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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: derekb.lowe@gmail.com Twitter: Dereklowe

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« Eight Toxic Foods: A Little Chemical Education | Main | How Robust Is That New Reaction, Anyway? »

June 24, 2013

Eight Toxic Foods: The Aftermath

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Posted by Derek

traffic%20chart.pngWell, as you can see from the graphic, my blast against the "Eight Toxic Foods" stuff picked up a lot of attention over the weekend, which I'm glad to see. A lot of this came from it being handed around Facebook, but Fark, Reddit, Popular Science's website and others all brought in plenty of traffic as well.

I've had a lot of requests for more articles like that one, but they'll be an occasional feature around here. There's certainly enough material to fill a blog that whacks away at things like the original BuzzFeed piece, and there are quite a few bloggers who've made that their turf. I don't really want to make it my daily diet, though - for one thing, there is just so much craziness out there that you start to wonder - rather quickly - if you'll ever see the end of it. I'm not sure if I can stand reading it day after day, either, just as I'm not sure that I could go on day after day writing about things that drive me crazy. But I definