. Emile Zoloft on June 21, 2013 1:52 PM writes...

So wait, there's a little bit of bromate in the bread, but it all gets baked out? But doesn't that mean that the bread molecules hold a memory of the bromate, which is thousands of times more potent (by the principle of homeopathic dilution) than pure bromate? Just to be safe, I'm avoiding all chemicals.

Permalink to Comment

29. Anonymous academic on June 21, 2013 2:01 PM writes...

Obviously what we have here is another paid shill for Big Chemistry.


@17: "if Europe is a lot healthier, we should be asking why and trying to reproduce it."

That's likely to be a non-starter in the current political environment, because it's difficult to disentangle lifestyle factors from the simple fact that most European nations have some form of universal health insurance and much lower overall healthcare costs.

Permalink to Comment

30. NotSoFast on June 21, 2013 2:20 PM writes...

There's clearly a difference between lab-created synthetics and their natural counterparts - and yes I do mean vitamin C and the like.

For example, all-rac-alpha-tocopherol acetate is the "vitamin E" you usually get in supplements, but it's a lab-created look-alike that’s only half as biologically active as natural alpha tocopherol. (Horwitt, M. "Relative biological values of d-alpha-tocopheryl acetate and all-rac- alpha-tocopheryl acetate inman."Am Journal Clin Nutri. 1980, Vol 33, 1856-1860.)

All-rac-alpha-tocopherol is derived using "petroleum products," by the way, and it has all kinds of known toxic effects. Nausea, muscular weakness, fatigue, headache, and blurred vision are just a few of them. ("Vitamin E." Toxicology Data Network.

Also, You can clearly tell the difference between synthetic and natural forms of vitamins when you shine a simple beam of polarized light on them.

A natural vitamin will bend all the light to the right because of the way the molecules spin together in nature.

A synthetic vitamin will bend both ways. Half to the right, and half to the left. These are connoted with a “dl” that you'll see on labels at the beginning of a synthetic vitamin’s name. (

Just sayin' ...

Permalink to Comment

31. MRTTF on June 21, 2013 2:23 PM writes...

Loved the post. I don't know how many times my wife has had to get me to calm down over some ridiculous article that someone sends here.

My personal favorite was one about the miracle of using hydrogen peroxide for things, e.g. cleaning, health, etc., since it only contains water and oxygen. I almost threw my wife's phone against the wall upon reading that.

Permalink to Comment

32. Will on June 21, 2013 2:30 PM writes...

Thank you. I was thinking these exact thoughts as I read this article.

FYI: I fed all my chickens arsenic. they are now dead. oh well.

Permalink to Comment

33. C Watson on June 21, 2013 2:38 PM writes...

This was brilliant. Thanks for spreading reality.

Permalink to Comment

34. Dolph on June 21, 2013 2:51 PM writes...

Folic acid doesn't impair the absorption of Vitamin B12 at all. It just makes the diagnosis of a B12 deficiency much more difficult.

Permalink to Comment

35. Pig Farmer on June 21, 2013 2:51 PM writes...

Excellent article. All this woo-woo claptrap about "chemicals" reminds me of Stanley Green, the protein man. Anyone remember him?

Here's a reminder:

At least he was a (relatively) harmless crank.

Permalink to Comment

36. WillyJoe on June 21, 2013 2:53 PM writes...

You're a great writer and this is a superb take-down.

May I suggest a tweak to your site template? The minimum column width of your blog is readable, but it expands to horrendous widths to fit a browser window. Keep the column width fixed at the minimum. And bump up the default text size. 50-75 characters is a good UI target for column width. I just about ran away when faced with an impenetrable wall of text...glad I narrowed the browser window and read this piece!

Permalink to Comment

37. Nena on June 21, 2013 2:59 PM writes...

It is so hard to find reliable resources for things. So many of my friends have bought into this toxin movement. It can be so hard to find legit information on anything. Thank you for this.

Permalink to Comment

38. Ken on June 21, 2013 3:00 PM writes...

Well, done, but you should not be too surprised. One of the downsides of the internet is that every crackpot with a cause can espouse their views and be taken seriously. And the easiest way to convince people that it's true is to say that it came "from a newspaper" and they believe. You don't even have to cite a specific paper (or a real one).

Permalink to Comment

39. Jeff Wagg on June 21, 2013 3:09 PM writes...

Thank you for this. Chemophobia is ultimately dangerous.

Permalink to Comment

40. ProsserArch on June 21, 2013 3:14 PM writes...

Reminds me of a premium bottled water label I saw once that said "Hydrogen Infused" as if this was an extra benefit. Not stated on the label: water is hydrogen plus oxygen.

Permalink to Comment

41. Bender on June 21, 2013 3:15 PM writes...

Also, You can clearly tell the difference between synthetic and natural forms of vitamins when you shine a simple beam of polarized light on them.

A natural vitamin will bend all the light to the right because of the way the molecules spin together in nature.

A synthetic vitamin will bend both ways. Half to the right, and half to the left. These are connoted with a “dl” that you'll see on labels at the beginning of a synthetic vitamin’s name. (

Just sayin' ...

This blog, written by a PhD chemist with decades of experience, is read by many other chemists with similar backgrounds. And this is the audience you chose to explain a sophomore level organic chemistry concept to? Well, now we know that Buzzfeed's readers are starting to head over here.

Permalink to Comment

42. Secondaire on June 21, 2013 3:17 PM writes...


I understand there are people who don't want to eat BVO/Azodicarbonamide simply because they think they are "icky", but that's different from "WE'RE ALL EATING CHEMICALS THAT PREVENT CARPETS FROM CATCHING ON FIRE"-paranoia.

Great post, Derek - you should do another one about "chemical-free" products.

Permalink to Comment

43. Bender on June 21, 2013 3:28 PM writes...

So this post tells that "any food additives are NOT toxic to you unless 100/100 studies show that they are". It is also hilarious to see the author's self-righteous stubbornness. The whole part of BGH additive defending paragraph sounds like "although there are many studies show elevated IGF-1 is linked to cancer, because there are a few of others failed to find that link I choose not to believe all the ones that say there is a link". Come on, are you a real scientist?

What evidence do you have proving that he's wrong? Being a dumbass doesn't prove anything, even though you wish it would.

Permalink to Comment

44. duncan on June 21, 2013 3:33 PM writes...

So what you've done in this article is expound and explain some more of the details but you haven't convinced me of the safety of most of these.

Inf act you seem to confirm many of the points and just explain them away by saying that the concentration is low. Well that's a terrible justification.

You also offer no explanation as to why these are allowed in the USA but banned in other parts of the world. You guys are just smarter than everyone else?

Permalink to Comment

45. DTV Engineer on June 21, 2013 3:34 PM writes...

If bromine is useful for keeping carpets from catching on fire, by extrapolation it should also prevent humans from spontaneously combusting. Give me more!

My daughter had a similar hissy fit in a grocery store when I grabbed a box of mac and cheese: "I won't eat that -- IT'S FULL OF INGREDIENTS!" Difference is, she was only two years old at the time. Some people evidently don't grow out of it.

Permalink to Comment

46. Puff the Mutant Dragon on June 21, 2013 3:52 PM writes...

Thanks for this -- this buzzfeed article is the kind of stuff that drives me nuts. Very difficult to eradicate, though, it just spreads like a weed.

Permalink to Comment

47. Flexo on June 21, 2013 3:54 PM writes...


While #30 was a confused post at best, it was at least an honest attempt to communicate (citations and everything) and emphasizes how quickly this field becomes esoteric.

Poster 30 clearly knows a bit about chemistry, not enough to use the term 'chiral' or even the context of what he/she posted...

I don't really know how to address a post like that! What options are there?

-Trust me, I know whats up
-Stuff chem BA down throat

I guess Derek will have to write these type of posts until the end of time to set this straight. Good luck, buddy.

Permalink to Comment

48. MomofTwo on June 21, 2013 3:56 PM writes...

Loved the last paragraph suggesting that the buzzfeed author should take the time to do research before writing an article...well put!!!

Permalink to Comment

49. gcc on June 21, 2013 4:16 PM writes...

Great post!

Out of curiosity, Derek, are there any food additives in particular that you do try to avoid? Compared to all of the chemicals you're exposed to in the lab, trace amounts of additives in food are unlikely to present a significant risk, but I am curious.

The reason I ask is that I feel like even most scientists often don't have a well grounded basis for what presents a real significant risk in the lab and what doesn't. Certainly there are scientists who are very cautious with everything they work with and others that aren't very concerned about nearly anything. But what I find interesting are the people somewhere in between and how they decide what to be very careful with and what not to worry about, because it isn't always consistent.

Over the years, I've known people that are totally paranoid working with radioactivity, but will handle gels containing ethidium bromide with ungloved hands. Others are paranoid about ethidium bromide, but will spend ages cutting bands on a UV gel box without a full face shield. There was one guy I worked with who was pretty casual with most chemicals in the lab, but was very cautious working with reducing agents like DTT, only ever using them in a fume hood.

I guess what I'm getting at is that it's perhaps not that surprising that the public is confused about which "chemicals" to be concerned about and which really aren't any risk at all because even scientists often aren't great at assessing the relative risks of different chemicals.

And although I'm personally not too concerned about "unnatural" food additives (mainly because I don't eat much processed food), I do sometimes wonder if there are things that present a real risk that slip through the cracks of government regulatory agencies. After all, mistakes have been made in the past. For years, margarines that had all kinds of trans fats were promoted as being a more healthy alternative to butter. I guess I just wonder what might be the next thing that we find out actually is really bad for us after years of being told it was safe.

Permalink to Comment

50. Michael on June 21, 2013 4:38 PM writes...

Derek, could you do a piece on melamine contamination in food products? I found this article "China sets limits of melamine levels tolerable in food products," How much contamination is likely due to plastic packaging or environmental factors, in your opinion? Thanks.

Permalink to Comment

51. sudon't on June 21, 2013 4:57 PM writes...

Great article! This is the job the media ought to doing, rather than promoting this kind of nonsense, as they so often do.
One small quibble. Calling the American Cancer Society site "perfectly reasonable" is a bit of a problem nowadays. At least, the whole site. As you know, they have been, and continue to be, promoters of the "second-hand smoke causes x" nonsense. They're guilty of promoting the same kind of bogus logic as the Buzzfeed poster is, though I have to wonder if they believe it themselves.

Permalink to Comment

52. Thomas on June 21, 2013 5:13 PM writes...

Not all explosives! The very very primary explosive acetone peroxide is nitrogen-free. It does, however, contain the very soul of satan.

Permalink to Comment

53. Semichemist on June 21, 2013 5:23 PM writes...

Congrats, you got a shoutout on, prepare for traffic...

Permalink to Comment

54. Amy on June 21, 2013 5:49 PM writes...

Lazy guy (#17): you're a dope. Yes. Much of Europe's both healthier and better-educated than we are. We do nothing to try to emulate them, though, because that would be embarrassing and some sort of confession that USians aren't #1.

Permalink to Comment

55. Higgins on June 21, 2013 6:25 PM writes...

"DISCLAIMER" I have virtually no knowledge of chemistry and I am still in High School. Post 51 seems to state that second hand smoke doesn't carry the same bad health affects as normal smoking. I don't believe this is true, but I am ready to be disproved so I leave this comment open...will one of you chemists out there either tell me that my statement is correct, incorrect, and why?

Permalink to Comment

56. Derek Lowe on June 21, 2013 6:28 PM writes...

#30 NotSoFast:

As mentioned by others, you're onto a topic that many regular readers here are quite familiar with: chirality and optical rotation. It's a very interesting subject, and you're one up on the general population since you've heard of it at all. But I'm afraid that you don't have many of the details right.

In short, synthetic chemistry can indeed made the separate D and L isomers of chiral compounds. If we don't take any particular care (like starting from chiral materials or using chiral reagents), we get the DL (racemic) mixture, but it doesn't have to come out that way. You're correct that the two isomers can have very different effects in living creatures, and believe me, organic and medicinal chemists never lose sight of that fact.

Permalink to Comment

57. Heather Anderson on June 21, 2013 6:40 PM writes...

Thank you so much for writing this article. My husband works in the agriculture industry as a sales rep for a fertilizer company and is frequently attacked by the misinformed. He is sometimes portrayed as someone who should be ashamed of his career path, peddling similar "toxic" chemicals to farmers that will be the death of all of us amidst the current GMO hysteria. I'm sending this article to him right now and I know he will appreciate you as a voice of reason.

Permalink to Comment

58. sparky on June 21, 2013 6:54 PM writes...

THANK YOU!! I was getting really annoyed at that stupid Buzzfeed article and was just thinking it needed some serious fact checking. I try to eat whole foods but found the article to be so poorly written and over the top that it was obnoxious to see it constantly reshared.
Sharing YOUR link, which is educational and fantastically informative.
You rule,

Permalink to Comment

59. Jess on June 21, 2013 7:40 PM writes...

Thanks you so much for this. It's great to see a voice of reason in between all of the "OMG IT HAS CHEMICALS IN IT!!!!1!!11"

Permalink to Comment

60. Karen on June 21, 2013 7:56 PM writes...

i appreciate getting the chemists view on this subject. too many scare tactics out there. i did however research a view of these chemicals and found they really are banned in other countries for the use in food. i am wondering why that is? thanks!

Permalink to Comment

61. fnord12 on June 21, 2013 9:09 PM writes...

I'd really like to see a response to #44 and #60, who ask why these chemicals are banned in so many other countries. I'm looking at brominated vegetable oil specifically. Derek's article just says that the percentage of it is too low to show an effect in all but the most dedicated diet mountain dew drinkers, but does that mean it can't cause damage at low levels over time? The two people cited in the WebMD article prove that it can cause damage; now it's a question of what the safe level is.

And soda companies do have an alternative for BVO when they sell their products in other countries, so why do they have to use it in the US?

I'd be happy to be convinced about this - i miss my mountain dew - but Derek's article (on the BVO subject specifically) wasn't convincing to me.

Permalink to Comment

62. Elisson on June 21, 2013 9:30 PM writes...

Thank you, Derek.

In an ideal world, pieces like yours should not be necessary... but, well, there you are. Alas, the world is full of a great many things, and one of 'em is, to use Ali G's locution, ignoranuses.

Permalink to Comment

63. Kaitlin on June 21, 2013 10:26 PM writes...


Nice and well-researched piece. Important to get this information out there.

The sassy tone does leave a lot to be desired. You're quite off-putting with the "See what a little knowledge would do for you" quips. Tons of my friends shared that article on facebook, and now maybe one of them knows bromine is in carpet cleaner. Would they have given a crap otherwise? I doubt it. Talking down to the audience and subtly insulting/shaming them is the *opposite* of what we want for increasing the publics comfort with chemistry.

Just a thought from a young scientist to an older one.

Permalink to Comment

64. Cody C on June 21, 2013 10:48 PM writes...

Thank you so much for this.

As someone who isn't a chemist or toxicologist I found this as a very helpful and enlightening read.

Permalink to Comment

65. Simon on June 21, 2013 10:56 PM writes...

I'd be interested to hear your take on neonicotinoids.

Permalink to Comment

66. Anon on June 21, 2013 10:59 PM writes...

@61 (and others)

While I am not a chemist (nor do I play one on TV), you'll find that most politicians aren't either. Just because a country, union, or continent has banned something, doesn't necessarily mean it needed to be banned, that it was smart to ban it, or that there was any scientific truth behind the ban.

"Europe banned it" is hardly justification for banning something anywhere else. This isn't jingoism or anti-Europe/pro-MURICA chest-beating. It's demanding something more than, "Well, Timmy did it!"

If Europe jumped off a bridge, would everyone say we should too?

Permalink to Comment

67. gippgig on June 21, 2013 11:03 PM writes...

I would think azodicarbonamide might be a free radical generator and therefore carcinogenic. Of course, since any residue should be destroyed by cooking that shouldn't make any difference in bread (by the way, it doesn't "fall apart" to produce biurea, it is reduced) but I wouldn't generally regard it as safe.
Hydrogen may not have been what blew up the Hindenburg. It has been proposed that what caused the disaster was static electricity igniting the surface fabric, which had been coated with a special paint (note the metallic appearance) that contained iron oxide & powdered aluminum (uh-oh!).

Permalink to Comment

68. Al on June 21, 2013 11:13 PM writes...

Great article. So sick of hearing about toxic this and toxic that. Toxicity is a threshold not an inherent quality.

Permalink to Comment

69. Al on June 21, 2013 11:14 PM writes...

Great article. So sick of hearing about toxic this and toxic that. Toxicity is a threshold not an inherent quality.

Permalink to Comment

70. Gavstern on June 21, 2013 11:27 PM writes...

My blood pressure shot up while reading the Buzzfeed article. I just about had a brain hemorrhage from reading the anti-science comments. I'm so glad that I was linked to your article. Unfortunately, the "Google educated" people won't have the patience to process your well-written article, or they'll lack the basic knowledge to do so if they tried. Still, great job. I'll be linking to it.

Permalink to Comment

71. Nick K on June 21, 2013 11:53 PM writes...

Thank you for this post, Derek. I will show it to my sisters, who are true believers in the All Chemicals Are Harmful meme. Not that it will do any good - such beliefs are essentially religious in character, and thus impervious to facts.

Permalink to Comment

72. Natalie ._c- on June 22, 2013 12:29 AM writes...

I never got past organic chemistry in college, and I'm basically a humanities person, but even I'm smart enough to know when drivel is drivel. And I did see that article. So I thank you for writing about it, even though the health nut-jobs aren't reading your blog anyway. And wouldn't believe you, even if they did!

Permalink to Comment

73. Scarodactyl on June 22, 2013 1:03 AM writes...

@16 (non3): "Why add BVO at all (is it that hard to shake your drink before use)?"
Shake up a bottle of Mountain Dew? Are you out of your mind?

Permalink to Comment

74. 4tom on June 22, 2013 2:02 AM writes...

To be fair, much of the rGBH research out there is by Monsanto and is very questionable at best, including the FDAs. One of the big complaints is that they tend to use small test populations and when the tests prove their wanted thesis wrong they sweep those tests under the rug.

But as I understand there is no existing research really linking it to cancer in humans, for reasons you stated. I think the issue was around causing sickness in cows (and a lot of good research supports that this is the case). This could cause the cows to then have puss around their utters and leak that puss into the milk. The puss wasn't really dangerous, just really fucking gross.

So you are right that the dude who called it "toxic" was dead wrong, but I do think there is some moral ambiguity around the use of the chemical and I do think that we should be careful about trusting some "research" as being any more valid than the opinions of bloggers.

Permalink to Comment

75. processchemist on June 22, 2013 2:51 AM writes...

I don't know what's the taste of the milk coming from rGBH treated cows (I'm european) BUT meat, milk and milk derivatives coming from non industrially breeded bovines taste much better than their industrial counterparts...
BTW, you can have natural extracts full of heavy metals and synthetic supplements with the safest profile you can think of... hard to explain this to the "common man"

Permalink to Comment

76. Xero on June 22, 2013 3:30 AM writes...

Really well said Derek! Everything in the world is poisonous as well as useful as a drug; and for that the 'dose' matters! You eat spinach more than a kilo and die; but do we do it? (Snake) venoms are being used in some low concn. for drugs! So ppl shd make up their minds on how to look at things correctly. Of course, the more educated ppl are getting, the more confused they are becoming these days..

Permalink to Comment

77. Sue on June 22, 2013 4:46 AM writes...

Thanks so much.

Permalink to Comment

78. BC on June 22, 2013 5:11 AM writes...

Great article, but if you truly want it to be a counter piece to the buzzfeed article you need to truncate it significantly. The reason our youth today will read the buzzfeed article is because it's short, concise, and has pictures. It doesn't need to have facts, just those IMPACT words. I realize, and as an engineer can appreciate, how difficult it is to explain the "science" behind something but I'd be surprised if even 5% of the 4million people that have read that article would invest the time to read your counter argument. Simply because when you click on your article they are presented with a whole page of words and it doesn't stop there. Great article for those of us that actually want to know the "why." Just my two cents. Thanks

Permalink to Comment

79. Sam on June 22, 2013 5:14 AM writes...

I hope you do an article about dihydrogen monoxide, its incredibly dangerous

Permalink to Comment

80. ptm on June 22, 2013 6:45 AM writes...

Yeah, nice and much needed takedown.

That said the issue is not all black and white. It's very hard to asses long term effects of various substances and in some cases the risk of possible adverse effects even if tiny may not be worth the questionable benefit associated with certain additives.

For example given a choice of an otherwise identical soda with and without BVO (if I drank soda at all) i would opt for the former. Then again if the one with BVO tasted much better I would probably go for that one.

Permalink to Comment

81. jim on June 22, 2013 6:56 AM writes...

Quite a few years ago there used to be sugar substitutes added to diet soda. They were called cyclamates. So if Europe so wisely bans these nasty and harmful chemicals mentioned in the Buzzfeed article why do they allow cyclamates to remain in use?

Oh yes one further tidbit. A human would have to drink 350 cans of diet soda a day to ingest the same proportionate amounts of cyclamtes as the rats were injected with.

Permalink to Comment

82. Andrew on June 22, 2013 7:06 AM writes...

@78 - The title of the article has the word "education" in it. That should be enough to keep "our youth today" away. For the rest of us, I never once thought it was too long. On the contrary, I found it pretty concise. And asking a blogger with a reputation such as his to 'be more like buzzfeed' is a bit much. The people you'd like to see educated gave it up long ago.

Permalink to Comment

83. Anonymous on June 22, 2013 7:11 AM writes...

Agreed, 8 toxic foods is a bit exaggerated.
Although i doubt all food additives are harmless. a few parts per million of this, a few parts per million of that, a half doz of this and that may work synergistically. Maybe it won't harm the average man but millions of Americans eat processed foods every day. And i think there will exist some subset of Americans with issues could have benefited from less additives in their diet.

Permalink to Comment

84. Anonymous on June 22, 2013 7:54 AM writes...


If you eat enough processed foods to make those PPM/PPB add up to anything dangerous, you're probably going to be morbidly obese with congestive heart failure from fat and hardened arteries from consuming the daily recommended maximum of sodium many times over.

Permalink to Comment

85. TomB on June 22, 2013 7:54 AM writes...

Anonymous, the Precautionary Principle called. He wants to know why you're abusing him so badly.

"a bit", "I doubt", "may", "Maybe", "i think", "some subset", "could have".....sheesh, using that many qualifiers you could make an "argument" against anything.

Permalink to Comment

86. Lori on June 22, 2013 8:05 AM writes...

thank you very much, always did dislike scare tactics

Permalink to Comment

87. Florida Mom on June 22, 2013 8:13 AM writes...

The gross over-generalizations and lack of knowledge and/or the actual research on long-term low dose exposures to much of the items on his list is irritating. Show me the facts. Not the FDA approved facts, as that organization is a hot mess, but the peer reviewed studies that are not at all affiliated with or profit from the manufacturers. Hard to come by, but there if one is actually interested. And, BTW, the arsenic in rice is at MUCH higher levels than what would occur naturally. It is from chicken waste being used as fertilizers. Again, you should know this, if you were interested in the topic enough to write an article.

Permalink to Comment

88. Robert on June 22, 2013 8:28 AM writes...

Great article. I as a third generation farmer have actually used BGH in cattle. That was ceased many years ago. Ref your last paragraph, since when did not knowing anything about one's subject ever stop a writer or a politician? :-) Thank you for your blog.

Permalink to Comment

89. Florida Mom on June 22, 2013 8:30 AM writes...

The gross over-generalizations and lack of knowledge and/or the actual research on long-term low dose exposures to ANY of the items on his list is irritating. Show me the facts. Not the FDA approved facts, as that organization has a proven track record of failures and lack of concern for the true overall good, but show me the peer reviewed studies that are not at all affiliated with or profit from the manufacturers. Hard to come by, but still there if one is actually interested. And, BTW, the arsenic in rice is at MUCH higher levels than what would occur naturally. It is from chicken waste being used as fertilizers. Again, you should know this, if you were interested in the topic enough to write an article.

Permalink to Comment

90. Mazie on June 22, 2013 8:50 AM writes...

I completely understand that Buzzfeed wrote a poorly researched article and that they hyperbolized danger and mistated facts. Here's the thing, for many of us with health issues like auto-immune, we have already been warned away from most of those things particularly BHT and BHA.

There are things I can't tolerate at 20 parts per million. We haven't been warned away by a bad articles or opinion pieces but by doctors and our own bodies. If I have any BHA or BHT, I tend to be in pain within 2 to 3 hours.

In much of the testing that is spoken of, the tests are done in isolation and on mice. Sure maybe a body can absorb and process and dispose of without harm many chemicals, but where is the line crossed when there are too many and/or the combination of chemicals that don't work well in the general population?

I can't swing a cat without hitting someone who's own body is attacking them now in some form or the other. Granted many of these diseases could not be diagnosed before. But maybe just maybe it's because we are crossing new chemical threasholds and maybe just maybe all of these sick people like myself who have to work extremely hard to stay healthy and avoid all of those chemicals you deem harmless, well maybe we are just the canaries in the coal mine of this chemical world.

Perhaps it is time to take a more cautious approach to manmade chemical solutions. We have a habit of saying whoops 50 years after a new chemical is introduced.

Just consider it.

Permalink to Comment

91. LD on June 22, 2013 8:54 AM writes...

THANK YOU, THANK YOU! This will allow my to save a lot of breath and frustration in the future as I will refer people to this wonderfully written piece (for the facts, the articulation, the entertainment value..) instead of trying to explain myself which i do way less eloquently. I vehemently agree - Amen.

Permalink to Comment

92. TomB on June 22, 2013 8:55 AM writes...

"I can't swing a cat without hitting someone who's own body is attacking them now in some form or the other."

Maybe it isn't their body that's attacking them, maybe it's your cat.

Just sayin'

Permalink to Comment

93. Pliska on June 22, 2013 8:55 AM writes...

Hydrogen Peroxide 10% solution. Used for years as a wound disinfectant. It does more harm than good. The public doesn't know pure Hydrogen Peroxide is a volatile and can be used as a rocket fuel.

Permalink to Comment

94. Megan McArdle on June 22, 2013 9:05 AM writes...

Derek, you are a national treasure.

Permalink to Comment

95. agostic on June 22, 2013 9:16 AM writes...

After I read part of your article, you give me a common impression that you kept emphasizing the amount of chemicals to defend your viewpoints. Do you really realize, however, that how the cancer, tumor or any other kind of diseases grows up? Is it due to accumulation of or trigger by certain chemical when the immune system or the detoxification of human body organs (such as liver or kidney) doesn't function well to allow the chemical does its harm. As you are trying to dispute those obvious mistakes, you could not and are almost impossible right now to provide solid evidences to reject the uncertain claim without further scientific studies.

Permalink to Comment

96. Dr. Mindbender on June 22, 2013 9:17 AM writes...

The sassy tone does leave a lot to be desired. You're quite off-putting with the "See what a little knowledge would do for you" quips.

I'm not agreeing with Kaitlin here, but I've been following this blog for quite a while and the tone also struck me as uncharacteristically aggressive. Very odd for Derek, who is usually even-toned.

I'm not saying it's uncalled for though. In fact, this would have been MORE interesting if the involved parties met face to face on a talk show to hammer this out.

Permalink to Comment

97. Alaina Mabaso on June 22, 2013 9:29 AM writes...

Buzz feed should be our number one source for Henry Cavill pictures and cat memes. Chemistry, not so much. I ignored this FOOD POISONS!!!1!!!1!1 article until it popped up in roughly half the feeds of my friends. Anyone reading the first couple of lines should be asking where those sweeping claims are coming from. Alas....

This reminds me a bit of the "human evolution" sensation from those pictures of huge-eyed future peoples!!!! that went viral a few weeks ago. The biggest takeaway from that discussion is that very few people seem to understand what the principles of evolution actually are.

Permalink to Comment

98. bill wolfe on June 22, 2013 9:39 AM writes...

Derek - this site is read by chemists?

Well, for that audience, you just did the equivalent of the Buzzfeed piece you criticize.

The same takedown could be applied to your "analysis" - which makes assertions that are not based on evidence, relies on assumptions and non-transparent values choices, and ignores conflicting evidence.

Tactics inculcated and embedded in the academic program and deployed by your profession and its chemical and pharmaceutical corporate masters.

It's easy to criticize the lay public with arrogant expertise.

Now take those same skills and apply them rigorously to the marketing and scientific/toxicological claims of the food industry, the chemical industry, and the pharmaceutical industries, who so elegantly manufacture uncertainty to defeat regulation and continue making profits poisoning people and the earth..

What, no appetite for that? Didn't think so.

(ps -BTW, I am no practicing scientist, but did suffer through 2 semesters of university level organic chemistry, plus analytical chemistry, food chemistry, and intro/general chem - as well as graduate school level toxicology/risk assessment/regulatory policy stuff).

Permalink to Comment

99. Mark Allan Gay on June 22, 2013 9:45 AM writes...

Actually the problem with bromine, chlorine and fluorine is they are halogens which interfere with IODINE receptors. You have iodine receptors throughout your body, not just your thyroid, which is the most intensely affected by brominated flours and soft drinks, and fluoridate/chlorinated waters.
The Japanese , who ingest 13.5 mg of iodine daily have less cancer and metabolic incidence than ourselves. Go ahead and listen to this semi-informed shill, continue to be mislead and enjoy your accelerated decline into decrepitude.

Permalink to Comment

100. FrankenPC on June 22, 2013 9:47 AM writes...

Wait, the number one toxic food, fresh water (hold on...FRESH WATER!...that's better) isn't even mentioned.

Permalink to Comment

101. bad wolf on June 22, 2013 9:55 AM writes...

For once i have to ask, where's the "share" button? Why can't we post this directly to our Facebook pages where our friends posted the Buzzfeed article?

Come on, Corante! Get Web 2.0 already.

Permalink to Comment

102. Ed on June 22, 2013 10:01 AM writes...

A silly, but, alas, true story: both my daughters went to colleges which had "substance free" or "chemical free" dorm rooms. Since neither went to a school noted for its spectacular science program (one went to a business school, the other to a theatre and fine arts oriented liberal arts school), but for both of them I was tempted to ask (I didn't because of fear of my wife's elbow) how the student was supposed to survive in a perfect vacuum, because that's what would occur with no substances or no chemicals in a room.

Less frivolously, the vast majority of chemical additives are for the convenience of producers, not for the benefit of consumers -- producers which have, very often, demonstrated a perfect willingness to lie about the safety of additives. Overall, I do not worry about the safety of the foods I buy, and I worry much more about contamination by pesticides and microbes (Hey! They're all-natural! And they'll KILL YOU!) than by the regulated additives. Start gutting the FDA, which some loonies in DC propose, and that willingness goes away, and I may have to start gardening in my backyard and scavenging road kill.

Frequently people don't think, especially people who listen to blood-on-their-hands fools like the anti-vax crowd.

Anti-intellectualism has a long history in the US; anti-science is just its latest incarnation.

Permalink to Comment

103. Michael Perini on June 22, 2013 10:06 AM writes...

Well the last part is partially true. The other half is the fact that combined additives aren't well researched.

And btw, why add stuff to perfectly well grown and selected, locally produced food? Oh yeah...

Permalink to Comment

104. Michael Perini on June 22, 2013 10:07 AM writes...

Well the last part is partially true. The other half is the fact that combined additives aren't well researched.

And btw, why add stuff to perfectly well grown and selected, locally produced food? Oh yeah...

Permalink to Comment

105. Al on June 22, 2013 10:20 AM writes...

Red velvet cake gets its color from vinegar, not dye.

Permalink to Comment

106. Gordon Hogenson on June 22, 2013 10:24 AM writes...

Take out the snarky tone which insults anyone who shared the original list and I'd happily share this. As it stands, if I share it I'm effectively insulting my friends. Tone matters!

Permalink to Comment

107. Steve Dutch on June 22, 2013 10:31 AM writes...

Let's not forget dihydrogen monoxide. Monoxide is the gas that will kill you if your furnace malfunctions. Also known as hydrogen hydroxide. Hydrogen not only blew up the Hindenburg, it's tha active ingredient in all acids. And hydroxide is what makes lye so caustic.

Prolonged contact with the solid form causes tissue death, inhalation causes death and contact with the vapors can burn. Yet it's in all foods and totally unregulated by the FDA.

Ricin is totally natural. And if your castor beans are organically grown, you can be sure your ricin is free of toxic chemicals.

Permalink to Comment

108. Joe on June 22, 2013 11:01 AM writes...

This article is almost as bad as the Buzzfeed one it mocks, knowledge of chemistry is clearly not the same thing as knowledge of the biology of human chemical absorption and retention.
So called "low level" contamination can be harmless in a single dose while still highly harmful over time, not even getting into the effects on hemochromatosis and assorted other things which accumulate in the body over a lifetime.

Permalink to Comment

109. Geek Hoddess on June 22, 2013 11:02 AM writes...

Thanks for this article. The Buzzfeed post made my brain all explode-y. I have a BS in chemistry and chemical engineering, so I have enough knowledge to see the stupidity (OMG chemicals!!) and sometimes enough to explain the any terms to the scientifically illiterates.

I find it hugely amusing fr people to refer to you as "no-nothing" or question if you are a real scientist.

#67: regardless of what started the fire on the Hinderburg, hydrogen makes a great fuel.

Permalink to Comment

110. Joel on June 22, 2013 11:10 AM writes...

Since you are not getting money you should at least have our thanks. Thank You.

Permalink to Comment

111. James on June 22, 2013 11:13 AM writes...

I like chemistry. I like reading about food science and health studies. I especially enjoy a contrarian point of view, but... here are my thoughts.

The article consists of mostly MythBuster's style "science," in which argument from fallacy and denying the antecedent reign supreme, as the author shows a bewildering lack of logic and scientific process for a chemist.

Then again, studying chemistry does not qualify oneself to understand clinical studies. Data science and statistics are the most important fields for such work followed by medical/biochemistry. (although statistics is sometimes a tool a chemist will use and should be familiar with).

For food science essays that are not technical, I recommend anything written by Michael Pollan. He has far fewer logical fallacies per page, although a few sneak in from time to time. :-)

Permalink to Comment

112. Michelle Martin on June 22, 2013 11:15 AM writes...

Helping people become truly critical consumers of information starts very young. As an elementary school teacher, I see this as a literacy and science education issue. Students need to recognize and dissect propaganda. They need to read an article and say "says who?" then have the tools to figure it out for themselves.

Permalink to Comment

113. karen on June 22, 2013 11:23 AM writes...

can you comment on geo-engineering, and this assertion that it is killing the planet?

Permalink to Comment

114. Lisa on June 22, 2013 11:23 AM writes...


Permalink to Comment

115. Keith on June 22, 2013 11:23 AM writes...

A very good article which will have absolutely no effect outside the scientific community. Sorry, but you're preaching to the amen corner. A True Believer(tm) in the junk science of "nutrition" will "know"(tm) that you are lying because you are part of the grand conspiracy of Big Business(tm) and you are lying to protect the profits(tm) of your corporate(tm) puppet(tm) masters(tm). Against stupidity the gods themselves...

Permalink to Comment

116. bobo on June 22, 2013 11:30 AM writes...

Cocaine is also naturally occurring, so it must also have no negative health effects.

Anyways, the author of this article may very well be a chemist, but he is definitely not a biologist who can understand the effects of certain chemicals on the human body.

Permalink to Comment

117. Amanda on June 22, 2013 11:33 AM writes...

Thanks for the in-depth research/explanations.
My 2 cents: the food dye symptoms may be anecdotal but it is quite noticeable when my son eats red dye, whatever the reason. Hyperactivity might be an understatement... The other stuff may be over exaggerated/sensationalized but I'm sticking by that one.

Permalink to Comment

118. Amanda on June 22, 2013 11:34 AM writes...

Thanks for the in-depth research/explanations.
My 2 cents: the food dye symptoms may be anecdotal but it is quite noticeable when my son eats red dye, whatever the reason. Hyperactivity might be an understatement... The other stuff may be over exaggerated/sensationalized but I'm sticking by that one.

Permalink to Comment

119. tom on June 22, 2013 11:35 AM writes...

This sounds like an article funded by a big business.

Permalink to Comment

120. Anonymous BMS Researcher on June 22, 2013 11:44 AM writes...

My favorite example of chemical stupidity is organic tobacco, without all those evil synthetic additives. Of course, any possible risks from trace amounts of such additives would be orders of magnitude less than the KNOWN risks from inhaling the smoke produced from pure natural tobacco leaves.

Similarly, a diet high in processed foods is likely to be harmful, not because of this or that trace additive but merely because many processed foods have too much fats, sugars, and sodium. We need some fats and sodium -- they are essential nutrients -- but not in the amounts many of us eat. For most of human history fats and sodium were hard to get in sufficient amounts, so our taste buds evolved to like foods containing lots of such nutrients. Sugar is sugar, from the nutritional perspective it makes little difference whether that sugar came from cane, beets, corn, or beehives. High fructose corn syrup is common in the US because of a longstanding political alliance between anti-Castro hardliners and lobbyists for the US sugar industry, which keeps out imported sugar so the US price of sugar is way above the world market price.

Permalink to Comment

121. Daniel on June 22, 2013 11:46 AM writes...

While I appreciate your background I feel that the article doesn't help your cause as much as you think it does because you come across as a big propagandist. Several people in this comment section have stressed the importance of being critical readers: let's do that.

If everything you say is true, why have these chemicals been banned in other countries? You only dispute that in one case, BHT. Certainly the USA does not have a monopoly on chemists. Are foreign chemists ignorant baboons too? Is this racism at work here? American "exceptionalism"? Most of your article really isn't a criticism of the substance of the article but criticism of its presentation. Your failure to address the elephant in the room does your readers a grave disservice.

Your screed...and that's what it is, a screed no matter how you try and cloak in in intellectual content, doesn't really serve to advance the public knowledge. You would been far better off with an even-handed discussion of the merits of the debate rather than pounding the table.

Permalink to Comment

122. Knock on the Sky on June 22, 2013 11:52 AM writes...

As I sit here reading the comments and drinking my "all natural" aqueous solution of legumin and acutely toxic 1,3,7-trimethylpurine-2,6-dione dashed with a bit of pre-formulated cinnamaldehyde, I can't help but consider how far and/or successful a public outreach initiative would go towards addressing chemophobia. I realize that there are some blogs floating around that are attempting to address this but I believe we need something much larger such as public friendly presentations, articles in the main stream media,university sponsored community learning events and even maybe a government outreach program.

I'm an organic chemist myself and non-scientists often ask me about my job and I'm more than happy to describe to them what I do in non-technical terms. However, it's becoming harder and harder for scientists to establish or keep the public's trust given the poor public view of pharmaceutical companies, fraudulent high-impact research (i.e. vaccines and autism), and the inability for us to close the gap between factual scientific results and public opinion.

Simply because you can't pronounce something doesn't mean it must be bad. I have a PhD in synthetic chemistry and I still have to look up compounds when I see one of those long five line IUPAC names. A common name is almost always less intimidating than an IUPAC name but not all chemicals have a user friendly common names; that doesn't make them any better or worse.

I've rambled long enough and I'm starting to feel the effects of my drink which is a soy latte sprinkled with cinnamon if you haven't realized yet. I should probably wash my palate with a solution of (2R)-2-[(1S)-1,2-dihydroxyethyl]-3,4-dihydroxy-2H-furan-5-one colored with 1,3,3-trimethyl-2-[(1E,3E,5E,7E,9E,11E,13E,15E,17E)-3,7,12,

Permalink to Comment

123. chemist on June 22, 2013 11:57 AM writes...

This was great! I'd love it if you could address GMO's in a follow-up post, because that issue has spread far beyond buzzfeed.

Permalink to Comment

124. TomB on June 22, 2013 12:00 PM writes...

"Are foreign chemists ignorant baboons too? "

"Foreign chemists" don't make the decisions as to which chemicals to ban, politicians do. And considering the influence the Greens party (and related types) have in many European countries, it isn't surprising that many questionable scientific decisions are made by politicians.

Permalink to Comment

125. Joe Q. on June 22, 2013 12:02 PM writes...

@111: Michael Pollan does write intelligently most of the time, but a few doozies can creep in -- the meme of "BHT is made from lighter fluid" was popularized by "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and has been particularly tricky to stamp out.

Permalink to Comment

126. jeoffrey on June 22, 2013 12:17 PM writes...

Thank you Derk I appreciate you sharing the knowledge you have gained over the years in this particular subject. and thank you to all the other chemist who shared their knowledge as well in the comments myself knowing very little to nothing about this particular field I find it very helpful when those of you who do know take the time to share. hopefully those of us who lack the knowledge in this particular field will have the patience to be quiet long enough and maybe we'll learn something thanks again for sharing actual knowledge about something and not just rhetoric

Permalink to Comment

127. jeoffrey on June 22, 2013 12:17 PM writes...

Thank you Derk I appreciate you sharing the knowledge you have gained over the years in this particular subject. and thank you to all the other chemist who shared their knowledge as well in the comments myself knowing very little to nothing about this particular field I find it very helpful when those of you who do know take the time to share. hopefully those of us who lack the knowledge in this particular field will have the patience to be quiet long enough and maybe we'll learn something thanks again for sharing actual knowledge about something and not just rhetoric

Permalink to Comment

128. Steve Dutch on June 22, 2013 12:19 PM writes...

Conspiracy believers never spot the real conspiracies around them. Listen to any radio talk show and who are the sponsors? Dubious medical and nutritional products, crackpot tax avoidance schemes (which the inventors never try themselves) and fringe investment schemes (Your money is about to become worthless. Send it all to me. I'll take all the risk. Because that's the kid of guy I am.) Follow the money, folks. For all the folks who doubt the good will of food manufacturers, answer this: why do makers of nutritional supplements lobby so hard to prevent oversight by the FDA? Especially since there are known cases of people being harmed by faulty and impure supplements. Big Ag isn't the only moneyed interest out there.

Permalink to Comment

129. Ant6n on June 22, 2013 12:29 PM writes...

Ok, it was as easy as stealing candy from a baby to debunk the presentation in the buzzfeed article. Yes, caps make you look stupid, thank you. But the underlying issue isn't addressed, and that was the point of the buzzfeed article - why are these chemicals banned in other countries and not the US. And why do we have studies that are either based on lethal doses in rates, or studies that involve humans but an uncontrollable number of variables as to make the results nearly meaningless.

These issues and some others that people have raised here are fair, and not addressed. But then comes the arrogance of the supposed scientists, who misrepresent these concerns as mostly about how long and unpronounceable names of chemical compounds can be (like #122). You talk down to people like that, but you wonder when they in turn call you industry shills and propagandists.

Permalink to Comment

130. sgcox on June 22, 2013 12:33 PM writes...

#55, Higgins:

I think it is again the definition of harmful dose and exposure. Primary smoker passes the concentrated hot (injuries by burning is also a factor, not just chemical composition) smoke straight through his lungs. The filtered out exhale is then mixes up with ambient air for second-hand smoker to inhale, at mush lower concentration of harmful agents. For me, and I would dare to say 99% of readers of Derek` blog the harm done to the primary smokers must be far more greater, just from the the common sense and the law of mass action.

p.s. Yes, second hand smoking is awful. I hate to be in a smoke filled space and am very happy it was clamped down.

Permalink to Comment

131. Andrew Berg on June 22, 2013 12:33 PM writes...

Good article, well written. Thank you.

One small nit: The damage from the Hindenburg explosion was not so much the result of the hydrogen gas burning as it was the envelope. Watch some hydrogen burn, then go find a video of the Hindenburg on YouTube. The envelope was, if I recall, made from aluminum and lacquer doped fabric. That combination, once lit, burns quite well.

Permalink to Comment

132. Amy Y on June 22, 2013 12:39 PM writes...

As a maker of artisan soap/cosmetics who also happens to have an above-average amount of science education in my past (I was going to be a microbiologist when I grew up, but then wandered off the reservation), the chemophobia seen in the wild is a source of significant pain to me. On the one hand, I cannot abide such rampant ignorance, and scaremongering in general is offensive on several levels. On the other hand, it is rarely profitable to kick a significant part of one's customer base in the ideology, at least very often. Mostly I try to limit myself to occasional voice-of-reason comments and science-education blog posts.

That said, if you ever decide to take on, say, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, I will totally post many links to said evisceration with my professional hat on.

Permalink to Comment

133. Professor M on June 22, 2013 12:39 PM writes...

You're killing it Derek!

Dr Oz... Monsanto... chemophobia...

Next up, GMOs?

Permalink to Comment

134. Matt on June 22, 2013 12:49 PM writes...

Hi. I am not a scientist, although I do work in a scientific field and do hold a science degree. I am also not an alarmist when it comes to food and chemistry. However, I would like to point out one fault with your article; you do not address the concept of biomagnification of compounds within an organism over time.

Now, I haven't looked into the chemistry of the various compounds discussed and how they behave within the cells of the human body after digestion in the gut and absorption from the bloodstream. If anyone wants to give me a research grant to explore that subject, you can make your check payable to "cash" and I'll publish my findings from a beach in Hawaii. However, you should keep in mind that certain compounds, when broken down in the body, turn into other compounds which then are either used, discarded, or attach themselves to other molecules within your body. These attachments might do nothing, or they might interfere with vital biological chemistry. Worse yet, they could bind to fat molecules and wind up being stored in your tissues, where they hang around and build up over time (biomagnification) to a point where they reach toxic levels.

So, while I agree that there is a lot of hype out there with regards to the things we ingest, I feel your article would carry more weight if you could say, definitively, that some the things mentioned above won't stick around in the body and cause problems later on.

Permalink to Comment

135. Nelly Fartado on June 22, 2013 1:01 PM writes...

I find it funny how some person trolling has got people so worked up. The caps and weasel words are so thick through the source article that it's clearly either a troll or satire. They're almost interchangeable words anymore. It's actually probably sarcasm, the lesser cousin of the poke-fun-at-stuff clan.

Daniel, who posted a comment in the style of a brain-damaged psych ward patient, doesn't even believe the article and is just trying to get a rise. While I understand and appreciate the calm explanation, I'm forced to agree that it's a screed. It's like writing a paper and presenting it to children on why the sky is blue. That's okay enough, though. It does generate content that's useful and informative, but it does nothing to defeat the ideas of the source article. It's like punching a clown boxing-balloon and getting mad when it comes back up. The clown balloon isn't dumb. It was designed to do exactly that and infuriate people who don't realize that it'll just come up again. It knows that it's wrong and will get knocked down every time, but still, it rises up to see your face just to see the look on it.

Permalink to Comment

136. Swoop on June 22, 2013 1:06 PM writes...

DITTO! (Please notice the caps! lol) BTW You would have me believe if I ingested 100 pounds of chocolate eclair it may have some type of adverse effect on me? Maybe they should write an article on stupidity being contagious.

Permalink to Comment

137. Katherine on June 22, 2013 1:12 PM writes...

"These compounds have been added to cereals, etc., for decades now, while the incidence rates of cancer have been going down."

You may be right that BHA and BHT don't cause cancer, but this argument doesn't logically prove it, or even necessarily support your claim. Maybe the rates of cancer are going down for other reasons, and would be going down FASTER if not for these two chemicals.

Again, I don't really have a horse in this race, just spotted a flaw in logic. :)

Permalink to Comment

138. Nelly Fartado on June 22, 2013 1:17 PM writes...

Katherine, you're a nerd and I feel less of a man at not being able to give you a swirly.

Permalink to Comment

139. dan on June 22, 2013 2:01 PM writes...

Thank you for this!

Permalink to Comment

140. Typical Fool on June 22, 2013 2:08 PM writes...

You know, I must note how the vast majority of this article is centered around the assumptions made about natural food proponents' decision-making motivations or knowledge base, and the hype of the objectified article... but it makes plenty of its own assumptions, none of them flattering, and also uses a careful redirection logic to hide its most damaging facet... half facts and half-done explanations, which is what pot accuses the kettle of, here. hooray for irony

If you wish to go about using Paracelsus like a rusty tool (from whom much of chemistry's more intriguing lesser studies and botanical/medical experiments as well), show some frigging respect for the whole philosophy of his work. It would suffice to say that YES, many toxic substances only cause great or irreparable harm from a certain dosage. But there has been enough study from the Author's precious FDA to allow things such as Homeopathic remedies without crying hysteria and providing any more proof that it is wrong...

The idea is that yes, some of the poisons DO have that toxic essence, and uses extremely small doses of said substance to elicit the body's counter-reaction which will help to alleviate a symptom or condition that requires such a reaction in the body to solve. By the way, a more unbiased term for the 'toxic essence' would have been "exhibits toxic behaviours" or "invites toxic reactions". This way it is more in line with the chemistry he seems love so much and sounds less like fluffy bunny bullshit with no correlation to science or chemistry in action. it also points more to mechanics of chemical reactions, which this author seems to ignore when it is convenient.

He makes no mention of how long these substances remain in the body, how quickly these levels do (or do not) rise under such conditions, how long-term effects are simply not researched well enough to prove that these things aren't harmful in smaller doses over long long times, etc. One only need look at the history of the FDA's pharmaceutical recalls and bans on things it said only 10-20 years ago were safe, etc.

The author also conveniently ignores mitigating effects in the wonder that is the human body - buffering reactions, catalysts, and the ability of the body to repair its own organs. We all know drinking too much alcohol can cause cirrhosis of the liver, but some people are just lucky to have a liver that won't quit.. does that mean that the alcohol is not harmful? NO, fool. It means that his body makes up for the damage. Can you be sure your body will do the same? NO, fool. You pays your money, you takes your chances. Nothing is for certain. well, actually, very little is certain, like huffing chlorine, eating a fistful of arsenic, etc.

His biased view of nature comes through conveniently for his purposes as well - he credits nature with being amazing at producing poisons for more potent and immediate than some of the ones created by man; he ignores the fact that the most useful chemical isolations that are important to medicine come directly from plants, barely even refined; and he never bothers to mention that people have been learning for thousands of years to avoid the toxic plants/animals, whereas most of the chemicals we ingest as both pharmaceuticals and as foodstuffs have only been around for the past 40-60 years, and in that time there have been just as many long-term discoveries that "oops, we were intoxicating, debilitating and even sometimes accidentally killing people with our "modern science".

The author slams the source article by reminding people that place and environment, and the other chemical reactions in chain make all the difference in how a given substance is used, and neglects the side of that argument that people have trained their metabolisms over millenia to deal with specific types of foods in specific ways... but those trained habits do not include GMO's and food additives, which have been around for 100 years at max (talking lab quality, not stone age "food additives").

Natural foods eaters (while I make the caveat that stupidity does not discriminate hobbies or affinities) by and large do not believe the 'you're eating foaming plastic bleach' memes, but less intelligent ones use them as talking points to shut up the less intelligent GMO/FDA/Chemical Food Additive proponents.

Enlightened discussion on both sides would show a more conducive sort of discourse where we might actually learn something about adding the RIGHT chemicals to foods, and knowing when and how to avoid them.

I might suggest to people who want to truly learn more stop reading this conveniently hole-ridden article, as well as the source material, also conveniently swiss-cheezed, and start learning the DYNAMIC processes of your own body as compared to what science knows about 'average' processes of humans. KNOW THYSELF, and know thy food. then judge for yourself.

Do I believe natural food will solve the problems of cancer? no. Do I think that GMO's and food additives will end world hunger? No. There is no clear cut ansewr to any of this; it will take decades more of screw ups and discoveries and accidental deaths to really make additives that we know beyond a doubt are safe, or make things truly 'better' than what nature has produced.

If you truly want to distill the natural food idiom in a way that does not make one look like a fool with a degree in chemistry, one might wish to extrapolate this: natural food eaters trust nature more than human made foods. It doesn't mean they won't eat any of it (they can't help it even if that extreme view were universally true), and it doesn't mean all food additives are bad, or even that any one food additive is definitely bad. It is a matter of 'tie goes to the defender', so shut up about your misguided messianic chemical food revolution. thanks.

Permalink to Comment

141. Justin Bours on June 22, 2013 2:15 PM writes...

Thank you so much for post - I could not agree with you more about how offensive and damaging this kind of misinformation is. At the same time I think there is point in highlighting how processed food has become so focused on chemical additives rather the whole foods to the point of zapping a generations' intake of vital nutrients. You mention how Vitamic C is the same chemical whether its synthesized in the lab or whether it is extracted from an orange, but the fact (and as you mention yourself) is a lot of vitamins by themselves can actually lead to nutrient deficiencies. While it is important to discredit those who are spreading this sort of misinformed "anti-chemical" agenda, I think it's also important to emphasize the superiority of complex foods because there is a lot unknown about taking supplements and vitamins without all the other supportive nutrients that are prevalent in natural foods.

So while studies may show conflicting evidence about a specific chemical causing cancer, there is no contention that getting your nutrients from whole/complex foods will maximally benefit your health.

Permalink to Comment

142. TomB on June 22, 2013 2:19 PM writes...

"The idea is that yes, some of the poisons DO have that toxic essence, and uses extremely small doses of said substance to elicit the body's counter-reaction which will help to alleviate a symptom or condition that requires such a reaction in the body to solve."

What the hell does that even mean????

And try to answer in under a thousand words...

Permalink to Comment

143. Anonymous on June 22, 2013 2:46 PM writes...

Common arguments of the this post are as such:
1. Since this chemical has been added into our food for quite some time and we had not died, it is OK to keep adding it.
2. All chemical additives were added in very small amounts (Are these really "small amounts"? Well they are much smaller than the typical scale I run in my RBF). Therefore they are safe. Don't ask me about any scientific data and reference to support my hypothesis. I don't bother checking.
3. There is some research concludes that this chemical is not toxic at all when added at this concentration (Shhh!Don't tell them who sponsored the research and how it was done). Then although there are some other studies saying the chemical is toxic I still want to say the chemical is completely safe and those who say not are antiscience idiots.

With this logic is this article trying to promote scientific knowledge among the public or just to show off the arrogance and ignorance of some chemists?

---from one of your fellow chemists.

Permalink to Comment

144. AnonMe on June 22, 2013 2:50 PM writes...

@56 Derek Lowe:

Small d,l please. We reserve capitols to signify atomic orientation in space but does not specify the direction of rotation of the plane of polarized light. :)

@30 NotSoFast:

Vitamin E has three carbon chiral centers. In chemistry, we have a variety of ways to describe chiral compounds: d,l or +,- and D,L or R,S. The d,l or +,- system describes the direction of rotation the plane of polarized light undergoes when a solution of the compound is viewed through a polarimeter; whereas the D,L or R,S system actually describes to a chemist the specific orientation of the atoms in space.

So, for your example of the alpha-d-tocopherol, a chemist in the field would know: 1) All positions of aryl ring not occupied by oxygen are occupied by a methyl group. 2) the d form of alpha-tocopherol has the absolute configuration R,R,R at all three stereocenters. This information allows the chemist to know exactly what she is working with or trying to make.

Really, you can read all about it here:‎

Now, making a racemic (rac in your nomenclature) mixture is so much cheaper and easier to do that companies selling supplements will always try and sell you that. It's a profit margin thing. This does not mean that a skilled chemist cannot make the pure alpha-d-tocopherol, and this form would be identical to the one you're talking about. Yes, identical in every single way.

Permalink to Comment

145. Rowan Badger on June 22, 2013 3:34 PM writes...

So, I'm one of those 'natural foods' people. I'm also a scientist from a farming background, with about fifteen years of personal hobbyist herbalism education, who's done her research about what to eat and not eat.

I believe that natural is better than synthetic, not because of some 'magical principle' in the natural food, but because of synergy. In a lot of herbal medicine, especially with antivirals/antifungals like thyme, garlic, or lavender (I pick those three because unlike many herbal medicines there are double-blind peer reviewed studies to support their usefulness), you don't get the same results from a chemical formation of the most common compound in the plant. Thyme for example contains better than a dozen volatile compounds in roughly-equivalent amounts, and the only reason 'thymol' is considered its active ingredient is because it was isolated and therefore named first. The more reasonable likelihood is that it's some combination of the volatile compounds, working in synergy, that have the effects studies have confirmed. That complexity is very hard to replicate in a lab, and will ultimately cost more in time and money than just growing the plant.

By the same token, an orange will almost always be better than a vitamin C tablet, because there are other things in the orange (sugars, fiber, water, trace minerals) that help its vitamin C get absorbed and used. If you don't HAVE an orange or if you're allergic to oranges, a vitamin C tablet is a sufficient substitute and doesn't deserve to be demonized just because it came out of a lab.

I'm critically anemic. It's an absorption problem, and though I eat a very nicely balanced diet containing lots of iron, sometimes my levels still fall and I have to seek out chemical supplements. There's nothing wrong with that; I could not live if I could not occasionally buy iron pills and add them to my diet. Should I give up trying to get what I need from food and just take the pills? I don't believe so, because I think that the balance in my diet is doing me good in ways I probably can't immediately observe. I just keep a little bottle of pills on the shelf, and take them when I've been feeling run-down.

Most of my reason for being a natural foods advocate is environmental and political. Regardless of the health effects upon ME from the use of BGH, the effects upon the cows are profound and I don't want to contribute to that system. I find I *feel* healthier when I eat grass-fed beef, but even if I felt no difference I'd still avoid grain-fed feedlot beef because it offends my sensibilities. GMO plants may have lasting health effects; they may not. Only time will tell. However, the massive industrial agricultural complex that depends on the GMO seed industry WILL have lasting effects, and its abuses upon farmers for the last 35 years are clearly harmful.

One of the posters referenced "Well, when I eat BHT or BHA I'm immediately in pain." You know, I believe you, and I salute you. Kudos to you for finding out that you have a chemical sensitivity, and changing your diet to suit it. Just don't expect me to change my diet based on your sensitivity. Myself, I can't have any significant amount of high fructose corn syrup, because something about how I metabolize it makes me jittery, anxious, and lightheaded. So...I don't consume it. I don't campaign for it to be banned, I don't lecture people I see drinking soda, I don't universally demonize it. I just read labels and use real sugar.

Maybe the world is getting more toxic, and maybe all the synthetics in our foods are problematic. Maybe Europe *is* right to have banned some things. I don't know and I think we won't find out before I die. But if, like the BHA poster and like me, you observe how your body reacts to things and you pay attention to how you feel, you can learn what things are harmful to you, and avoid them. A chemical sensitivity is just like a food allergy. People with shrimp allergies don't demand that Red Lobster stop serving them; they just go to a different restaurant.

And I think that if you get educated on what's happening in our food system and the effects of mass production (on everything from the soil to the animals to the social structure of the family farm) you'll probably want to make some different choices even without all-caps histrionics about carpet cleaner -- and those choices will be better ones, with more potential for lasting change.

Permalink to Comment

146. John G on June 22, 2013 3:39 PM writes...

It always strikes me how confidence so quickly spills over into arrogance. People learn a little science and assume their knowledge is much greater than it really is. When you're a working chemist, you focus on something extremely limited in your work, yet feel extremely confident to pontificate on much broader areas. Also, working scientists are often unwilling to challenge the purpose of their work or where the money comes from that pays for their work, but feel the need to prop up their egos by attacking morons who don't even understand the basics of their field.

Permalink to Comment

147. Allie W on June 22, 2013 3:54 PM writes...

To the author: I see my Facebook friends sharing maddening "listicles" etc. like this every so often, but I rarely (if ever) take the time to explain to someone why they are misleading. Thank you so much for researching this particular one.

To John G: I am glad that you brought up the issue of arrogance / attacking others. I hope that we (the scientific community and the scientifically literate) can focus on approaching these issues with an attitude of humility and a desire to teach and learn.

Permalink to Comment

148. Paul on June 22, 2013 4:33 PM writes...

Truly maddening, this stuff. A few weeks back I found a thread where people were on frenzy over thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin as "food additives" to flour though a cursory glance would have explained that these occur naturally in wheat but are destroyed or reduced in the milling process. So they are added back to restore the what's nutritional value.

The science-averse, the curiosity-deficient, like the poor, will always be with us.

Permalink to Comment

149. Kat on June 22, 2013 4:39 PM writes...

Thank you for writing this. When I first saw that post going around I became maniacally twitchy, particularly muttering about the different bromines.

Permalink to Comment

150. Mo Jo on June 22, 2013 4:46 PM writes...

I love reading the comments on various things. People are so passionate about the silliest shit. The comments on this read like the comments on a Kim Kardashian Instagram. Buzz Feed is for amusment. No one thinks Mountain Dew is going to make them Schizophrenic.

Permalink to Comment

151. BURK on June 22, 2013 5:36 PM writes...

This article is a working example of what I call "vannivar bush's paradox" or the "memex paradox" vannivar bush, for those not familiar with him, was the head of the manhattan project, and cofounder of Raytheon, wrote an article in 1945 called "as we may think" which talked about the need to continue computer research, and a device called memex, which was a type of microfilm viewer that would more or less provide an operator with the sum of all human knowledge. It inspired those who created the Internet and modern computer (Stanford ARC, Xerox PARC, etc) the idea was that humanity if provided with all knowledge, and freely allowed to exchange said knowledge would be better educated, and more intelligent. The paradox however is that unlimited access to information limits access to RELIABLE information. The result, average people getting their science from a site peddling cat pictures, and accepting it. And the anti-intellectual bullshit that pervades society, is enhanced by natural suspicion of authority. Which is why we have peer review, and statistical analysis, and people who spend 10 years in school, and work 30 in labs and thereby prove their authority.

This whole "MONSANTO!!/CHEMICALS!!/SUPPLAMENTS!!/CRYSTALS!!" Hysteria is rediculous in 2013. And yes, companies do studies, that's how they know how their products will work, they are produced by scientists and subject to peer review. But then you have counter industry people like those who did that "long term gmo study" with accompanying book and film! Which feeds in to these bullshit ideas of how nature works. There are people who believe that microwaves change water to make it harmful, that it changes DNA (well it does, so do all cooking methods) and ironically those who don't understand that minuscule portions of a substance isn't harmful, tend to buy into homeopathic dilution, it'd be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Great article, and a bit of light in the clusterfuck of misinformation that is the Internet

Permalink to Comment

152. Dave on June 22, 2013 6:18 PM writes...

"nonsense does not obey any conservation law" - so true.

Permalink to Comment

153. Dave on June 22, 2013 6:18 PM writes...

"nonsense does not obey any conservation law" - so true.

Permalink to Comment

154. Dave on June 22, 2013 6:18 PM writes...

"nonsense does not obey any conservation law" - so true.

Permalink to Comment

155. Dave on June 22, 2013 6:19 PM writes...

"nonsense does not obey any conservation law" - so true.

Permalink to Comment

156. Anonymous on June 22, 2013 6:20 PM writes...

Nice Job.

Permalink to Comment

157. Watson on June 22, 2013 7:00 PM writes...

One of the most bizarre criticisms I see against Derek, is that he is a "paid industry shill" or some such nonsense.

Who is supposed to actually run fundamental research into the toxicology and pharmacology of drugs and chemicals besides people that got their expertise through actual research? Research has to be funded by someone, whether it comes from the taxpayer or from the corporate world.

And why would the industry or academia even carry out any research on these additives at all, if all they care about is lying to the public? Why not just not do the research and then claim complete ignorance? Evidently few people are going to trust the results of the research, particularly since it was carried out by people with training/expertise - you know, people who get paid and thus have an interest.

What cruel irony

Permalink to Comment

158. scienceisfood on June 22, 2013 7:03 PM writes...

I have a degree in food science and I love you. (I have to deal with his bullshit every day and it makes me want to cry sometimes)

Permalink to Comment

159. Steven St. John on June 22, 2013 7:07 PM writes...

BVO is made from the stuff that keeps carpets from catching on fire. For goodness sakes, that's why I drink gallons of the stuff. Who wants to catch on fire?

Permalink to Comment

160. Steven St. John on June 22, 2013 7:07 PM writes...

BVO is made from the stuff that keeps carpets from catching on fire. For goodness sakes, that's why I drink gallons of the stuff. Who wants to catch on fire?

Permalink to Comment

161. Leon Cejas on June 22, 2013 7:14 PM writes...

What a total load of crap.

Petrochemicals are derived from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are formed when plant material is buried by sediment over millions of years.

Yup it all starts out with good old photosynthesis - the same way your organic wheat grass juice starts.

Permalink to Comment

162. Daniel Thompson on June 22, 2013 7:46 PM writes...

Derek, I adore and will cherish this post for a very long time. This practice of ginning up reasons to be scared of "chemicals" - reasons cut from whole cloth - has frustrated me as long as I can remember.

I don't think, as someone who was raised by practical parents who cultivated critical thinking skills in me, that I ever bought it for a second. These articles are always full of handwaving that ultimately holds about as much value as "Cindy around the block told me that if you let a bee sting you on the knuckle it causes arthritis!" Old wives' tales are a shockingly persistent human habit.

I recently was linked to a post - retweeted by the same friend who retweeted a link to this *very* article, mind you - that asserted that almost all the honey imported into the US is (in a nutshell) slightly adulterated high-fructose corn syrup. I took one look at it and my base intuitions told me it lacked even the most basic cogency.

After ten minutes of digging I found a number of other sites - even one from a "real" newspaper! - with articles about this. Every single one linked back to this same anonymous blog, "Food Safety News", that had not a single reference to any meaningful data.

What I did find was links to an online organic foods retailer that carried "guaranteed" real honey. And with that one piece of information, it's suddenly clear why these hoaxes get started.

Everything in the world is made out of the same stuff. I think that's just too strange (and perhaps boring) a concept for a lot of people to accept, and so they buy into the intrigue and romance of Poisons and Toxins and Chemicals, Organic vs. Synthetic. It's a sad state of affairs, but at least I have something to disillusion personal acquaintances with now.

Permalink to Comment

163. Steve Savage on June 22, 2013 8:11 PM writes...

This is a great summary. I'm working on a book to be titled "Food Without Fear" can I get you to edit or write some sections? You are a gifted communicator of chemistry/toxicology issues. I come more from the biology side with a certain knowledge of chemistry, but not like yours.

Permalink to Comment

164. Bart HALL on June 22, 2013 8:21 PM writes...

Regarding bovine growth hormone for dairy cows, I'm an agronomist whose first two degrees were in geology/geochemistry, so nearly all of my chem is on the inorg side. That said, I've been working with cattle on a regular basis since the 1960s.

The problem with BGH is not with the hormone itself, but that it is part of a management system which pushes cows *hard* and burns them out after nearly three years of steady milking. The cows are fed high percentages of "concentrate" (meaning grains and soyabeans) which at the levels fed cause a condition known as acidosis, essentially blowing out the liver and causing all manner of health problems.

Given that I can make measurable positive changes in milk quality by changing from short-chopped hay to normal hay, the high-concentrate feeding system normatively associated with BGH produces not only sick animals (mastitis, weakened immune systems and de-laminated feet, to name just a few) but also a decidedly inferior product I would never knowingly consume or feed to anyone I care about.

Permalink to Comment

165. Bryan on June 22, 2013 8:40 PM writes...

There are a lot more chemicals involved, than the ones already listed. Ever notice propylene glycol? It is used as engine coolant....... It is in frosting on donuts, sweet rolls, cookies and such. It is also in antiperspirant deodorants.

I don't currently have time to read all of the story above, or the comments, but if it wasn't mentioned, a good book to get, is called "Twinkies: Deconstructed".

Permalink to Comment

166. KHWatson on June 22, 2013 8:41 PM writes...


This made my night. As a non-chemist, non-PhD who nevertheless has the capability to recognize malarkey when I see it, I commend you for this article. The entire Organic food movement cracks me up, as if the rest of the food we eat is inorganic....

Michael Crichton warned against consensus science and even though this is pseudo-science it is certainly consensus driven malarkey from those who fear what they can't understand. The Internet merely widened the road that the pitchfork wielding mobs traverse. Such is the state of intelligence in a world of haves and have nots.


Permalink to Comment

167. Sharon on June 22, 2013 8:58 PM writes...

I am in total disagreement with you. I don't think we should be ingesting any of these chemicals. In any amounts. Natural organic pure. Those are the words that are going to get us away from all the asthma, allergies, autism, adhd etc. I am a huge fan of science. Don't agree with you in any way shape or form. Yes you may have to ingest an inordinate amount of any of these to make you ill or die, but how much causes the above conditions. Thumbs down Don't like Are you being paid by Monsanto, Dupont some other big corporation?

Permalink to Comment

168. mimi on June 22, 2013 9:22 PM writes...

very well constructed article. enjoyed learning from this material, also enjoyed your sense of humor.thank you

Permalink to Comment

169. Steve0701 on June 22, 2013 9:28 PM writes...

Way too much sarcasm and ridicule, there is nothing civil about this article. I soon started feeling sorry for the writer who was being attacked. The rebuttal ignores the important fact that these chemicals are indeed outlawed in many civilized and respected countries. Is our writer more informed than the top policy makers and chemists and medical researchers in these other countries?

Permalink to Comment

170. Mbruce on June 22, 2013 9:29 PM writes...

There was an article in Atlantic years ago that natural vs synthetic additives. An example was that synthetic almond flavoring has less arsenic than natural. Natural is not always better

Permalink to Comment

171. Anthony Hill on June 22, 2013 9:41 PM writes...

If this is so then how do you account for the rise in all kinds of diseases,including autism, diabetes, cancer, and I'm sure rates are rising, mental illness, especially dementia, and a host of others? Is this due to other environmental factors, besides food, vaccinations, electrical fields, or what? Much of our food we eat now did not originate in nature the way it used to, so I still suspect food is a factor and people who live on naturally produced food appear to be healthier.

Permalink to Comment

172. Jim CronsI rhaw on June 22, 2013 10:58 PM writes...

Great post Derek. I read too many chemophobic articles on the internet and it's overwhelming to compose reponses to all the crap out there. This is a keeper.

Permalink to Comment

173. Lauren on June 22, 2013 11:03 PM writes...

Mental illness is only "on the rise" because people are more willing to seek help because the stigma regarding it has been diminished. Do you know what happened to the mentally ill in the last century? Scores of people sat in their own filth for days because hospitals were massively overcrowded and underfunded. People shipped their suffering children off to state run hospitals to never see or deal with them again. People were forced to sit in ice baths in hope it would cure them. Therefore, if someone had a problem they wouldn't get help. I'm not saying that there is no longer a stigma regarding mental health treatment, but it has lessened by massive values. Also, Autism rates are on the rise because the criteria for diagnosis have changed, and kids are no longer labeled as quirky or over active, same goes for ADD.

Permalink to Comment

175. Occam's Beard on June 22, 2013 11:41 PM writes...

If you want to really piss yourself off re chemophobia, Bing "The Story of Stuff," a knowledge-free exposition by and for the cognitively-challenged. It's totally - and I mean TOTALLY - ridiculous. Here's the flavor: the narrator quacks about companies putting "the toxins" (flame retardants) in their products, but neglects to mention that they are legally required to do so ... to keep children from being burnt to death.

Permalink to Comment

176. Occam's Beard on June 22, 2013 11:46 PM writes...

"Natural organic pure."

Anyone got some natural organic pure saxitoxin for young Sharon?

Permalink to Comment

177. Anonymous on June 22, 2013 11:54 PM writes...

As with so many assertions in this world, it fell apart when it looked at science.

Permalink to Comment

178. Ned on June 23, 2013 12:04 AM writes...

Thank you thank you thank you. I am an artist, not a chemist, but I know enough about chemistry to have been really put off by the original buzzfeed article. Not only was the writing style sensational and inflammatory, it wasn't properly sourced and while I admit I didn't do any research into the claims it made, I had this gut feeling that it wasn't right. The example you pointed out about chlorine being part of salt was initially what made me very suspicious.

In any case, I really appreciate the time you took to write this to set the record straight about a random article I stumbled on on the internet. It's a moment of clarity we don't often get.

Permalink to Comment

179. cfiziksh on June 23, 2013 12:33 AM writes...

"if I isolate a beneficial chemical compound from some natural source (vitamin C from oranges, for example, although sauerkraut would be a good source, too), that molecule is identical to a copy of it I make in my lab."

Okay, now make me some 100% pure vitamin C in your lab. It must be 100% pure. Not a single molecule of anything besides vitamin C is allowed. Can't? Then you can see why your statement is too simplistic.

A Vitamin C sample from oranges is different from a Vitamin C sample made by a different process in the lab, not because of the Vitamin C itself, but because of the impurities. Different process = different impurities. And that means vitamin C samples can have WIDELY varying toxicity. That's why chemicals are given different grades (industrial grade, food grade, USP, etc.).

Permalink to Comment

180. Nick K on June 23, 2013 12:41 AM writes...

#140, 143 and 167: Wishful thing of the first order. Just because you assert something doesn't make it true. Provide some actual EVIDENCE (you know, verifiable facts and figures, like Derek does) and people might start to take you seriously.

Typical Fool - apt choice of name.

Permalink to Comment

181. cfiziksh on June 23, 2013 12:51 AM writes...

There is a fundamental problem with the food and chemical industries today, which is NOT ENOUGH TESTING.

The problem is, without thorough testing, it's impossible to tell what the toxicity level of a chemical is.

If I give you a random amount of some random chemical, and ask you to ingest it, would you? That is exactly what the food industry is asking us to do every single time we eat something.

Drugs are required to go through a long testing program before they're even allowed anywhere near the consumer market. Why are household chemicals and foods not required to go through the same sort of testing?

There are numerous cases of some chemical being released onto the market and then recalled later because of some negative effect that was not forseen earlier (DDT comes to mind, but there are many others). And that is after the chemical was already in widespread use. This should NOT be happening, and is a failure of the chemical industry.

All new products need to through thorough chemical safety testing (by a third party to avoid cheating by the companies), and certified safe at the levels anticipated in normal use, BEFORE they are allowed onto the market.

Releasing products onto the market without chemical testing is reckless and irresponsible.

And yes, BOTH synthetic and "natural" products have this problem, and both synthetic and "natural" products need to be tested.

Permalink to Comment

182. guaman on June 23, 2013 12:55 AM writes...

Is it wrong to ridicule the author of the original article? Absolutely not - if you put somethin up for public consumption and it's essentially nonsense, then you've violated #1, know what you're talking about. If you don't know and do go public, expect to be embarrassed for it. It's karmic justice. Intellectual sloppiness can and does cause harm; check out the anti-vaccine movement and the deaths that are a direct consequence of it.

Ignorance can be cured which is not the case for stupid. This article goes far in promoting the cureable. If someone's ego prevents them from recognizing and acting on the truth, well, they get to pay double or worse for something that isn't significantly different.

Permalink to Comment

183. Nick K on June 23, 2013 12:58 AM writes...

#179: The MOLECULES in a synthetic sample of Vitamin C are identical to those in natural Vitamin C, impurities notwithstanding. Natural and synthetic samples of Vitamin C are therefore indistinguishable.

Permalink to Comment

184. cfiziksh on June 23, 2013 1:06 AM writes...

#183 And how exactly do you ingest just the vitamin C molecules in the sample without ingesting the impurity molecules too?

Enough of the mental masturbation, you're starting to lose the ability to distinguish between the real world and your fantasy world full of ideal solutions, frictionless surfaces, ideal gases, and other constructs which only approximate the real world.

The real world is not ideal and you nave to account for the non-idealities when dealing with the real world. Duh... are you too stupid to understand that simple concept?

Permalink to Comment

185. Bets on June 23, 2013 1:44 AM writes...

This was utterly devastating to that ridiculous, fantasy-laden post at BuzzFeed. Thank you for it. I learned a lot from your article. And it was strangely familiar to me as well.

My first real-world lesson in this sort of thing came when I took a diet-supplement that claimed to be "all-natural". I had an anaphylactic reaction and wound up in the emergency clinic getting a round of shots. When I spoke to my mother (who was a nurse) that night, I told her that I didn't understand what went wrong. "The package said all-natural." She responded by telling me that "Arsenic is all-natural too."

Go figure.

Permalink to Comment

186. Skeptical Chemist on June 23, 2013 1:48 AM writes...

Bravo Derek,

Now please write a blog post answering Marcia Angell's brilliant evisceration of the industry you call a job.

How much creativity does it take to introduce a new hydrogen cluster?

You most certainly deserve your salary. Your boss, the CEO with a 15 pound sack of corrupt shit between his ears does too.

Permalink to Comment

187. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 1:57 AM writes...

#186- why, when Forbes already did it? ttp://

Permalink to Comment

188. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 2:04 AM writes...


Really? The Forbes beat writer for the pharamaceutical industry? Really?

My friend you have a sack of shit between your ears too.

Permalink to Comment

189. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 2:06 AM writes...

Sorry the above was to #187

Permalink to Comment

190. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 2:15 AM writes...

#188 - sorry, my bad, I guess asking the guy paid to make the drugs is somehow less biased than a writer? You sir, are completely retarded. Now, either counter eviscerate the arguments in the Forbes article, or stop whining that someone got paid to crucify your hero.

Permalink to Comment

191. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 2:26 AM writes...

The Forbes article puts forward no arguments. Angell wrote a book of well constructed arguments. John Lamattina is a paid industry shill.

The pharamaceutical industry needs to answer with their own book. One which addresses the detailed charges Angell puts forward in her own. Problem is, they can't because she is telling the truth. So instead the rely on scumbags like Lamattina to make ad homynym attacks and straw arguments.

Permalink to Comment

192. Samuel on June 23, 2013 2:46 AM writes...

I didn't read the initial article that you're responding to, but this article doesn't seem like it would be much better.
The fact that you go to such great lengths to state that something is knowledge, lowers my confidence in your breadth of such.
The reactionary tone of the article is downright embarrassing and does not suit well to establish yourself as an established steward of science.
My main problem with your overgeneralized, distracting arguments, is it seems that you tend to favor additive compounds in consumable items for the mere purpose of explaining science, because you love science and your ability to flaunt it in a meaningless way.
Why not error on the side of caution when it comes to human nutrition and food production even if it could be overkill? Especially given that many additives are not completely researched as far as metabolomic consequences of ingestion (under normal conditions and under specific disease states), gut-flora interaction, specific local tissue interactions, possible interaction with dead bacteria used to manufacture such compounds (antimicrobial resistance?), and long-term toxicity with ingestion of such compound from numerous sources.
I don't argue that many of these compounds can be safe in modest doses, but we live in USA were moderation is not treasured/practiced. I care about humans and I want them to be well. We live in the information age where true information is good as gold bars. Would you dare blemish the treasury?!!
You are blatantly biased therefore you are discredited, please write better next time. HUMANITY DESERVES BETTER!

Permalink to Comment

193. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 2:52 AM writes...

#191 - you want an argument from the industry, then disregard the arguments made by those you claim are paid by the industry? That makes no sense.

Permalink to Comment

194. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 3:12 AM writes...


Well said. Once upon a time, the principles you espouse would have been correctly described as conservative.

Too bad this ideal has been hijacked by a bunch of powerful psychopaths.

Permalink to Comment

195. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 3:24 AM writes...


The Forbes article is not an argument. It is a PR piece paid for by the advertising done by pharmaceutical companies with Forbes and all related subsidiaries etc.

A leading 'scientist' that works for the pharmaceutical industry needs to step up and write a book providing a compelling case for why Angell's work is flawed. You can't do that in 4 paragraphs. Your in even bigger trouble if the truth is on her side.

That is really why no one will step up and write the book. Deep down they know she speaks the truth. And they don't want to verify that by making a fool of themselves.

Derek and his ilk care about only one thing. Just like the bankers on Wall Street. It doesn't matter what value you add. Just take as much as you can.

Another conservative principle completely destroyed by the ignorance of greed.

Permalink to Comment

196. Nick K on June 23, 2013 3:37 AM writes...

#184: Sorry, you've lost me entirely. Perhaps you could tell me how you would distinguish natural from synthetic Vitamin C.

Permalink to Comment

197. cfiziksh on June 23, 2013 3:56 AM writes...

#192: Bravo! Thanks for finally bringing some sanity into this discussion!

Permalink to Comment

199. Martin Vajsar on June 23, 2013 4:32 AM writes...

#192: the limits for food additives are set so low so that the presumed bad effect would appear only after absurd levels of consumption. Such a consumption already would (and has, where it happens) adverse effect on the consumer from many other causes.

Of course, there might be unknown adverse effect to humans, which is where your "err on the side of caution" comes to play. What you're missing is that it is still necessary to asses expected benefits and losses (even to the health of humans) from such policy. For example, allowing only organic fruits would drive its price up and make it inaccessible for poorer people, who would as a result consume less of fruits lost the beneficial effect which today's non-oragnic fruits bring to them (prevention of cancer being one of these).

Also, I don't think any of your other objections would be unknown to the author of this article. You might spend a few seconds trying to find out what his expertise is. It's in the top-left corner of this very page.

Permalink to Comment

200. Gordon Walker on June 23, 2013 4:53 AM writes...

The melamine in babyfood issue had nothing to do with contamination from packaging or the environment, but was due to the fact that in China they added spoonfuls of melamine to each pint of baby milk. This killed lots of babies but does nothing to refute the "dose is the poison" argument.
I endorse the comment concerning that it is our feelings that matter. We are now in the post Enlightenment era, which is the ascendency of Rousseau over Voltaire. Our survival as a civilisation depends upon the latter's transience.

Permalink to Comment

201. Anonymous on June 23, 2013 5:49 AM writes...


You think poor people eat fruit?

Permalink to Comment

202. Martin Knight on June 23, 2013 6:08 AM writes...

Anyone who challenges a scientific argument by shrieking "industry shill" at the person presenting the argument, rather than challenging the scientific arguments made therein - is usually not a scientist.

Permalink to Comment

203. Dan on June 23, 2013 6:22 AM writes...

"Couldn't anyone be bothered to look anything up?" Rarely, sorry. Good thing we have BS-detectors and helpful, knowledgable people in-the-know to summarize it for us and our lazy brains.

Permalink to Comment

204. TomB on June 23, 2013 6:24 AM writes...

"Anyone who challenges a scientific argument by shrieking "industry shill" at the person presenting the argument, rather than challenging the scientific arguments made therein - is usually not a scientist."

...or very smart.

Permalink to Comment

205. Corona on June 23, 2013 7:28 AM writes...

Ace Of Spades linked to this article. The moron horde is on its way. And I mean that affectionately.

Permalink to Comment

206. Baron Von Ottomatic on June 23, 2013 7:52 AM writes...

You mention in the post that you're an organic chemist, have you ever met any silicon-based chemists?

Permalink to Comment

207. Nick K on June 23, 2013 8:11 AM writes...

#198: And your point is..? As far as I can tell, the paper referenced in the website merely asserts that ascorbic acid coupled with a sugar has greater antioxidant activity than ascorbic acid itself.

Permalink to Comment

208. James on June 23, 2013 8:42 AM writes...

The title should read "Science, like Reporting, If your check is big enough, we will tell you whatever you want to hear"!

Permalink to Comment

209. cfiziksh on June 23, 2013 9:01 AM writes...

#196: You need to watch this:

Industrial grade silicone is the same as USP silicone, impurities notwithstanding, right? The silicone molecules are the same in both.

Maybe I should give you an implant with industrial grade silicone and then see if you agree.

Permalink to Comment

210. cfiziksh on June 23, 2013 9:11 AM writes...

#196 As for distinguishing the natural and synthetic Vitamin C, it's simple: measure the IMPURITIES.

Natural and synthetic Vitamin C will have different impurities and in different amounts.

Are you illiterate?!? Turn on your damn brain and go back and re-read all my posts!

Permalink to Comment

211. Not a Dr. Dot on June 23, 2013 9:50 AM writes...

Thank you.

As an amateur physicist and long-time lover of the sciences, I too find articles like the one you neatly dissected to be annoying. There was one I did something similar to (without all the cool science background) that was titled "This article will SHOCK YOU!!!"

Of course, the first line in my reply was: "The only thing that shocks me about this article are the number of gullible idiots that believe it without question."

And conspiracy theorists that know all the buzzwords without realizing what they really mean are very fertile ground indeed. I have an acquaintance (won't call him a friend until he smartens up a bit) that is convinced that the contrails left by high-altitude jets are really the government's attempts at mind control because they're "spewing toxins like Aluminum Oxides and Zinc Oxides", etc. I'm sure you know the drill.

Need I mention that this person smokes like a chimney?

Permalink to Comment

212. Niki on June 23, 2013 9:54 AM writes...

Point taken thank you. My only 2 little cents to add is most natural food co-op sales flyers are printed with soy-based inks, take a look af the back page

Permalink to Comment

213. Occam's Beard on June 23, 2013 10:42 AM writes...

Notice the go-to rebuttal by many leftists, when confronted by refutation of cherished beliefs: their interlocutor must be paid to hold that position. More generally, they attack integrity of the other person, preferring the ad hominem to actually addressing the other person's points.

Fascinating. And diagnostic.

Permalink to Comment

214. Joel A. Wendt on June 23, 2013 10:57 AM writes...

A very good article, and while it is crucial to debunk excessive and fake scary articles about food, at the same time we should not forget that our food is seriously deranged in general.

There is little doubt that there is not much actual "nutrition" in most of what is in the grocery store. Here's some books to read: The Dynamics of Nutrition and The Essentials of Nutrition by Gerhard Schmidt; as well as Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and The Fourfold Path to Healing by Thomas Cowan.

These provide many additional references.

Corporate agriculture and food processing is profit driven, not health or nutrition driven. Medical Science avoided the role of nutrition in illness until about 4 decades ago when ordinary people told them to stop - and Medical Science is still playing catch-up here.

The human being is born of a "natural world" order, and since the arrival of modern agricultural processes (mono-culture) and mass food preparation processes, human beings have acquired a whole set of illnesses they never had before. The experiments here were not done in the laboratory but on the world's peoples.

The causal problem is tricky because isolating a cause from the general background of all the stuff we breath and drink in our very polluted world is difficult. So we can't go to a isolated laboratory and get a definitive answer, but just a little common sense (see Fallon and Cowan above) is all you need to learn to see ...

Take the "petroleum" problem ... coal-tar chemistry requires that oils, already the product of death process in nature, are then torn apart in the distillation processes (high levels of heat and pressure) which is called "cracking". These "chemicals" could not be more un-natural.

Our bodies evolved in a way in which our nutrition and digestive processes were woven into the natural world. Nature was part of us and we were part of nature. Now we ingest a great deal that "nature" never made, including GMO grains and so forth. What is wrong with our thinking that we can't get it that our bodies will be sensitive to this stuff they were never evolved to eat and breathe in the first place? That's just plain stupid, even if we can't isolate the causal problem.

Most of snack food, to have a "finish" here, are made of by-products of processes which begin with de-naturing the food. This "waste" is then given huge amounts of added salt and sugar in order to addict us to these "snacks", which not only have nothing nutritional in them, but for about a third of the population (the "endomorphs") means that rather than "burning" excesses of sugars and carbohydrates, these are stored as body fats.

Dr. Cowan shows that obese people are basically starving because there is no real nutrition in what they eat (which their brain then interprets as: "please eat a lot more in the search for energy and nutrients"); and, then their body type converts the unusable carbs to fats, in case there is no other source of possible energy in the future.

We actually need to eat more "good" fats, not less.

Human beings should not be a place were profit driven businesses get to run huge scale experiments.

A comment from "the People": "Someone needs to explain to me why wanting clean drinking water makes me an activist, and why proposing to destroy water through chemical warfare doesn't make a corporation of terrorist" W. LaDuke

Permalink to Comment

215. Rachel on June 23, 2013 11:13 AM writes...

Love it, thank you. Could you please write a post responding to the widespread fear of genetically modified organisms in food? Or do you know of a biologist with your knack for debunking who has already done this?

Permalink to Comment

216. Occam's Beard on June 23, 2013 11:49 AM writes...

"... human beings have acquired a whole set of illnesses they never had before."

AKA living long enough to die of something besides malnutrition and/or infection.

Permalink to Comment

217. Tim A on June 23, 2013 11:59 AM writes...

Thanks for this article. There are a lot of reasonable arguments for avoid various kinds of processed foods: people feel the need to resort to bizarre metaphysical bullshit to explain why you're better off eating an orange than eating a bag of chips and popping a vitamin C pill.

Permalink to Comment

218. Gordon Walker on June 23, 2013 1:00 PM writes...

"The human being is born of a "natural world" order, and since the arrival of modern agricultural processes (mono-culture) and mass food preparation processes, human beings have acquired a whole set of illnesses they never had before. The experiments here were not done in the laboratory but on the world's peoples. "

This is the anti-enlightenment philosophy of Rousseau in its purest form. Our ancestors used to live in a state that was in perfect harmony with nature!
All we have to do is to study the diet and social habits of Indigenous Peoples to re-find paradise.

Just don't look too closely at the violent death rate in the New Guinea Highlands before the White Man discovered them. It was a magnitude or two higher than Chicago's.

Permalink to Comment

219. Occam's Beard on June 23, 2013 1:12 PM writes...

"Just don't look too closely at the violent death rate in the New Guinea Highlands before the White Man discovered them."

Or too closely at the mean lifespan. Even in the West, the mean lifespan in 1900 was ca. 45 (IIRC), which is why (coupled with late marriage)orphans played such a large role in Victorian novels.

Rousseau, as the progenitor of that noble savage rubbish, provided the philosophical underpinnings of socialist thought (attributing all social problems to the social system, since Man himself was pure as the driven snow, per Rousseau) and therefore has so much to answer for.

Permalink to Comment

220. HeatherRadish™ on June 23, 2013 1:17 PM writes...

"AKA living long enough to die of something besides malnutrition and/or infection."

Permalink to Comment

221. Riley's Mom on June 23, 2013 1:33 PM writes...

Thank you for writing an article that puts aside all of the "Don't EAT or DRINK this.... it's POISON" hype. I've been saying much the same things for years, and people scoff because I am not a degreed chemist.

Permalink to Comment

222. Torquill on June 23, 2013 1:50 PM writes...

As soon as I see someone making the accusation of being an industry shill (or asking the "have you stopped beating your wife" question which is the equivalent), and then going on to say that the scientist has not backed up their own claims with any "real" evidence... I start getting the urge to ask that person for "real" evidence of their claim of industry propaganda money. Do you have memos from Monsanto or Pfizer regarding payouts to this (or any other) science blogger? Money trails? Co-workers or family members who talk about how they were finally able to take that trip to Cabo because of the checks from Bayer?

Oh, I know, the companies are really good at covering it up. It's All A Vast Conspiracy. But you know, conspiracies didn't stop investigative reporters from breaking the news on Watergate, Iran-Contra, and cigarette smoking. Do the research, and then we'll listen.

Permalink to Comment

223. treebie on June 23, 2013 1:57 PM writes...

I suggest you turn your extensive chemical knowledge to some real malefactors: aspartame and canola oil. I also believe that fortification of wheat in the US may be real problem with wheat in the US as a cause of increasing allergies not gluten, but eating gluten free is a way to avoid this problem. Eating wheat in Europe does not produce the allergic reactions I experience. Finally I'd love to hear your research results on the hormonal issues of plastic and soy on women, but you don't say you are a doctor, you appear to just understand the much of these chemicals are dangerous? Do you understand that organs and fat in the body ACCUMULATE these chemicals and over time can create toxic situations for humans? don't appear to be aware of that issue at all.
BTW I have a chemical engineering degree and have experienced severe physical problems from the products severe that I lost my engineering job and had to change my career to survive. It would be great if doctors and chemists worked TOGETHER on these studies rather than independently. You each only understand half the equation. Exposure to a chemical like arsenic may require a lot in one dose..but what does continued accumulation do to the human body? where does it accumulate? How about the heavy metals typically in food dyes? And you fail to mention the different types of food coloring/dyes and how they are made etc. (I worked in the flavor industry for several years) How about how benzene is used in the production of food flavorings..sure they are in small quantities and that seems ridiculous to worry about, but how much do humans accumulate through repeated exposure? Working in high volume companies clearly demonstrates that small amounts in high volume can produce major profits...similarly microscopic and negligible amounts if accumulated rather than rejected and evacuated from the body could cause major problems. Not to mention the issue of accumulation in the body of an infant or child which has much more dramatic effects more rapidly due to the growth of the child and the developmental process. You poo poo some of the statements above but the approach in those studies you cite is "typical" medical and scientific studies that do NOT research the issue of human storage of these. It took me EIGHT years to finally stop having the problems caused by aspartame (considered safe for consumption by the FDA) These problems under the blanket name of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (read that..we don't know what causes this or how to fix it so it's a syndrome and we will tell you it's all in your head because we don't know what else to do) included Migraines, fatigue, confusion, hyper concentration, lack of focus, sleeplessness, irritability, inability to recover from physical training, breathlessness, depression, dry skin and skin inflammations..etc. I'm lucky I am a chemical engineer so I studied the FDA study prior to the release of nutrasweet and was horrified by what I read. Understanding what had happened to me and that the by products were now in my hypothalmus and kidney and might take years to release I worked to flush my system for that eight years. Healed now but still allergic to many other things I know that these are lifetime effects of this "SAFE" product. Don't act like your minimal understanding of chemistry is enough to explain the effects on humans over time. It's not. The US population has become a giant lab study of the longterm effects on humans of some of the most egregious products released by the FDA for "trial" Do your homework.

Permalink to Comment

224. Lee Reynolds on June 23, 2013 2:08 PM writes...

Fifty percent of the population is of below average intelligence. Those so afflicted cannot be blamed for it. It is not their fault. They were dealt a bad hand. Their cognitive shortcomings are, however, an eternal problem for the rest of us.

Permalink to Comment

225. Denise Phillips on June 23, 2013 2:31 PM writes...

Well done, I'm printing this to give to my high school chemistry students.

Permalink to Comment

226. Rex on June 23, 2013 2:45 PM writes...

I always laugh when I see the argument made that "we scientists" in biotech are paid industry shrills, loyal to Big Pharma, and involved in a conspiracy to hide the "truth" from the masses so we can all make more money.

First of all, nobody in there right mind would ever pursue this line of work for the money. Yes, very few in the industry are paid large salaries, but scientists are only a small fraction of that. And the work-to-compensation ratio is just not worth it. Don't think so? Try slogging away through 4 years of college with double the course load and study time as most other majors, working 6-7 days a week for 60-80h for 5-6 years to get a Ph.D, then, another 2-3 years of postdoctoral research. Now that your 20's are gone (who cares about having a social life!?) it's time to apply to a job where, if you're one of the best candidates, you still have a slim chance of landing it, let alone KEEPING it for more than a 5-10 years. Sounds great! With a job this wonderful, who wouldn't want to cover up a few cures for cancer here and there?

The reason we get pissed at the chemophobes is that it is an absolute insult to our life's work and who we are. I got into biotech because my dad died of cancer when I was a teenager. I went to study biochemistry in college and natural products synthesis in graduate school because I was sure of the whole natural remedies are better than medicine thing when I was young. I watched my dad die of prostate cancer slowly over 8 years after refusing all medication and surgery because he was trying to heal himself by only eating pure fruits and vegetables and wasting money on "breakthrough formulas". Ironically, this whole bullshit field fostered my general interest in science into a passion for chemistry and medicine. Every time I see Dr. Oz or others tell people about "miracle supplements" for disease (with the disclaimer statement of course) I think of my dad bed-ridden and groaning in pain when he could still be with me if he weren't so suspicious of modern medicine. My dad was not stupid, he was just not a scientist or medical professional.

Now excuse me, I'm working in lab on a Sunday (my 21st consecutive day coming to work) on a cancer project. I hope my company doesn't cover it up.

Permalink to Comment

227. enness on June 23, 2013 2:59 PM writes...

I say bring on the sarcasm, no kid gloves. I only had high school chemistry and this stuff makes me want to scream.

165 Bryan: "No time to read, but determined to comment anyway" LOL. You do that.

213 Occam: Oh, trust me, it isn't just leftists.

Permalink to Comment

228. Herp McDerp on June 23, 2013 3:05 PM writes...

Doesn't it bother anyone that Ashley Perez is made from the same chemical constituents as strychnine, which is a DEADLY POISON?!

Why is this woman allowed to walk our streets?! Endangering INNOCENT CHILDREN?!?!?!

Permalink to Comment

229. Anonymous academic on June 23, 2013 3:14 PM writes...

@213: enough with the gratuitous political swipes. There are plenty of left-leaning scientists - actually, most of the ones I know fall in that category - and most of them recognize such idiocy when they see it. If this post were rebutting an ill-informed screed against evolution or climatology we'd see exactly the same dynamic, only with political orientations switched.

Permalink to Comment

230. Alohajim on June 23, 2013 4:53 PM writes...

Not being a scientist I am sadly reduced to using common sense. Being a simpleton I reduce everything to an either/or question. Either one completely trusts corporations, governments, and the media or one doesn't. My experience tells me that government serves corporate interests and that bankers own the corporations and the media, and completely control governments, and the educational and entertainment systems.

Any 'scientist' that challenges the status quo (read : profits) soon has no job. Sorry Mr. Phd scientist, I'll stick to all organic, no meat, nothing from a box, and no GMO's, additives, preservatives, corn syrup, aspartame, etc.

Just use a little common sense along with a very healthy skepticism of what is being rammed into our brains and down our throats. WAKE UP!!!

Permalink to Comment

231. Lisa on June 23, 2013 5:08 PM writes...

Hey Derek! I am a biology student and am super impressed by your article. I think with social media and "social" news sites like buzzfeed and reddit, people begin to stop reading between the lines. In addition. I think if every single person took an organic chemistry class the overall common sense level will sky rocket. This whole nonsense about diets: for instance I would love to see more work done for cosmetic and skincare concerns. At my job, people come in all the time freaking out about parabens, refusing to by anything that contains it as an ingredient. First off, the product contains less than 1% but in addition, they don't realize that even if they eliminated parabens from their facial cream that they slap on in the morning. The artificial sweetener they pour into their coffee just displaced this. Thankyou for shedding light and writing in such a brilliant way. I truly hope to see more work by you and will be keeping on eye out for your name for future articles.

Permalink to Comment

232. Jelena on June 23, 2013 7:13 PM writes...

This article reminds me of "splitting hair." And all in vain. Where is the forest behind the trees? Do you seriously need PhD to argue that chemicals don't have the great potential to effect the balance of an organism? My 7yo will tell you that eating too much of this or that even organic and as natural as possible can set off the balance of our health and body. Forget about chemicals derived. Frankly, it is just hard to believe smth like that can be written by critically-thinking objective person. And I hope my kids will not get into that "teacher's" class who will be printing this out and presenting this to her/his class. What is going on with you ppl? Did you all totally forget where you coming from?

Permalink to Comment

233. Occam's Beard on June 23, 2013 7:28 PM writes...

"If this post were rebutting an ill-informed screed against evolution or climatology we'd see exactly the same dynamic, only with political orientations switched."

Not true.

Leftists are the ones who believe that economics rules human behavior (aka historical materialism).

Permalink to Comment

234. Occam's Beard on June 23, 2013 7:35 PM writes...

Derek, how about a follow up on that pernicious toxin, high-fructose corn syrup?

Although I'm a chemist too, I hadn't realized that high-fructose corn syrup really isn't. The most widely used stuff is 55% fructose, 45% glucose; in short, within spitting distance of the 1:1 fructose:glucose ratio found in ... totally natural, pure, organic (include other low-cal honorifics here) sucrose.

So those railing against high-fructose corn syrup are exercised over a few percent difference in relative composition? Really?

Permalink to Comment

235. Elle Plato on June 23, 2013 7:36 PM writes...

Dr Lowe,

Thanks for the excellent article.

I also find alarmist statements to be annoying. I find statements like "Chemical X is almost the same as chemical Y which KILLS YOO!!" to be totally irresponsible.

But... chemical companies also do irresponsible things.

So how does an educated person determine if something has been adequately tested? It seems to me the FDA has been so beaten up for research over vitamins and pop-culture crap like homeopathy that they are reluctant to regulate things. Add this to the current cultural zeitgeist that government regulation is inherently evil and you can see some potential for a fear response even in educated people.

I can usually spot the overt crap like "margarine is one atom away from oil which kills you!!!" but for other things it can be hard to know. I mean things like the safety of a particular pharmaceutical, safeguards on procedures for approving GMO foods, procedures for approving fungicides and herbicides and so on.

Very few people really have the time to look into these things deeply, and even those that do rarely have the expertise. Given limited time, it is sometimes easier to opt for the safe bet of the products we already understand even though they might not be safe, than to purchase the products we do not understand, even if they might be safe.

I'm curious on how you would recommend we educate people on science, and on how we can regulate science reasonably, to enjoy the benefits and minimize the risk.

Elle Plato.

Permalink to Comment

236. Elle Plato on June 23, 2013 7:38 PM writes...

Dr Lowe,

Thanks for the excellent article.

I also find alarmist statements to be annoying. I find statements like "Chemical X is almost the same as chemical Y which KILLS YOO!!" to be totally irresponsible.

But... chemical companies also do irresponsible things.

So how does an educated person determine if something has been adequately tested? It seems to me the FDA has been so beaten up for research over vitamins and pop-culture crap like homeopathy that they are reluctant to regulate things. Add this to the current cultural zeitgeist that government regulation is inherently evil and you can see some potential for a fear response even in educated people.

I can usually spot the overt crap like "margarine is one atom away from oil which kills you!!!" but for other things it can be hard to know. I mean things like the safety of a particular pharmaceutical, safeguards on procedures for approving GMO foods, procedures for approving fungicides and herbicides and so on.

Very few people really have the time to look into these things deeply, and even those that do rarely have the expertise. Given limited time, it is sometimes easier to opt for the safe bet of the products we already understand even though they might not be safe, than to purchase the products we do not understand, even if they might be safe.

I'm curious on how you would recommend we educate people on science, and on how we can regulate science reasonably, to enjoy the benefits and minimize the risk.

Elle Plato.

Permalink to Comment

237. Nick K on June 23, 2013 8:00 PM writes...

#210: So the ONLY difference between natural and synthetic ascorbic acid is the impurity profile? Thanks for that. At least you accept that the individual molecules are identical. Incidentally, USP silicone for breast implants and industrial grade silicone have a common source. The only difference is that USP silicone is rigorously purified under GMP. But I'm sure you knew that already.

Permalink to Comment

238. joyhouse on June 23, 2013 8:13 PM writes...

Thank you for this post! Please, write more like this one with lots of links. I've reposted this on one of my mommy groups, and I'm hoping that it will decrease some of the fear about chemicals. We really need these types of articles as so many mothers do most of their research online but would never come across a blog written by an actual chemist.

Permalink to Comment

239. Jane on June 23, 2013 8:49 PM writes...

Hi Derek,

I appreciate your article and enjoyed reading it. However, it almost seems as if you are defending the use of all the chemicals due to the fact that the amount used is minute. The bottom line is that those chemicals if consumed for a longer periods of time would most definitely affect our bodies.

I have read enough articles about our diet and foods which we consume on a daily basis. What about writing an article shedding some light upon women's cosmetics, please? Especially, the parabens as a much is safe, etc.

I would really appreciate it.

Permalink to Comment

240. Dr. Michael Fenn on June 23, 2013 9:27 PM writes...

Hi Derek, do you have any medical or scientific background whatsoever? Any knowledge on physiology or biochemistry? Do you know how to actually find real scientific articles? How to properly analyze them, and analyze the statistical analysis performed in these articles? Do you have any knowledge of how cancer occur in a biological sense, on the cellular level? I do cancer research, I have seen this in real life, and I do understand these things.... So let talk


Dr. Mike Fenn

Permalink to Comment

241. mfederman on June 23, 2013 9:33 PM writes...

Have you seen this study? from the same place you referenced the some other findings on Food Dyes. Chemists can be great. Biologists can be great. Individually they understand their fields in those environments. Most physicians don't understand the power of a whole food plant based diet either. You keep referencing the fact that the amounts or dosages of these processing and processed chemicals i.e. emulsifiers, preservatives, etc. You also mention that it would take a lifetime or a large accumulation of these chemicals to cause damage. Well, that is exactly what is happening. People aren't sitting down to gorge themselves, but over decades of eating processed foods they have harmed themselves. In fact, pregnant mothers can pass their bodies toxicity to their unborn children. You have referenced few actual journals on every topic. Most of your opinion comes from your background working with pharmaceutical companies, who are very biased towards the use of their products to cure our ailments. If we aren't sick, they don't make money.

Permalink to Comment

242. mfederman on June 23, 2013 9:34 PM writes...

Have you seen this study? from the same place you referenced the some other findings on Food Dyes. Chemists can be great. Biologists can be great. Individually they understand their fields in those environments. Most physicians don't understand the power of a whole food plant based diet either. You keep referencing the fact that the amounts or dosages of these processing and processed chemicals i.e. emulsifiers, preservatives, etc. You also mention that it would take a lifetime or a large accumulation of these chemicals to cause damage. Well, that is exactly what is happening. People aren't sitting down to gorge themselves, but over decades of eating processed foods they have harmed themselves. In fact, pregnant mothers can pass their bodies toxicity to their unborn children. You have referenced few actual journals on every topic. Most of your opinion comes from your background working with pharmaceutical companies, who are very biased towards the use of their products to cure our ailments. If we aren't sick, they don't make money.

Permalink to Comment

243. newnickname on June 23, 2013 9:56 PM writes...

I can't read all the comments but several caught my attention.

@167: Sharon may be a fan of science but reveals a lack of actual scientific knowledge or possibly even not having read or understood Derek's post: "Natural organic pure" isn't true and will not save you.

The world population is estimated to exceed 9 billion before 2050, perhaps as early as 2042. By NO reasonable estimate that I have read will "natural organic pure" feed 9 billion people. You can take Sharon's list and replace asthma, allergies, adhd, etc. with malnutrition, starvation and early death. Childhood (and adult) malnutrition will lead to an increase in many diseases and suffering and drain resources to try to treat those afflicted. Perhaps to Sharon's satisfaction, the early deaths will be "natural organic pure".

The 1973 movie "Soylent Green" was set in NYC, 2022. There will be around 8 billion mouths to feed in 2022. Many readers of Pipeline probably remember how we counted down the years to see if Orwell's "1984" would come to pass. I'm counting down the years to 2022.

Permalink to Comment

244. Mad Dog on June 23, 2013 10:18 PM writes...

Three reasons I like this post:

1) it provides many great rebuttals to several of the more ridiculous chemophobic arguments.

2) it is well very written for scientists to understand but poorly written for many laypersons.

3) It has more comments than any post I have seen in a long time, and many of the posts support point 2.

Chemists, and scientists in general need to do a better job of pointing out the benefits that the myriad of chemical products bring to humanity; in so many seemingly unrelated areas from pharmaceuticals to aerospace. But we also have to be VERY upfront about the fact that there is, and may always be a LOT that we don't know about how these chemicals interact with people and other organisms.

My chemical antennae are tuned to fight chemophobia, but I am acutely aware that if the way I fight chemophobia is very audience dependent. Over the last twenty years I have found the ACC has ALWAYS backed chemical manufacturers and has left no room for acknowledging that the benefits of some chemicals may be outweighed by newly found risks. This is not helpful, and only leads to more mis-trust of chemistry related industries!!

Permalink to Comment

245. Dr. Michael Fenn on June 23, 2013 10:31 PM writes...

Are you all serious... do you all believe that cancer is declining? It has become the number one killer in the US and most developed nations... Just because Dr. Derek is an organic chemist with a beard doesn't mean he has any understanding of the human body. He has worked for big pharma, as have I, and this may bring some bias to your 'reasoning'. I mean, Derek, seriously, you use Wikipedia as a source in this blog... I didn't read the "buzz-feed" article... It's probably full of shit too... and maybe I was just too busy actually doing cancer research... when was the last time you actually stepped in a lab?... When was the last time you read up on cancer stats in the US or other developed countries?....Maybe spend less time blogging and more time doing research...

Permalink to Comment

246. ChristianPFC on June 23, 2013 10:39 PM writes...


"Cyclamate is approved as a sweetener in over 55 countries,[5] though it is banned in the United States.[6][7]"

Permalink to Comment

247. Nick K on June 23, 2013 11:17 PM writes...

#245 "Dr" Michael Fenn: See Derek's post #13. "All sites combined: Overall incidence was on the rise from 1975 to 1989, with non-significant changes in rates from 1989 to 1998. From 1998 to 2008, incidence has significantly declined."

Unlike you, he actually does know what he is talking about. I also believe he works daily in a lab.

Cancer is indeed a major killer in the West. That's because people in the West now survive on average into their 80's, rather than dying much earlier from infectious diseases. Life expectancy for men in Great Britain was 47 in 1900 and is currently 79 and rising. Better diagnosis no doubt has also played a role in increasing the figures for cancer mortality.

You did know that we are ALL going to die of something some day?

Permalink to Comment

248. Dr. Michael Fenn on June 23, 2013 11:26 PM writes...

Hi Nick K...

Since I obviously know nothing about this.. please cite your information Nick K...

And I think your quotes around the Dr. is a way of insulting me and my years of work researching breast cancer....

Please explain how I do not know what I am talking about... do you have a background in science or medicine?... I have tried to post about ten papers refuting this information from scientific journals... but let's hear it Nick..

Permalink to Comment

249. Nick K on June 23, 2013 11:35 PM writes...

"Dr" Michael Fenn: If you were unaware that the incidence of cancer increases almost exponentially with age, your credibility is zero.

Five seconds on Google gives this:

Permalink to Comment

250. Herp McDerp on June 23, 2013 11:53 PM writes...

@81 -- "Quite a few years ago there used to be sugar substitutes added to diet soda. They were called cyclamates. ..."

In the 1960s animal testing indicated that male rats fed sodium and calcium cyclamates had an elevated incidence of bladder cancer, and the FDA banned cyclamates in 1969. They are still legal elsewhere, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and more than 50 other countries.

The facepalm-inducing footnote is that the studies did NOT test cyclamates per se, but a mixture of cyclamates and saccharin. The FDA decided that since saccharin was already approved as "safe," it couldn't possibly be harmful, and therefore any adverse effects must have been due to cyclamates.

Then, animal testing during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer in rodents! It has since been learned that male rat urine contains high levels of pH, calcium phosphate, and protein. High levels of sodium saccharin, combined with protein in the chemical environment found only in the urine of male rats, form microscopic crystals that physically damage the lining of the bladder; accelerated cell growth to repair this damage often leads to tumor formation. The composition of human urine is different, and consumption of saccharin does not lead to production of these microcrystals in humans.

Cyclamates are still banned in the United States, though. Go figure.

Permalink to Comment

251. DistilledLaw on June 24, 2013 12:23 AM writes...

Although this post is informative, the author seems to be intentionally avoiding the Elephant in the room in regards to the Buzzfeed article.

Why are these chemicals banned?

He (and many of the commenters) are trying to write these bans off as being the result of irrational fears that have compelled an ignorant Government body to ban them.

These chemicals are banned because the long term effects are unknown. For example, BVO is banned because, although considered "safe" in small amounts, the question that scientists and chemists are trying to answer is, "does BVO build up in the tissue to cause problems in the future?"

Guess what, low levels of radiation won't instantly kill you - but what happens when you are continuously exposed to it? Or how about cigarettes, will one cigarette give you full blown throat cancer?

How many bottles of Mountain Dew must a person consume in a lifetime before that BVO starts to deteriorate their internal organs?

If you haven't got it yet, the reason these chemicals are banned isn't due to some "phobia" - they have Chemist's in Europe too. They are banned because studies are beginning to demonstrate that even though these chemicals are consumed at low levels, they seem to be building up in people's bodies, and as they accumulate they start to get dangerous.

Perhaps Derek could elaborate on WHY these chemicals are banned - because that's a pretty large elephant he tip-toed around.

Permalink to Comment

252. Nick K on June 24, 2013 1:23 AM writes...

#251 DistilledLaw: You state "..studies are beginning to demonstrate that even though these chemicals are consumed at low levels, they seem to be building up in people's bodies, and as they accumulate they start to get dangerous." Do you have any evidence for this? I thought that, with the exception of a few very lipophilic compounds, most xenobiotics were metabolized and excreted.

#249: I should have added that the incidence of MOST cancers increases with age. Certain cancers, in particular leukemias, occur mostly in children. The Cancer Research UK website gives details.

Permalink to Comment

253. I_Talbot on June 24, 2013 2:04 AM writes...

Woo... So many comments. So much entertainment in the aftershocks. I'm gonna ramble now.

The article is a bit poor in the way of putting things in a way that the average, nonscientific trained person would listen. I use that term because layman doesn't quite reach that meaning. I think the snark might be a bit of it. Makes it seem overly defensive. Otherwise, I love it.

Seeing the comments about 'different' impurities in vitamin C, I have something to say. Several of my relatives and friends are allergic to many natural sources of it, and/or have some agitatable condition that things like peppers in all forms mess with. They take the supplements because they can't endure, or stomach a natural source. I've met other people that have similar issues with other supplemental needs as well. Without the supplements and the 'different' impurities they come with, many of these people would be in a severely malnourished state.

Myself, after many years of experimenting, have found that while corn is a favorite food of mine, my body isn't a huge fan of high fructose corn syrup. I get bloated, sluggish and with enough of it in me wind up becoming light-headed and have issues concentrating. Two large sodas from a fast food place is enough. I don't know what the cause is within me, but after many years of experimenting with food and nutrition balances I've found that regulating and reducing my intake of HFCS helps me rush through life a little more clear headed and with less likelihood of falling over. Other things, I take with a wait and see mentality and the belief that all things, natural or not, need to be done in moderation with our intake sources spread out across the spectrum. If something in me feels off, I take at least a year on one test before I cross it off as a possible cause and move on to the next suspect.

I'm not an organic chemist, but am educated in medical and technical fields that involve certifications that relate to HAZMAT and dangerous substances within technical and organically related industries. I like to hope that the farming background of one side of my family helps me think on things as well. Fave debunk I've gotten out of the combined background was pointing out how many daughters there are in military flightline families when someone tried saying radar exposure sterilizes in just one dose. It's more of a chromosome killer than a swimmer killer.

While I do see the long term argument for some chemicals as valid, with evidence around me, some might be in the process of being studied. You don't release results on a twenty year study before the twenty years is up. I'd dig around to harder to find active studies, because some are buried while working to help keep the results from becoming tainted by outside influence, before saying there's absolutely no studies going on.

Permalink to Comment

254. Emily on June 24, 2013 2:16 AM writes...

I,m worried about trans fats, plastic pollution in our oceans corrupting seafood, freshwater eel extinction, and over salting fast food. Any thoughts?

Permalink to Comment

255. Vesna on June 24, 2013 3:25 AM writes...

I agree that petroleum is not an issue in food, and neither is bromine... Those are exaggerations and misunderstandings on the part of the original author.

However, why add any questionable thing to food if there is no nutrition benefit, especially if it *might* cause harm? There is so much "inconclusive research" about food dyes causing problems, and apparently even conclusive research about a few things... Combine that with all of the other low-dose things found in food, cosmetics, cleaning products, etc., and you have a cocktail of inconclusive/conclusive compounds all being mixed with each other. If something is still inconclusive, if we didn't spend thousands of years evolving with it and it is not at all nutritious, why is it already in our food?

Only for profit. There is absolutely no other reason why these things are added to food. This is the only part that scares me – not the chemicals. The fact that a corporation will make all decisions based on profitability is terrifying. Perhaps a company will choose to add something nutritious to food because more people will want to buy it. In any case, the incentive is always going to be profit.

Although there are chemicals in nature that are poisonous to humans, at least we have a good idea of which chemically complex foods we spent thousands of years evolving with. I trust that way more than any corporate incentive.

Permalink to Comment

256. Nick K on June 24, 2013 3:39 AM writes...

#255: Many additives are in our food to stop it spoiling by preventing microbial or fungal contamination. Food poisoning kills tens of thousands of people worldwide every year. But of course that's completely "natural".

Permalink to Comment

257. Exasperated Chemist on June 24, 2013 5:11 AM writes...

Oh, where to begin?

Derek- you are indeed a national treasure. I have been reading this for over a decade and this is one of the very best. Your demolition of that nonsense, and the subsequent platform you have given its apologists to make complete fools of themselves, is priceless. To make so many morons so angry so quickly and easily would qualify you for at least an MBE if you were from my side of the pond!

#206- Silicon-based chemists certainly exist- I was taught by one in the 1990s

#240- I expected "Michael Fenn" to yield a slew of hits in PUBMED, yet I find nothing. What gives?

I also find it amusing that everybody in the world who challenges nonsense with facts is an irretrievably biased "shill" for one body or another. Anybody who has been a visitor to this blog for more than the one article knows that Derek is in the pocket of nobody. The only obvious exception is that he will not talk positively or negatively (or neutrally, come to think of it) about his current employer, and I don't think anyone can have a problem with that.

For the chemists among us, if you want an area with even more unqualified pontification than "chemicals" in food, try babycare....

Permalink to Comment

258. Happy Valley Chow on June 24, 2013 7:10 AM writes...

As a food blogger and somebody interested in the scientific aspect of food and cooking I applaud you for your work. I read articles like the buzzfeed one everyday and it is infuriating because I know there are very little facts involved, but I find it difficult to get into a good debate because I don't know all the details. Thank you for educating me, I am definitely sharing this with my food blog following and hopefully getting this out there. "The dose makes the poison."

Permalink to Comment

259. Marie_C on June 24, 2013 8:18 AM writes...

I agree that too many people condemn "chemicals" in food as if the word is synonymous with evil cancer. But, attacking these people, making them out to be ignorant by ranting about all the things wrong with them and their understanding of science isn't going to help the situation.(They aren't scientist, many people aren't, deal with it).

Articles like yours that take this approach only perpetuate the problem of the general population not thinking critically about the science in their everyday lives, because you make them think they are too stupid to understand it.

While there is a false, "invisible fence" used by some to say that any chemical is dangerous, you are putting up an "invisible fence" between Ph.D. chemists and the average person, keeping accurate knowledge among your "superior" ranks. The only way to educate people about the kind of unfounded claims made in this article, is to help them understand the basic science behind them, not belittle them for misunderstanding it.

Permalink to Comment

260. Willie on June 24, 2013 9:23 AM writes...

Well, this attempt at a "reasonable explanation" with "scientific data" is load of blind-minded non-scientific propaganda from big-ag and big pharma; sponsored by idiot Derrick Low, whose ignorance makes the lethal toxicity of his misinformation seem innocent, and even good-intentioned.
The author's bias is much worse than the one he criticizes. He seems to like the idea that blissfully ignorant people are eating tiny doses of petroleum every day.
Sure, everything is made of chemicals. What a profound observation.
The article reiterates a few "sciency" tests that prove absolutely nothing.
The "clinical testing" of a psychiatric drug, for example, "passes" only after an average of 30 tests have failed and been and the results destroyed.

It is so easy for these polluters to prove anything they want, while real hard-working bio-chem labs that actually save lives are driven underground.

This article claims that the ACS has a "perfectly reasonable" website, which is deeply ignorant or just a flat-out lie. The American Cancer Society is a corporate PR campaign for the petroleum industry. They study things that are carcinogenic, destroy every study that proves petro-chemicals are carcinogenic, and then they publish the 1/100 studies that pass of cancer agents, or at least show that they are "insignificant". All except for tobacco, of course. They love to blame tobacco. The ACS even denies the fact that cancer found in blood samples from the 1980s have more than 50x the cancer rate of blood samples from the 1920s (proven several times over by multiple universities). Why do we have so much cancer now? The answer is simple, we have so much cancer now because petroleum is in our food and bodies. "The Chemical Revolution" is slowly poisoning the world. Oh well, they only allow 8 ppm. HA! Then we take it to the lab and find 1500 ppm. Funny how every time we test a piece of food, it has hundreds of times the "FDA allowed" amount of petrochemical additives and pesticides.
The author of this article tries to give you this "big brother" notion to relax and don't worry about it, because it's an insignificant amount of poison. He fails to see the obvious facts that these chemicals in our food do cause serious problems, even if the "study" says the findings are "inconclusive" (see. . .the study is published by cold-blooded dollar-worshipers).
So, by ignoring the fact that cancer rates among 30-year-olds have sky-rocketed in the last 100 years, the author fails to provide any justice to his criticism of the poorly-written that he so deservedly criticizes. By relying on groups like the FDA, the ACS, and the USDA for accurate information and honest reports, the author drags everyone down to the very low level of intentional misinformation and corporate propaganda.

Permalink to Comment

261. SPQR on June 24, 2013 9:33 AM writes...

Great work, Derek, but the comments show that the people who read the Buzzfeed garbage are not interested in factual discussion, only fear mongering.

Permalink to Comment

262. Sharon_M on June 24, 2013 9:36 AM writes...


You have completely made my day. I read this offending article just a few days ago, and wanted to throw something really heavy and sharp at the author's head. I have a degree in horticulture, and am now in pharmacy school. All of this black and white opinion about nutrition drives me insane. As soon as you started mentioning different levels of vitamins as toxic or not, you had me hooked. Unfortunately, the pendulum swings both ways with scientists as well who don't bother to check facts. This is really point proof about how a literate, educated people can still be so gullible. We should constantly be encouraging everyone in the population to check their facts. In this age of computers, there is no excuse. I hope you don't mind that I share your blog with my colleagues (and professors).

Permalink to Comment

263. Willie on June 24, 2013 9:38 AM writes...

My colleagues have been treating cancers with alternative methods for over 10 years, and have a 100% success rate with the alkaline diet. It's actually very simple, and its success has been repeatedly proven in laboratories. To reiterate, 100% of cancer patients who have adapted to the proper diet and no longer have cancer. Sure, some people are probably too far gone, but none of my colleagues' clients have been. Actually, the man who discovered that the alkaline diet is 100% effective against cancer won the Nobel prize for his discoveries. Now, his "theories" are considered quackery, and no institutional scientist would ever dare perform such whacky tests like pH tests on the human body!

Additionally, my colleagues have been adamant about doing laboratory testing on tumors removed from their clients. That is where the juicy part is!
If only the ACS would publish the actual chemical analysis of tumors every year, then you would see a big list of petro-chemicals found in food, legal drugs, and cosmetics, as well as a short list of pesticides found in food and illegal drugs. It is quite bizarre what is actually in tumors; it takes a lot of research just to find out how those chemicals got there - but almost all of them are derived from petroleum or ammonia.

So, this article is basically just relying on the same old non-science science that got the world into this toxic mess in the first place. Sorry, but FDA approval means nothing. Petrochemicals belong where God put them - under the ground. Petroleum is completely unnecessary for humans, and it is the cause of almost all of our environmental problems. Food comes from the garden, not the laboratory.

I come from Wisconsin where my male friends and I all had breast milk running from our nipples in high school. Many of these specific friends were the manliest of the teenage boys; the captains of the football team and everything. Boy, we were happy when we discovered hormone-free milk and our mammary glands shrunk down and our milky tits disappeared. No, there's no USDA study that proves this - the proof is in the pudding.

I think the author uses a lot scientific words and even logic in his non-scientific attempt to preserve his precious food additives.

Articles like these were around in the 40s and told people that DDT is safe, not to worry. Then, when their children ended up diseased from DDT, the story slowly started to change.

The same is happening now, but it is harder to change the story, because the symptoms are so much thicker and complex now, and the poisons are so much more rampant. Even the case of the BGH-fueled boy-tits in Wisconsin will surely be ignored for all of history.

Permalink to Comment

264. SPQR on June 24, 2013 10:14 AM writes...

Willie, your claims are so ridiculous that they are self-refuting.

Permalink to Comment

265. RM on June 24, 2013 10:20 AM writes...

263 – Willie, what utter bullshit! If you want to make claims about certain health benefits of an alkaline diet, go right on ahead. Please send us citations to your peer-reviewed research. But stating a 100% cure rate for cancer is not only irresponsible, but immoral. How many cancer patients out there who trust hacks like you are suffering and dying because they try to cure their cancer with food?

By the way, at what point are your patients “cured” and how do you determine this?

Permalink to Comment

266. newnickname on June 24, 2013 10:33 AM writes...

@263 Willie: "Cancer" was named by Hippocrates who identified cancers in the people of Greece over 2000 years ago. It is difficult to find hard evidence of soft tissue cancers in archaeological remains but research has turned up skeletal evidence of some cancers in ancient remains (>>2000 years old).

\sarcasm_alert{on} How on earth did ANYONE get cancer before the Industrial Revolution and the Oil Age? It just doesn't make any sense. Hippocrates must have been paid off by industry! \sarcasm_alert{off}

Permalink to Comment

267. Erin on June 24, 2013 10:51 AM writes...

I find it completely baffling that people are so much like sheep. Sheeple! An idiot says "oh this is bad for you" the next idiot says "oh well its in rice, its in beans, its in juice, milk even water". What we have here people is Globesity of stupidity! Its in one thing so it has to be in another. What I mean by Globesity is simply that there is so much useless shit that goes around and everyone just seems fat and sassy sitting around endulging from stupidity. Fact is there is something in everything you eat, but who cares you only live once eat your freakin heart out. Your always going to have the unintelligent who negate every aspect of life just to be assholes and hear themselves talk. "rich food, poor food". Then there are the uninformed people who make assumptions and ascertions and they just know their right because the unintelligent person said its fact! Fact is this: if I want to eat something Im gonna eat it! If its bad or good for me.
But take for instance the same people that complain about eating all this horrible shit really have no idea what they are really ingesting. Just think they were the 1 sperm in a million that made it. Ok Ill get off the the cross for awhile someone else may need the wood. All in all D'Man I love your blog way to punch holes through all the bullshit! Their (facts) look like swiss cheese! "wait is that safe to eat"? Lol


Permalink to Comment

268. hunter on June 24, 2013 11:52 AM writes...

re:146 and any similar. Purpose is not to make fun of morons who do not know chemistry - or anything else as appropriate. Purpose is to educate - and those of us trying to do so have varying levels of tolerance for ignorance (I have a high one up to a point as I know I am ignorant of many things, but am willing to learn) that increase when the person demonstrating ignorance also indicates desire to learn. Unfortunately some of the ignorant have a second problem which I will refer to as stupidity - they are happy in their ignaorance and fear any disturbance of their happiness. Those are the one's I have no trouble gratuitously insulting once they show that trait. Derek is much nicer than I am - and I really do not think he overracted on his blog to the overall ignorance of the buzzfeed tripe - nor did I notice anything approaching the nastiness I would be laying on some posters here were I not playing in Derek;s sandbox.

I am also pleased to note a nam or two from JREF posting here (Hi, Jeff!!) as I posted this and the update today on that site...........

Permalink to Comment

269. Willie on June 24, 2013 12:29 PM writes...

266: I do believe cancer has been around a long time, and that overcoming it is part of our adaptation to greater health.
Everyone else, RM, whoever; sorry if I am antagonistic, I just don't advocate any toxicity, expecially synthetic toxicity, being knowingly added to our food.

I also believe, based on my professor's clear research, that cancer rates have drastically sky-rocketed in the last 100 years.
Furthermore, when confronting the big polluters and big pharma, there is misleading facts about what causes cancer, as if we don't know that toxins, sugar, and acidity cause cancer to thrive.
They try to lie and say everyone gets cancer - its natural - people back then just didnt live so long. No, elderly human beings of the same age have huge increases in cancer rates in the 20th century.
True, not a lot of testing can be done on old stuff; the facts are hard to dig up without a good university collection of academic journals.
To explain the lousiness of the FDA in reporting what is safe and effective, watch the TED talk.

Derek Low is actually a good writer, and the article is great; I just feel that his facts, which are numerous, are misleading and hardly conclusive of his analysis that demands facts.

Permalink to Comment

270. Willie on June 24, 2013 12:55 PM writes...

You misread me, I don't have patients, I am no doctor. My nutritionist friend has clients. I know 3 people who followed his nutrition plan after being diagnosed with cancer, and after following the diet, the oncology department at the local hospital sad the cancer had stopped spreading. One the people was friend of mine, and he had lung cancer. The doctors said he had 2 months to live; is life was ready to end. After a nutritional and lifestyle intervention, he was in excellent health for years to come. However, after a few years, he quit the diet, went back to his old ways, and the lung cancer came back and killed him. So, it "cured" him", but not entirely.
My friend has helped dozens beat cancer; in some cases, the person quits the diet and the cancer returns.
Otto Warburg is the Nobel prize winner who discussed the origins of cancer and the effectiveness of the alkaline diet. Despite his authenticity, writings about the alkaline diet are commonly reduced to quackery, and the good records are hard to find. The alkaline diet has been well-known in its ability to stop the spread of cancer for over 75 years, but mainstream propaganda journals won't touch it, even though nutritionist prove it again and again every year.
It is a cure, but it is too simple and obvious for many people to believe. The proof is in the pudding.

Permalink to Comment

271. chemANDmed on June 24, 2013 1:02 PM writes...

An excerpt from Derek's article:

"And vitamin absorption can be messed with by all kinds of things, including other vitamins (folic acid supplements can interfere with B12 absorption, just to pick one)."

Derek, I kindly ask you to take your own advice and allow yourself "10 minutes of unbiased reading" to research this assertion about the relationship between folic acid supplementation and B12 absorption.

Additionally, take a few more minutes to research exactly how many micrograms per day of folic acid are needed daily (especially in the diets of women of child-bearing age).

Next, research how many micrograms per day of folic acid are artificially added to regularly consumed foods in the US in order to "fortify" them and make them "healthier" for the "average" individual in our country.

Now, consider the natural (EEEK! I used the word "natural"!) sources of folic acid that could comprise an individual's diet if they eat a healthy helping of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains per day.

You might want to then ponder the possibility of folic acid toxicity in individuals who follow a balanced diet and are getting too much folic acid because the average grain product in the US is unavoidably fortified with it.

Maybe now you can reconsider this little part of your criticism of BuzzFeed, because you, my friend, have also made a few radical and uninformed claims in your article.

By the way, it is true that "vitamin absorption can be messed up by all kinds of things" as you state in your article, but this assertion is painfully vague and still begs the question of WHY the absorption is being "messed up" initially. Plus, you missed the key point about folic acid supplementation and its ability to suppress symptoms of anemia, making an accurate diagnosis very difficult--especially in patients who are inadvertently ingesting more than the daily recommended value of folic acid.

If we're going to discuss the "things" that "mess up" vitamin absorption, shall we address the drug interactions that prevent individuals from being able to ingest grapefruits? I find it somewhat comical that the solution to these drug interactions is to boycott the grapefruit. Why is it that no chemist has stepped up to the plate and suggested that we reconsider and improve the chemical makeup of the drugs we are producing so that people can keep eating healthy foods?

And instead of writing this irate and scathing (read: off-putting) response to the BuzzFeed article, why could you not have responded with a calm and informed approach to addressing chemophobia and designing a chemist's view of a balanced diet? Truly, the heart of the issue is not the public's fear of chemistry or their gross misunderstanding of it. Instead, the issue at hand is the public's lack of knowledge and understanding about health, nutrition, and the proper approach to eating a well-balanced diet! You, Derek, have done nothing to dispel the nutrition myths with this article because you were so incredibly focused on your narrow-minded chemist's rage.

Shame on anyone who tries to use the number of years he or she has studied chemistry as a way of validating a given assertion. Fellow chemists, you discredit those who work diligently to conduct thorough research investigations into these topics. Continue to debate and discover, but choose instead to cite appropriate research from established and reputable sources, such as the American Chemical Society or The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition when you are discrediting misinformed articles such as this one on BuzzFeed.

And for those of you who think that your diet plan is excellent simply because your doctor recommended it, kindly take a few minutes for yourself to research exactly how much time is devoted to teaching medical students about the complexities and intricacies of nutrition and health. You would be surprised how much we do NOT learn about these topics throughout the course of our medical education, unless we take on this endeavor during our "free" time--ha!

Permalink to Comment

272. Anonymous on June 24, 2013 1:09 PM writes...

Derek, Derek, Derek. I am disappointed in you.

"Never argue with an idiot; he will bring you down to his level and win from experience."

And, in fact, he did bring you down by bringing all these wing nuts to your blog. Just saying..........You better have a few days of stuff that's got all that sciency stuff that's way over their heads so they'll all go away again. Part of why I read your blog is that the commentators often contribute some pretty informed discussion to the topics.

I hope that Buzzfeed link up there doesn't leave a cookie on my computer that the NSA will track and then automatically put me in the retard bin for when the eugenics wars start.

Permalink to Comment

273. JIm on June 24, 2013 1:21 PM writes...

The problem with the Buzzfeed article (OK, one of the many problems with the article) is that it is crying wolf at best, or eliminating any collective ability to try and discern what may actually be dangerous.

If you look at what Derek is saying, it's not that these things are safe, but rather that the arguments used as outlined in the Buzzfeed article are flawed and misleading. Look back at his post and see if he's calling for massive additions of bromide or simply trying to stop mass hysteria.

I'd personally rather see people put their time, effort, and vigilance towards rational caution.

Permalink to Comment

274. newnickname on June 24, 2013 2:13 PM writes...

@266 Willie: "I do believe cancer has been around a long time, and that overcoming it is part of our adaptation to greater health." Adapting to cancer? What does THAT mean? Life expectancy at birth in ancient Greece was less than 30 years. People still got cancer. Today, life expectancy in the developed world filled with synthetic toxins is 75-80 years. Science, medicine, technology and engineering have helped us to adapt fairly well, eh?

Otto Warburg did not say that acidosis is a CAUSE of cancer but that it is a consequence of altered metabolism. Anecdotes about three people "cured" of cancer by an alkaline diet is not clinical science; it isn't science at all. Strange how they all relapsed after going off the diet.

@272: Great post! If things keep going the way they have been the retards will be in charge, there won't be a retard bin and I'll be diving head first into the 'save me from the retards' bin.

Permalink to Comment

275. alig on June 24, 2013 2:21 PM writes...

A natural chemical found in grapefruit is a potent ihibitor of an essential metabolizing enzyme called 3A4. 3A4 protects the body from xenobiotics (both poisons and drugs). It is grapefruit that is considered the offender here and the drug the victim, not the other way around. Natural compounds can be dangerous too.

Permalink to Comment

276. Arsenic in rice on June 24, 2013 2:34 PM writes...

I heard on US public radio that Arsenic (As) in rice is from pesticides applied to rice crops. It is absorbed through the soil. The pesticide is used mostly in the US - Arkansas and Texas, mostly (and CA?). If you get your rice from another country you get less As from your food.

Permalink to Comment

277. Britt on June 24, 2013 3:11 PM writes...

Well, now it's being re-packaged (appropriately) and distributed via Yahoo:

Permalink to Comment

278. chemANDmed on June 24, 2013 4:26 PM writes...

Of course natural compounds can be dangerous. However, in that example, do you not see the irony of calling a grapfruit "dangerous" and a synthesized pharmaceutical a "victim"??? By the way, it's CYP3A4 (the "CYP" is in reference to cytochrome P450).

Permalink to Comment

279. Tom Harada on June 24, 2013 4:30 PM writes...

> There is no essence, no vital spirit.

True, but vitamin c found in nature has all sorts of other trappings around it that have an evolutionary history, millions and millions of years old and are often more safe from a probability standpoint than what has been created in a lab in the past couple of decades.

There is a delicate balance of fiber and other foodstuffs in the billions of cells that constitute a piece of fruit. It's as reckless as the buzzfeed author to presume that biochemists are at the level of nature in their synthesis of food substances. There is great ignorance in presuming they can recreate what nature has created.

One should take a reasonable tact of avoiding potential carcinogens. Until we can confidently know the precise chances of their carcinogenicity, it's presumptuous to believe that we should simply conflate man-made compounds and nature-made compounds and hope for the best because they contain some chemical similarities for certain key modules. If just one of these man-made compounds causes an increase in cancer that kills you just say 5 years earlier on average, then we should avoid it.

What is the proper risk mitigation strategy? To reject all manmade foods? No / impossible. Do older man-made (non-manufactured) foods have horrible properties sometimes? Sure. But to imply we should accept all of what P&G would dish out to people on the regular and not check it carefully when the FDA tests for very narrow time horizons is a mistake. Food is complicated. Humans are complicated.

My point is a little evolutionary history: food chemists are not so smart that we should trust them without very specific metrics, which do not exist yet. The proper scientific approach is to prove that new foodstuffs are no less harmful. Until that happens, I'll be eating as organic as possible and avoiding as many chemical compounds as I can. Leaning heavily towards what has proven itself in evolutionary time and not what has proven itself in a lab.

Permalink to Comment

280. bwsf on June 24, 2013 5:12 PM writes...

Thank you! This is good to read. I saw that BuzzFeed article. And while I really don't consume most of the stuff from that list regularly anyway, I found myself reading, "This stuff is POISON!" and thinking, "Really?" I had melanoma removed from my leg this past spring, and I have people telling me that they KNOW, hands-down, it was partially caused by my 3 Diet Coke a week habit. Sometimes I have to wonder what people have read or seen that makes them think that, or things like that, could be true.

Permalink to Comment

281. Reticula on June 24, 2013 5:31 PM writes...

Thank you for putting all this into interesting, accessible language for those of us who aren't chemists or any other kind of scientist. I thoroughly enjoyed your dry, sarcastic tone, and I learned a lot more about chemistry than I knew before I read it.

I will be passing this along to the many people who shared the original article on my Facebook feed. They can decide for themselves whom they want to believe. Unfortunately, it's hard to combat sensational articles like the one you're refuting. People simply want to believe in the boogeyman.

I'm glad I landed here today. Thanks again.

Permalink to Comment

282. drew on June 24, 2013 6:29 PM writes...

The problem is, many scientists are employed by chemical companies, often large ones with fat nondisclosure statements. The large companies selling petroleum and pesticides and junk food are seen as no more trustworthy than the banks because if "free market is king" and free market is often interpreted means squeeze as much money as possible out of consumers until they pop or die (unfettered greed), then it's easy to believe companies have their bottom line placed ahead of consumer and planetary well being. Thus, without being a scientist -- which it is very difficult to be without needing a job with one of those big companies at some point and thus having to sign a NDA at some point -- one has to trust the scientists who've signed away their right to actually talk about what's safe and what's dangerous.
This leaves the huddled masses to guess wildly and assume the worst.

Permalink to Comment

283. S. M. on June 24, 2013 6:54 PM writes...

#84, you are in fact describing our chubby population rather well. The secret agenda behind the scare-mongers: improving public health by persuading Americans to eat fewer sugar/sodium laden foods of the "engineered to be addictive" type leading to fewer cal (kcal for this crowd) from boring plain foods instead. Seriously, you know how much watermelon you have to eat to reach 500 cal vs. ice cream containing carrageenan? On the other hand, if you ate 500 cal worth of alfalfa sprouts, that might actually hit the LD50 point...

Permalink to Comment

284. ALK on June 24, 2013 8:07 PM writes...

Thanks for taking the time to review this article. One of my major area of concerns is the lack of knowledge regarding agriculture. When I read about "studies" like these, it's just painful.

Permalink to Comment

285. Trevor Green on June 24, 2013 9:14 PM writes...

201. I'm a poor person and I eat fruit.

Permalink to Comment

286. Nick K on June 24, 2013 9:33 PM writes...

#284 ALK: The article you link to seems to contain a full house of deranged, whack-job conspiracy theories, including a "link" between glyphosate and autism. Bonus points for using the phrase "exogenous semiotic entropy".

Read the comments to see some clinical paranoia about chemtrails and World Government.

Permalink to Comment

287. Nick K on June 24, 2013 10:48 PM writes...

#279 Tom Harada: "True, but vitamin c found in nature has all sorts of other trappings around it that have an evolutionary history, millions and millions of years old and are often more safe from a probability standpoint than what has been created in a lab in the past couple of decades.

There is a delicate balance of fiber and other foodstuffs in the billions of cells that constitute a piece of fruit. It's as reckless as the buzzfeed author to presume that biochemists are at the level of nature in their synthesis of food substances. There is great ignorance in presuming they can recreate what nature has created."

You seem unaware of the difference between a pure chemical compound like ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and a mixture.

Permalink to Comment

288. aaa on June 25, 2013 12:06 AM writes...

I once worked in a law office where one of the suits involved a large chicken company vs the people who lived near by some of its farm. During discovery, the corporation admitted to adding arsenic to the chicken feed but said it didn't matter because the chickens pooped out all the arsenic.

Permalink to Comment

289. Anonymous on June 25, 2013 12:33 AM writes...

People in Greece had a life expectancy of 30 because 1 in 3 children died before the age of 5, not because of cancer. Sure some of them had cancer, but it is unlikely they occurred at the same rates or in the same way they do now. This is also common "misinformation" of big pharma - that people didn't live so long in the past. Actually, many people did live into their 100s in the past, but life expectancies were low because of high infant mortality and common infections whose causes and remedies were not understood. The fact is, cancer rates (and epigenetic disease rates) are directly proportional to the introduction of certain sytnthetic chemicals in our environment. Cancer rates before 1940 were very low, and this has been tested many times. Your ideas about cancer killing the Greeks is the kind of misinformation that perpetuates the major issues with our immoral, profit-driven "healthcare" industry, which seeks bottom-line profits and job security by protecting its vital resource, disease.
I do apologize for calling the author an idiot, because he does write some very clever things. Besides my 3 acquaintances whose cancers were stopped with a good diet, there are about 50 more in the 100% success rate of whom I know. It is science because we have tested and seen the proof. Even those who relapsed when they came off the diet lived years beyond there predicted time of death according to the doctors. And this is so far off the point!
How do we adapt to overcoming cancer? Because much of our food and environment is toxic to us; our bodies, over time and generations, grow resistant to certain toxins or learn to flush them out of the body more easily. At the same time, our foods become less toxic through proper breeding. Our ancestors were exposed to certain chemicals in food and the environment, and now our bodies are less diseased by these toxins; like arsenic in wheat, for example. However, the new synthesized chemicals that have been introduced into our environment are causing a whole slough of new diseases, including so called "genetic diseases" (caused by epigenetic malfunction from toxicity), mental retardation, autism, and many types of cancer. We haven't had millennia to adapt a resistance to things like DDT, so we try to get rid of them altogether. You can't really test the safe level of these new toxins, because it indeed is a case by case situation, and as more unnatural ingredients are thrown into the soup, the "cause" of each disease is limited to "toxicity", expecially in genetic dieseases, which are not caused by genes, but are caused by poisoned DNA replications sites.

Permalink to Comment

290. willie on June 25, 2013 1:12 AM writes...

It is very interesting to notice the huge increase in wheat allergies in the USA, while wheat in Europe causes so little allergies. I heard that GMO wheat was the problem, but actually wheat in the United States in not GMO.
There are a few problems with our bodies easily recognizing the proteins found in durham semolina wheat. One is that the chromosome and DNA reproduction patterns in wheat are quite strange compared to most plants. Basically, wheat has a very chaotic way of passing on its genes. While most crops tent to stabilize their genotypes, the complex patterns of wheat reproduction makes for unstable protein patterns which our bodies have difficulty recognizing.
Why is wheat so much less allergenic in Europe? I think it is because of the heirloom genetics in the wheat, that has been used for more than 1000 years. In the early part of the 20th century, (in the 30s), the USA stopped large-scale production of most wheat except durham semolina, and monocropping culture began in search of high yield. I think that crop diversity was limited, and for some reason i cannot understand, the breeds of semolina we now grow are turning out to be extremely allergenic... even more than in the past... besides the odd chromosome replication, I think there must be other factors. It's an interesting situation to study.

Permalink to Comment

291. Nick K on June 25, 2013 2:11 AM writes...

#289: Wishful thinking again! Your assertion that life expectancies were low in Classical Greece purely because of high infant mortality is demonstrably false. See:

From the above source: "The age structure of ancient populations is a matter of great interest within anthropology and archaeology. Some think we can draw many conclusions from skeletal samples; others are more cautious in their application of models to the past. But there's no doubt that Romans, Egyptians, and Greeks were dropping dead at age 30, 40, 50 and 60 -- at much higher age-specific mortality rates than today. Estimating the overall age profile is difficult and requires models. But testing the "Bad Science" assertion is much easier -- if human lifespan had really not changed in 2000 years, then 35-year-olds shouldn't have left their skeletons very often in the Roman catacombs. Unfortunately (for them), we find those 35-year-old bodies. A rough estimate (gleaned from tomb inscriptions that give ages) is that half of Romans who lived to age 15 -- and therefore escaped juvenile mortality -- were dead before age 45."

There are also dozens of studies of Medieval Europeans showing that adult life expectancies then were far, far smaller than they are today.

Permalink to Comment

292. Jack.Rayner on June 25, 2013 2:46 AM writes...

Thanks for this article. Sad that it'll never get as much exposure as the nonsense on buzzfeed....

Out of all of the crazy objections to this article, my faves are those crying about the tone. Is it just me, or is it common for people who are dead wrong to demand their pet beliefs be handled with kid gloves? Why is that? [I encountered this many times back when I used to debate theists. It's almost as if they *want* to be offended, because it gives them a reason to flounce off before they have to admit they're wrong.]

Permalink to Comment

293. alig on June 25, 2013 6:55 AM writes...

I see the irony of calling a grapefruit safe, but if a drug had the same activity as the grapefruit, the FDA would not approve it unless it was for a life-threatening disease. You can get your citrus from oranges, and they don't pose the same risks as grapefruit.

Permalink to Comment

294. Robert Conger on June 25, 2013 7:19 AM writes...

You're right on. But sloppy science and fantastic claims are the way our society and media love to go these days.

Permalink to Comment

295. Coco Mama on June 25, 2013 7:53 AM writes...

Thanks for your article.

I am not a scientist. I am a Mom whose children suffer greatly from lean=ring disabilities. When we took many of these things out of their diets, they improved significantly. My fed back came from outsiders, many who did not know about our change in diet or people that thought it was useless to change the diet. Something is going on with our food and the chemicals we use on our bodies.

I am not as smart as you. I could not write a article like this. But I know for thousands of kids going all natural has given them a chance to succeed. I know my 4 kids.

I have learned a lot from your article.

Permalink to Comment

296. Robjective on June 25, 2013 8:13 AM writes...

Great article, but would like to point out that Paracelsus wasn't *entirely* right: in the case of persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disruption, the dose certainly *does not* make the poison. While you prick holes in others' generalizations be sure to acknowledge your own.

Permalink to Comment

297. Robjective on June 25, 2013 8:13 AM writes...

Great article, but would like to point out that Paracelsus wasn't *entirely* right: in the case of persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disruption, the dose certainly *does not* make the poison. While you prick holes in others' generalizations be sure to acknowledge your own.

Permalink to Comment

298. Food Conscious Momma on June 25, 2013 8:27 AM writes...

I have an idea: you come over to my house and we'll give my son a skittle. Just one. Then, you try to peel him off the ceiling, and I'll watch and remind you that food dyes causing hyperactivity and aggression is "unproven".

Permalink to Comment

299. Red2 on June 25, 2013 9:48 AM writes...

@#245 Dr. Michael Fenn:

Number of deaths for leading causes of death:
• Heart disease: 597,689
• Cancer: 574,743
• Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 138,080
• Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 129,476
• Accidents (unintentional injuries): 120,859
• Alzheimer's disease: 83,494
• Diabetes: 69,071
• Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,476
• Influenza and Pneumonia: 50,097
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 38,364


This is for 2010 for the U.S. Preliminary results for 2011 suggest that the last two in the above list may have switched their relative positions. Heart disease and stroke could possibly be combined into a more general category of cardiovascular disease. Cancer is a major cause of death, but is still exceeded by heart disease.

Permalink to Comment

300. kerryclem (@kerryclem) on June 25, 2013 11:03 AM writes...

I love you. That is all.

Permalink to Comment

301. Robjective on June 25, 2013 11:06 AM writes...

Great article, but would like to point out that Paracelsus wasn't *entirely* right: in the case of persistent organic pollutants and endocrine disruption, the dose certainly *does not* make the poison. While you prick holes in others' generalizations be sure to acknowledge your own.

Permalink to Comment

302. DrBillyBob on June 25, 2013 11:43 AM writes...


LOL - I have an idea! Let's try giving your son a piece of all natural, raw sugar cane for him to chew on. Let's see what that does.

The boundless ignorance of fools never ceases to amaze. Thank you Derek for trying to inject a little reason into this unreasonable world.

Permalink to Comment

303. Wage Slave on June 25, 2013 11:51 AM writes...

Have you done this with sugar-free skittles?

And do all the colors do the same thing?

Permalink to Comment

304. Califa on June 25, 2013 12:02 PM writes...

Lots of people commenting who seem to have knowledge of what some of those big and scientific sounding words that are used as ingredients in food. But which ones are good and which ones are bad?

Well, when I buy food that has ingredients that I cannot understand let alone pronounce I don't buy it. That's crazy and sad because apparently I need a PhD in chemistry in order to know what garbage is put into food.

Permalink to Comment

305. A55Clown on June 25, 2013 12:06 PM writes...

Your all a bunch of f in retards.

Permalink to Comment

306. Scott on June 25, 2013 12:34 PM writes...

Derek's article is interesting but I don't see where it addresses the point of the Buzzfeed article that these substances are banned in food outside the U.S. I would would like to know if these substances really are banned, and if so, what the reasons were. Have those reasons been adequately addressed in the U.S.? The Buzzfeed alarmist descriptions of the chemicals may or may not have had anything to do with why they are supposedly banned.

Permalink to Comment

307. Disrupting on June 25, 2013 12:43 PM writes...

I agree that the Buzzfeed article was 'sensationalistic' but I still remain unconvinced that many of these "man-made chemicals" won't have a negative long-term effect on us and on our environment.

However, as with everything, I do believe that moderation is key.

Thank you, Derek, for the "chemical take" on this: it's good to know I can KEEP EATING BREAD!

Different chemicals but I thought it might be worth throwing this WHO study on Endocrine Disruptors into the mix.

Permalink to Comment

308. Anonymous on June 25, 2013 3:16 PM writes...

awesome! thanks :)

Permalink to Comment

309. Yeah, Right on June 25, 2013 3:49 PM writes...

Yeah...this reminds me of the tar sands companies and green washing.

The American FDA doesn't do independent 3rd party clinical trials, which is insane.

None of this bs can be trusted. At the end of the day, eat organic, avoid all boxed or pre-prepared food including "fast" foods. Eat at restaurants that cook from whole ingredients and buy local.

Everything else is just spin from someone who wants to sell you something.

Permalink to Comment

310. Anonymous on June 25, 2013 3:51 PM writes...

Point three was useful for me. I am a community college chemistry teacher. We were doing halogen addition reactions in one of my introductory chemistry labs and students started asking me about the evils of brominated vegetable oil and fire resistant carpets. That seemed out of nowhere... Now I know where they were getting there info from. The best question I ever got, asked during lecture with all seriousness, "Will gamma rays give you super powers?" What's worse, I did not know enough about Marvel superheroes at that time so I was completely baffled and I think I embarrassed the student with my response ;).

Permalink to Comment

311. hannah on June 25, 2013 4:37 PM writes...

i would make salient points about the author's comments, but not worth all the time to point out every illogical point. Contrary to his apparent belief, I don't believe every single claim in the original article - yet that does not disprove the central fact that our diets are killing us, and added crap is just one reason why.

There's enough historical evidence to steer us away from dyes, etc. whether or not they have conclusively been proven to cause cancer. Not to mention the precautionary principle. It is abundantly clear that accountability is completely missing in action, and the health & well-being of the population is of no consequence where immediate profit is concerned.

I also turn away from articles with ad hominem attacks: Calling the original author a fool does not help his cause, as it does not induce me to read all his comments & consider his possibly valid points....

Permalink to Comment

312. G on June 25, 2013 7:12 PM writes...

Two questions:
1) is there a benefit to using all these chemicals in our food?
2) why are they banned in other countries?

Permalink to Comment

313. Nick K on June 25, 2013 7:33 PM writes...

#312: "I don't believe every single claim in the original article - yet that does not disprove the central fact that our diets are killing us, and added crap is just one reason why."

If that is the case, why are life expectancies in the US and elsewhere in the West so high, and actually increasing?

Permalink to Comment

314. James M on June 25, 2013 9:16 PM writes...

#287 Nick K
"You seem unaware of the difference between a pure chemical compound like ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and a mixture."

And you seem unaware that you just set up a straw man argument by pointing out an error that has nothing to do with his point. He summed up his point (which you probably didn't understand because you didn't even address it) in the last paragraph of his well written post:

#279 Tom Harada
"My point is a little evolutionary history: food chemists are not so smart that we should trust them without very specific metrics, which do not exist yet. The proper scientific approach is to prove that new foodstuffs are no less harmful. Until that happens, I'll be eating as organic as possible and avoiding as many chemical compounds as I can. Leaning heavily towards what has proven itself in evolutionary time and not what has proven itself in a lab."

Why don't you respond to what the guy actually said instead of pointing out an irrelevant (to this debate) fact?

Permalink to Comment

315. James M on June 25, 2013 9:17 PM writes...

#287 Nick K
"You seem unaware of the difference between a pure chemical compound like ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and a mixture."

And you seem unaware that you just set up a straw man argument by pointing out an error that has nothing to do with his point. He summed up his point (which you probably didn't understand because you didn't even address it) in the last paragraph of his well written post:

#279 Tom Harada
"My point is a little evolutionary history: food chemists are not so smart that we should trust them without very specific metrics, which do not exist yet. The proper scientific approach is to prove that new foodstuffs are no less harmful. Until that happens, I'll be eating as organic as possible and avoiding as many chemical compounds as I can. Leaning heavily towards what has proven itself in evolutionary time and not what has proven itself in a lab."

Why don't you respond to what the guy actually said instead of pointing out an irrelevant (to this debate) fact?

Permalink to Comment

316. felix on June 25, 2013 9:28 PM writes...

For those who keep asking why some things are banned in other countries, why ask the question here? Go and ask the relevant agencies why they banned so and so substance. The author does not work for the EU, why ask him why the EU did not approve certain substances for use in food? Oh as long as you're asking somebody from the EU, why don't you also ask them why they approve the use of sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, other stuff that's really hard to pronounce, and BHA, and BHT as food additives?

Permalink to Comment

317. Thomas on June 25, 2013 10:10 PM writes...

Felix: Because it was in the title of the article and this rebuff conveniently side stepped the issue. It is relevant. If other countries deem them harmful, why doesn't ours? Corporate influence?

Permalink to Comment

318. Anonymous on June 25, 2013 11:50 PM writes...

The John Hawks article is quite self-contradicting. He gives the example of Socrates, who lived to age 70 and died of unnatural causes. Then he claims that people "dropped dead" at age 30 in Greece. People are dropping dead at age 30 now!
The point is: the historical increase in life expectancy includes many factors, but it is largely due to better knowledge of health medicine; including antibiotics, sterilization, and pre-natal/post-natal care. However, people have been living to age 100 for eons; it is not a phenomenon of the 21st century!
What is a phenomenon of the 20th and 21st centuries is the rapid increase in the rate of cancers and epigenetic diseases, and this is doubtlessly due to the rapid increase of new toxins in our environment. Age-specific blood samples from the 1930s, 50s, and 80s, show enormous increases in cancer rates. These basic fact are routinely swept under the table by modern healthcare management systems who view cancer as the vital resource for capital gain. Unfortunately, most people fall for it.

Permalink to Comment

319. Nick K on June 26, 2013 4:06 AM writes...

#315: Could you explain why you think Vitamin C from natural sources is superior to synthetic? Which would be more effective in curing scurvy?

318: The John Hawks article is NOT self-contradicting. Throughout history a few people have lived to great ages. Examples include Newton (85), Michaelangelo (86), Antonio Stradivari (93). The point is, they were exceptional. The vast, vast majority of their cohorts were dead long before. Today, nearly half the age cohort in the West will make it such ages. Incidentally, you seem not to understand that the incidence of cancer increases enormously with age. Therefore, as life expectancy increases, inevitably the incidence of cancer increases as well. Elementary point apparently lost on you. Incidentally, cancer was well-known to the Ancient Greeks.

Permalink to Comment

320. felix on June 26, 2013 6:30 AM writes...

#317 That of course doesn't answer the question why you can't get the information yourself. Unless you're saying that you're not really interested in information or knowledge but just want the author to argue against the EU. Or basically it's your passive-aggressive way of arguing by appealing to authority.

Permalink to Comment

321. Julie on June 26, 2013 8:54 AM writes...

As a biologist who works in the food industry all I can say is I wish Yahoo would publish this blog rather than the "news" articles the do publish...

Permalink to Comment

322. James M on June 26, 2013 11:13 AM writes...

319: Stop dodging and derailing. You still haven't addressed Mr. Harada's point. Respond, and then you can make your point. This is the second time you've deflected. Once more and I give up - you're either a troll or very dense.

Permalink to Comment

323. Ben on June 26, 2013 1:19 PM writes...

Very interesting article for sure.

I have one question though, are there cumulative effects from any of these chemicals. Sure the dye may be at low levels in one product, but what if they are in everything you eat, every day? Do any of these chemicals build up in the body to cause long-term issues?


Permalink to Comment

324. James M on June 26, 2013 1:34 PM writes...


"Do any of these chemicals build up in the body to cause long-term issues?"

I'm no expert but here is my common sense answer: we don't know because the chemicals haven't been around (ingested by) humans for long enough. It is also very difficult to isolate one factor as the "cause" of illness or death: how do we know that it isn't just a corollary? There are just too many variables. When someone dies of a heart attack, why did they die? Is it because they ate poorly, never exercised, were exposed to toxic chemicals, had a genetic predisposition, had a severe fright, etc. Which one is it?

The question is: do you want to take the risk of these chemicals building up in your body over time? Maybe they are benign, maybe they aren't. I err on the side of caution in this regard.

Permalink to Comment

325. Anonymous on June 26, 2013 1:35 PM writes...

Food poisons

Permalink to Comment

326. Anonymous on June 26, 2013 2:34 PM writes...

Re: why are things banned in other countries and not USA. an anecdote: Japan has banned every substance with a nitrile in it because it is a 'cyanide' therefore toxic. Why? Simply put, because the people who did it are morons. No other reason.
Also in the UK someone sent a joke letter to an MP asking why hydrogen oxide was still in such wide use in the UK because it had caused so many deaths. The MP Was apparently ready to ask a parliamentary question on it until someone more switched-on read it.

And while we're on the point: if things which are toxic in large doses should be avoided, does that mean we should avoid water? Unless it is organic, of course....

Permalink to Comment

327. Nick K on June 26, 2013 8:02 PM writes...

#322: What is his point? Could you explain it to me in simple terms?

"I'm no expert" - thanks, couldn't put it better myself. Your "common sense" is therefore completely worthless. Perhaps you could talk to an actual toxicologist or epidemiologist and actually learn something.

Permalink to Comment

328. Wolf Wackeroth on June 27, 2013 7:36 AM writes...

Hi Derek - always good to pop the hood and see what's beneath it. On the topic of growth hormones, though, I would add that an additional concern might come from the increased need to treat animals with antibiotics, due to increased inflammations in animals who are treated with growth hormones. This, in turn, may promote resistant bacteria. I don't have original info on this, but was wondering if you had any thoughts/proper sources for this concern?

Permalink to Comment

329. James M on June 27, 2013 9:11 AM writes...


Nick, I learned to read in grade school. Apparently you didn't. I'll copy paste it AGAIN (it will be below these letters and after a blank space, yes, yes, look downwards slightly, it begins with the words "my point", good luck finding it!)...

"My point is a little evolutionary history: food chemists are not so smart that we should trust them without very specific metrics, which do not exist yet. The proper scientific approach is to prove that new foodstuffs are no less harmful. Until that happens, I'll be eating as organic as possible and avoiding as many chemical compounds as I can. Leaning heavily towards what has proven itself in evolutionary time and not what has proven itself in a lab."

Is that "simple" enough for you?

Permalink to Comment

330. Anonymous on June 27, 2013 9:32 AM writes...

@310 Yeah, Right,

"The American FDA doesn't do independent 3rd party clinical trials, which is insane."

"Everything else is just spin from someone who wants to sell you something."


Sell you things like, Cancer treatments, Vaccines, Antibiotics, etc. What horrible human beings these companies are, selling us all these "non-organic," destructive cures for HORRIBLE DISEASES.

Also, have you never noticed that "organic" produce is generally more expensive. Are you sure they are not just "trying to sell you things"

And I would argue that "boxed" items indicates an awfully broad collection of food. Is "Captain Crunch" amazing for you? Probably not. Baking soda, on the other hand, (NaHCO3), pretty much a useful "boxed" item. Likewise, I'm pretty sure you can buy non-GMO, organic Quinoa from a box (if your into that sort of thing).

Likewise, locally sourced food is great (assuming you live in a food growing region), in that you save fuel and storage costs (money and energy), and can be at least a little more confident that safety regs were followed. But, food doesn't somehow become "bad for you" because they had to ship it.

The whole "everyone is a scammer" approach is a pretty tough way to live. The world is a complex system, but it's certainly not all bad.


Permalink to Comment

331. anonymous on June 27, 2013 9:52 AM writes...

Where are Mr Derek Lowes' comments and responses in all of this? He is absent from this discussion! Why isn't he defending his article? Is it because he doesn't care, because he already did his "duty" endorsing chemicals or just that he has no way of defending his words? He is curiously absent......

Permalink to Comment

332. Melissa on June 27, 2013 11:01 AM writes...

What would be really hilarious would be an analysis of the "dangerous" chemicals in the Calton's own nutritional supplement Nutreince.

Permalink to Comment

333. RogerWilco on June 27, 2013 12:11 PM writes...

Someone sent me here calling one of the research articles over-hyped bs.
After reading this, I just think that maybe the article writer and the ones supporting it, would probably fall under the same group of people that would say pharmaceuticals are safe.
But I have to look at the other side and think, though side-effects such as rectal bleeding or other possible unfavorables are indeed only a small minute chance, THEY ARE STILL THERE.

Saying "they're not much to worry about" is the same kind of propaganda the drug making companies tell us.

I'm not saying the end of the world is coming, but there ARE alternatives to the ingredients AND your article arguing it's nothing to worry about.

Permalink to Comment

334. anonymous on June 27, 2013 12:43 PM writes...

life is a terminal disease. that means it causes death....

Permalink to Comment

335. anonymous on June 27, 2013 2:19 PM writes...

It appears this blog is being censored, to exclude serious discussion over IGF-1 hormones and how they're not as innocent as described.

Rather places this blog in the same light as the source it is critiquing, doesn't it? (And no, I don't suppose this will be published either)

Permalink to Comment

336. Matt G on June 27, 2013 4:29 PM writes...

This "defence of science" post is just as unfounded as the article being criticised.

Individuals have very different tolerances to different substances. In fact, many drugs are inneffective for some and very effective for others.

Blanket statements about people & chemicals are B.S.

Not to mention they are the epitome of self-gratifying grandstanding. Please stop before someone gets hurt. ;-)
Matt G

Permalink to Comment

337. Bess on June 27, 2013 7:03 PM writes...

Thank you for writing this. It is very easy to be swept away in "naturalist" fervor or by fun listicles. I just have one question. If these substances are harmless why are they banned in some countries, places where the public has better science education than the US? I don't dispute your expertise in the matter at all, just "why are they banned?"

Permalink to Comment

338. Nick K on June 27, 2013 7:26 PM writes...

#329: Good luck avoiding chemical compounds in your "organic" food. Of course, you could avoid ALL chemical compounds by not eating at all....

Permalink to Comment

339. Anonymous on June 27, 2013 8:25 PM writes...

#331 and others: Derek rarely gets involved in discussions on the thread. And why should he? He already spends a lot of time writing the blog posts and holding down a job/ family etc. I'm impressed that he posts most every day and still has interesting things to talk about after so many years. And censorship? It's usually just a bandwidth issue when my posts haven't gone up. Put some IGF stuff up by all means. I looked at it for treating some diseases a while back...

Permalink to Comment

340. Allen on June 28, 2013 12:17 PM writes...

I was all set to praise your article as a wonderful example of knowledge trumping hysteria, but then I clicked on the link and went to Buzzfeed. I read the article, then clicked on some related articles about grumpy cat, a totally epically awesome bacon cheeseburger with enough calories to feed an african nation for a month, and some random celebrity's side-boobs.

Now, my IQ has suffered a 20-point plunge, and now I'm convinced you've soul your soul to the Military Industrial Fast-Food-High-Fructose-Corn-Syrup Complex. How much did they pay you to craft this hit-piece against the slow natural food movement?? What's next, an article that genetically modified plants will not inevitably lead to a mutant army of mutant carnivorous cancer-inducing soy plants?

I'm now going to Yahoo Answers to read more about our food industry.

Permalink to Comment

341. luke tayleor on June 28, 2013 12:23 PM writes...

Those chemicals kill, mostly poor people who don't know it, while making the companies producing the stuff richer. What's wrong with eating natural food grown in a natural manner. Don't be stupid, eating chemicals kills. And anyone saying otherwise is even more stupid.

Permalink to Comment

342. John Q. Galt on June 28, 2013 8:13 PM writes...

A few years back an author wrote an article that exploited the ethanol biofuels controversy to set up the typical noob non sequitur these types of articles rely on. After going through the boilerplate anti-ethanol talking points she suddenly introduces alcohol-based glass cleaners into the mix.

"Think your glass cleaners are green? They use ethanol!"

At least the author didn't recommend replacing ethanol-based glass cleaners with vinegar-based glass cleaners. *wink* *wink*

Permalink to Comment

343. newnickname on June 29, 2013 7:47 PM writes...

@341 luke tayleor: "chemicals kill, mostly poor people who ..." The huge food surpluses from developed nations sent to poor starving people elsewhere in the world arise from modern, sci-tech agriculture. The world population will be around 8 billion in 2022 and around 9 billion before 2050; most of that growth will be in poor nations unable even today to feed themselves using "natural methods" or any methods. Wishful thinking and singing around the campfire do not solve problems like this.

I don't know if you are being sarcastic when you say "eating chemicals kills". EVERYTHING you eat, breathe, wear, touch, etc. is made of chemicals. It is just that sort of ignorance about chemicals and chemistry that Derek is trying to address in articles like this one.

Permalink to Comment

344. John Q. Galt on June 30, 2013 10:42 PM writes...

In other news, methane is in cat poop and urea is in dog pee.

Permalink to Comment

345. Owen S. on July 2, 2013 2:04 PM writes...

Thank you, Derek. This isn't the end of the food or nutrition conversation for sure, but I learned something reading it, and I'm sure others did too. There were two things you drilled in on that I think should be part of every citizen's scientific education: recognizing the difference between elemental forms and compounds, and making sure any conversation about toxin or poison always takes amounts, timespan, and context into account. I can hardly imagine those points being better written.

The idea of petroleum as a chemical feedstock is an interesting one to me, and not one that I as a layperson encountered before. I'm curious to know more about that, and I'll bet a lot of people are too.

I agree with many commenters that I now want to know *why* European governments have banned various substances, but I don't think your article is any less valuable for not having gone into that. Rather, it is something I wish the BuzzFeed article itself had gone into, since that was the ostensible point of the article. I'm highly skeptical it was for the paralogical reasons the article states. But if the article had gone into that much depth, it wouldn't have been a BuzzFeed article, now would it.

Permalink to Comment

346. Hunter on July 5, 2013 12:25 AM writes...

For 295 Coco Mom (and any others who have this situation): Smart (intelligence) and Knowledgeable
are not the same thing. Derek has more knowledge in the field of chemistry due to learning and applying what he learned. I have good knowledge in 3 sciences and several non-science fields due to learning and using what I learned about them - but Derek knows and uses far more chemistry than I will ever know of.

And there is a point to this (the same point I used to explain yearly to my science students): You may well be more intelligent/smarter than Derek or I - having less knowledge can be fixed - intelligence level is pretty much set pretty early on.

Oh, the point as I make it to the students is statistical: We had a school with 2500 students and app. 110 employees. So 2600 people (for simpler counting). I, according to testing results starting in 1953, am in the top 5% in the US in intelligence - (kids look impressed). Then the stat kicks in - with 2600 people in the school there are likely 26X 5 or 130 people in the top 5% - and statistically that means 125 students and 4 other teachers are as smart as me or smarter. Knowledge is a completely different matter (I remind them...). Knowledge is what they are in class to get!!!

Permalink to Comment

347. mjohns on July 8, 2013 10:17 PM writes...

Re the comment: "...if I isolate a beneficial chemical compound from some natural source (vitamin C from oranges, for example, although sauerkraut would be a good source, too), that molecule is identical to a copy of it I make in my lab."

Likely not true even if your chemistry uses stereo-specific reactions. Remembering a pop quiz in Organic chemistry 48 years ago: if the feedstock for your vitamin C is petroleum based (very likely), then there will be essentially no carbon 14, but the vitamin C extracted from the orange will have the normal ratio of carbon 12 to carbon 14, and be slightly radioactive as a result. A sensitive Geiger counter will detect a difference in radiation from the two samples.

Above is a very small quibble in an excellent article. Thanks.

Permalink to Comment

348. Colleen on July 10, 2013 10:12 AM writes...

Mercola has now found the buzzfeed article and has ran with it. I don't like Mercola.

Permalink to Comment

349. chis on July 15, 2013 11:44 AM writes...

This article is as bad as the articles they tear apart. We need to look at every study done with caution. Essentially all studies on specific foods and their additives are misleading and often fail to address key issues; synergetic affects of multiple chemicals, long-term vs. short term studies. Also keep in mind that is conduction research these days with intellectual rights on the board information and studies are constantly manipulated and even respectable originations like the National Cancer Society has done studies highly questionable using bad scientific methodology. FYI it the FDA Okays it doesn’t mean its safe the list of dangerous chemical and medications that have been Okayed then removed from market grows with each decade. CAN YOU SAY Thalidomide

Permalink to Comment

350. PB on July 24, 2013 8:46 PM writes...

Everything there is to say about how fantastic this article is has already been said, and rightfully so.

Presumably every conceivable complaint has also been voiced.

And gosh, it's stunning how many varieties of the latter there are. People who don't like this completely coherent, comprehensive evisceration of the hype in the holistic food industry demonstrate a wondrous variety of illegitimate arguments against it. Anyone scrolling to this point before reading all the other comments can save their time with this summary what people who disagree with Derek have to say:

-He uses too much science. "I know by body, and I don't care what you say -- I know XYZ are bad for ME."
-He doesn't use enough science. "Our limited scientific means can never possibly know the effects of XYZ on the infinitely complex system that is the human body."
-He is a shill for any number of evil capitalist entities, dead set on harvesting money from the human race at any cost. (None of these people seem to have a problem with the even higher markups being charged by holistic foods profiteers, or their own lack of peer reviewed studies validating their products.)
-He is blinded by American exceptionalism, and dismisses more restrictive European regulations (These are a benchmark, despite the fact that in large part they were made into law by career politicians pandering to hypercautious constituents who are just as breathtakingly science-illiterate as the author of the Buzzfeed article.)
-He ignores long-term effects that lab studies simply cannot predict. (In the absence of such data, OBVIOUSLY the holistic approach should be assumed to be preferable, stretching out into whatever infinite timeframe would be deemed data-sufficient.)
-He may be right on these particular matters -- but Big-Chem companies do other bad things and should be boycotted on principle.
-He is mean. His "screed" will hurt the feelings of the author of the original Buzzfeed abomination.
-BGH hurts cows.

If you find that any combinations of these reasons is enough to discredit Derek's article, go back to getting your science from listicles and Facebook posts, and keep paying a 1000% premium for a pouch of organic antique grains from all-natural businesses that could not exist without your ignorance.

Permalink to Comment

351. jdgalt on July 29, 2013 7:55 PM writes...

Every pronouncement that some substance is unsafe should also give a comparison of what would likely happen if it were not used. For instance, BHT prevents a variety of fats and oils from turning rancid. Remove it from our stores, especially from meat products, and I guarantee you'd have at least dozens, maybe hundreds, more poisoning deaths every year.

Permalink to Comment

352. newnickaname on July 30, 2013 8:36 PM writes...

@349 chis: "FYI it the FDA Okays it doesn’t mean its safe the list of dangerous chemical and medications that have been Okayed then removed from market grows with each decade. CAN YOU SAY Thalidomide".

From the FDA's own website, "If FDA grants an approval, it means the agency has determined that the benefits of the product outweigh the risks for the intended use." Relative safety and efficacy enter into their decision making process. They are allowed to revoke an approval if new scientific evidence compels them to do so.

Many cancer drugs are FDA approved; they can save your life or they can kill you if used improperly. Many blood pressure medications are FDA approved; they can kill you if used improperly. The FDA did NOT approve thalidomide in the 1960s; in 2006, the FDA approved thalidomide for use in the treatment of specific cancers.

Permalink to Comment

353. Dr max on August 6, 2013 5:57 PM writes...

Interest in the present development placement currently going on
in NEW MONEY LABORATORY INTERNATIONAL. Our vision is to be the leading world laboratory cleaning high value and
high security chemicals producer in the world and Offering our services to everyone who knocks at our door step.
New International Money Laboratory is uniquely positioned to Consistently Provides high value solution and
world changing chemicals and services to our customers. We are reaching out for people that have BLACK MONEY in their
home. Have a look with our website: There is a solution for tickets but never black for black
pieces of paper, so if you want to highlight a gift or inheritance of any global organization. WE ALSO OFFER AN
OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE LOAN. We also have intention to wire transfer sum of 7,000,000 USD oversea you can
visit the website Contacts us for more information on how we work.
Contact us now on this Email:, for information.

Best Regards.
Dr. Max

Permalink to Comment

354. Captain on August 13, 2013 5:10 PM writes...

@223 as was explained to me by my nurse practitioner, the wheat seed is a hybrid, breed for production, and this is where the problems started with gluten sensitivity, celiac, etc..

Permalink to Comment

355. Anonymous on August 16, 2013 9:54 AM writes...

As nobody has answered #17 yet:

> is there a lower incidence of cancer in Europe?

> is the lifespan longer?
Yes - by about 2-3 years

> are people healthier?
Probably - see above

N.B. that applies to _western_ Europe only

Permalink to Comment

356. Mark Rabenstein on August 22, 2013 11:24 AM writes...

Overall, I agree. And I also think that limiting these artificial ingredients is a good idea. Case in point: partially hydrogenated vegetable oil was thought to be safe, but it turns out it's not, which was learned decades after it was first invented.

I am a Ph. D. chemist, and the one that I avoid is brominated vegetable oil. I don't want any SN-2 reactions going on between my DNA and brominated vegetable oil!

Permalink to Comment

357. Xepher on August 22, 2013 12:47 PM writes...

Wow Derek, how dare you not tackle all the ancillary topics that could be discussed when sharing information about the chemicals in our foods! I fully expected a blog post written by a chemist to include the horrors of factory farming and perhaps the reasons why people should eat more plants and try to avoid highly processed and pre-packaged crap. Why you didn't place a disclaimer stating "I'm not advocating that you actually ingest this stuff" is just irresponsible!

The original article made specific claims, about chemicals, that are not supported by science. Derek debunked those claims. That's it. The only claim that wasn't looked at is why those substances are banned from those countries. And it's my understanding that the original article doesn't state why either. If they claim that they were banned because of those "facts" than the basis for the ban is completely flawed.

Now again, Derek, why, as a chemist, did you not go into the political details of why those bans were put into place? I'm fairly sure that you stated that besides this being a post on chemistry this was also a post on politics.

Just asking questions.

Permalink to Comment

358. Dan on August 22, 2013 1:45 PM writes...


Everything in this article seems very level headed right up until the author claims that chlorine being a component of table salt makes it somehow "not" or "less" hazardous or something to make the claims of the hazards of bromine less compelling.

With this one statement he completely discards for his readers all of his claims about a knowledge in chemistry and declares himself an unadulterated idiot.

Permalink to Comment

359. Dan on August 22, 2013 1:46 PM writes...


Everything in this article seems very level headed right up until the author claims that chlorine being a component of table salt makes it somehow "not" or "less" hazardous or something to make the claims of the hazards of bromine less compelling.

With this one statement he completely discards for his readers all of his claims about a knowledge in chemistry and declares himself an unadulterated idiot.

Permalink to Comment

360. Caroline on August 28, 2013 1:47 PM writes...

I woke up today with major asthma, and I tried to think what it was I did or ate that was different: a multi-grain roll.

I just got some multi-grain rolls from Safeway--I don't live in an area where there is a lot of organic choices. I live out in the sticks, but it's high desert, so you can't have much of a garden either.

I did some research. Does Safeway use Azodicarbonamide (causes asthma and banned in Europe)in their bakery products? Yes. Do they have to list it? No, because it is such a small percentage, they don't have to and can pretend it isn't in the product.

But my lungs know it's in the product. That was the only different thing in my diet and environment yesterday. Businesses used to have integrity, now they could care less.

I was over at Safeways' frozen fish counter. Yuck, all farmed fish, and some imported from China, which has some of the worst polluted waters in the world. China's imported fish have been tested and massive pollutants have been found.

Some of the frozen fish list an ingredient in tiny, light print: carbon monoxide. Not just the tilapia, but the tuna steaks, etc. It keeps the fish pink or red, so that it looks fresh when it isn't.

I've bought fresh (that's an oxymoron) fish and seafood products at Safeway, and they sell their fresh fish way past freshness: It smells and is slimy. So, I guess using carbon monoxide is just up their alley.

Years ago, people that did business like that were considered low lives and criminals--today it is a part of regular business, but they are still low lives and criminals regardless.

Permalink to Comment

361. newnickname on September 2, 2013 1:03 PM writes...

@360 Caroline: Have you ever had an asthma attack without eating a Safeway roll? You should definitely ask your doctor or allergist to test you for sensitivity to azodicarbonamide, biurea and related compounds. That is one way to know with scientific proof if you are, indeed, allergic to those substances.

Carbon monoxide is used to give some fish the red or pink color consumers seem to prefer. The carbon monoxide is bound to hemoglobin and similar compounds in the fish flesh. Those molecules are pink or red when CO is bound. It is similar to the way your arteries look red (with oxygenated hemoglobin) and your veins look blue (carrying CO2 back to your lungs for O2 exchange). Fresh O2 blood, red; dried old blood stains, brown. It is not pockets of gaseous CO that is going to seep out in huge quantities and suffocate you. It has also been noted that CO treatment can kill some harmful micororganisms in fish - the good with the bad?

The reason the fish industry uses it is because people THINK they can tell "fresh" from color. Tuna can be brown and be very fresh but people won't buy it or pay as much for brown tuna. I think that around 35% of the tuna market is CO-treated.

If not disclosed, CO treatment is a form of deception, but people are stupid. Many would look at brown tuna and dismiss it as rancid when it is not. If you don't want CO or other treatments, you have to trust your fish monger to guarantee freshness based on his knowledge of the product and his own fish sources.

Perhaps you'd like to tell us about your experiences with sulfites in wine or on the sliced apples at the salad bars?

Once again: GET TESTED for your own sensitivity to the chemicals that concern you the most.

Permalink to Comment

362. John R on October 4, 2013 2:08 PM writes...

It would seem there is one absolute truth - life causes death. Have fun in between times.

I have the same issues you have but in a different field. More misinformation running around about electric cars than can be erased by any amount of truth. The whole USA is chasing the wrong technology. We should be chasing fuel cells since at least that has a future but we are chasing glorified golf carts and calling them "breakthroughs" if the range goes anywhere above 50 miles and never mind if that is measured on a totally best case scenario that never happens anywhere on the planet for more than a day. I don't know the exact quote but it is attributed to Winston Churchill and is something like "a lie goes around the world 3 times while the truth is putting its pants on..."

Permalink to Comment

363. Joe on October 29, 2013 12:06 PM writes...

Derek, the part about arsenic stated, "Used in chicken feed to make meat appear pinker and fresher, arsenic is POISON, which will kill you if you ingest enough."

Again, it says used "in" chicken feed, not "as" chicken feed.

Why'd you alter the article to make yourself appear more clever? Or can you just not read?

Permalink to Comment

364. noise cancelling headphones on November 1, 2013 6:55 PM writes...

Right away I am ready to do my breakfast, later than having my breakfast coming yet again to read
additional news.

Permalink to Comment

365. Sommer Fifer on November 5, 2013 5:27 PM writes...

Robert, they vary. It's up to the authors. Many of your letters coming up are handwritten, or hand-notated, it's about half and half. Though most on the first letters were typed. The fourth letter was a comic.

Permalink to Comment

366. bob cocoon on November 8, 2013 9:45 AM writes...

Nice writing. But many informations submitted herein are wrong. I think that, before posting, the blogger should learn more about the topic...

Permalink to Comment

367. Carlton on November 21, 2013 11:53 PM writes...

If you are going for most excellent contents like myself, just go to see this website
everyday because it presents quality contents,

Permalink to Comment

368. Rebutter extraordinaire on December 2, 2013 8:48 PM writes...

Joe - the original Buzzfeed article did say "as chicken feed", and it was later changed to the current "in some chicken feed". The Wayback Machine preserves all:

Permalink to Comment

369. racoleuse métisse on December 10, 2013 3:44 AM writes...

Quel hasaгd je comptais гédiger un article semblable au votre

Permalink to Comment

370. Mike Lewinski on February 6, 2014 8:08 AM writes...

There's an episode of the series "Shameless" on Showtime where the the family's young son Carl is sent to "cancer camp" by some version of the Make A Wish foundation. The kids are all repeatedly denied really fun things even though this is supposed to be their last hurrah before cancer kills them. At one point they get ice cream and when Carl asks for sprinkles he's told they aren't available because the dyes in them have been found to cause cancer. At which point he screams WE ALREADY HAVE CANCER!

Permalink to Comment

371. roberto on February 7, 2014 8:40 AM writes...

Having read your well thought response to the buzzfeed article, I would add that the studies that examined some of the compounds mentioned do not study the effects of, say, 50 years of exposure to them. While human exposures are in small quantities compared to the rat and mouse studies, the rat and mouse studies are short term. Further, many of the studies are performed by the industry which certainly introduces some bias to the results and conclusions thereof.

Lacking any actual data to make an informed decision, I will generally avoid some of the more man-made chemicals out of a sense of 'better safe than sorry'.


Permalink to Comment

372. MB on February 9, 2014 1:51 AM writes...

Yeah, yeah, and I bet the same chemists and scientist that thought they knew everything were the same ones that panhandled chemicals like DDT around claiming it was perfectly safe for the environment and human consumption. How about agent orange? I bet the same chemists these days claiming things like azocabonamide are OK in our food would be the same type of "scientists" that would claim AO is ok for human exposure back in the 70s. How our vets doing now? Just admit, you have no long term evidence to prove that any of these chemical are safe when encountered long term and chronically. You are GUESSING at best. That's why Europe bans almost all of these chemicals while Americans gulp them down. What ever happened to just sugar, flour, water, and yeast to make bread?

Permalink to Comment

373. Debbie on February 10, 2014 9:29 AM writes...

Thanks for this well written, easy to understand, article. I will be following you...! Debbie Ayers

Permalink to Comment

374. Les Amants électriques Télécharger on March 29, 2014 11:11 AM writes...

Hmm is anyone else having problems with the images on this blog loading?

I'm trying to determine if its a problem on my end or if it's the
blog. Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Permalink to Comment

375. Anonymous on April 7, 2014 10:40 PM writes...

Eight seems to be a magic number for people who don't know about science trying to spread their views on science...

Permalink to Comment

376. towergate caravan insurance on April 8, 2014 4:51 AM writes...

Trying to discover somewhere that does reliable caravan repairs,
too, is definitely an undertaking beset with
difficulty.  The metal frame has rubber pads, in order to
avoid your caravan from being scratched. For those who
really enjoy a home overseas, modern caravanning and camping in
the home parks, has been taken with a whole new level with
small portable tanks to accommodate any number of modern conveniences
while about the road.

Permalink to Comment

377. barn plans on April 10, 2014 1:57 PM writes...

Sheep get most of their nutritional needs from
the following in no particular order:. The trick to properly curing concrete is to slow the moisture from leaving
the concrete. With seventy pound packs, we hiked six hours deep into
a valley where we made our base camp.

Permalink to Comment

378. anon on April 20, 2014 10:46 AM writes...

I'm no scientist. At all. But I would imagine the cosmetics worn by the woman in the video have many more chemicals than anything in the food we eat. I'm thinking she wouldn't want to go without makeup.

Permalink to Comment

379. Jewell on September 26, 2014 2:35 PM writes...

This was actually funny AND informative. People ask me all day long about organic produce, why don't I emphasize it in my diet (gluten-free eater, and eat a lot of fruits & veggies). I tell them it's because A)they're unnecessarily expensive; B)there are probably more toxins in my drinking water, hey...and C)something will kill me someday. It's more important that I eat fresh, raw fruits & veggies than it is for me to worry about what's lurking on their surfaces.

Thanks for clarifying the chemistry.

Permalink to Comment

380. gw on September 27, 2014 12:12 AM writes...

"You'd need to keep that up for decades, too, since that two year study represents a significant amount of a rat's lifespan."

This extrapolating is absurd and unscientific. Earlier you even realise this when you wonder whether humans are more like rats or more like mice.

If a flyswatter, a hundred times the size of a fly, kills a fly in a second, does that mean a human-sized flyswatter, ten times the size of a human, will take a second, times the ratio of human to fly lifespans? Of course not. Unless you clearly understand the mechanism of toxicity, you can't extrapolate one way or another.

Permalink to Comment

381. powerblock dumbbells on October 16, 2014 5:47 AM writes...

These weights allow one to complete all movements comfortably due
to their 16 inch width. Unless you're opening a health club or are
a high level strength athlete, you probably won't need
nearly as much equipment as I have - I own about
2000lbs of weight plus many other bits and pieces.
Don't put your shoulder into it to assist you with the lift.

Permalink to Comment

382. powerblock dumbbells on October 16, 2014 5:48 AM writes...

These weights allow one to complete all movements comfortably due
to their 16 inch width. Unless you're opening a health club or are
a high level strength athlete, you probably won't need
nearly as much equipment as I have - I own about
2000lbs of weight plus many other bits and pieces.
Don't put your shoulder into it to assist you with the lift.

Permalink to Comment

383. CHC on December 9, 2014 6:41 AM writes...

The idea of adding chemicals to food is ridiculous.
No more to be said

Permalink to Comment

384. Very Concerned Mother on February 21, 2015 8:22 AM writes...

So, what your telling me is, just because the hyperactivity from artificial food coloring hasn't been completely proven by science, and the life I live every day means that it is ok to consume these products? My child not only becomes hyperactive with red, yellow, blue, and caramel color additives but becomse manic and has hallucinations with iron oxide and titanium dioxide. Do you know how hard it is to find foods and spices that do not contain these products? Do you realize how hard it is to tell your child he can't have his favorite drink anymore? The hard part is when he needs an antibiotic, he has to get a shot, because all oral antibiotics have a food coloring he can't have. So I pray daily he doesn't get an infection. Our home is much better off without these chemicals and my child is so much better off without them.

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

PAINs And Good Old Med Chem
AZ Spins Off Anti-Infectives
Ibrutinib's Rise
Double-Blinded Peer Review
The Latest Fragment List
All That Cash
An Antibiotic Discovery Prize
Cutbacks at Merck Serono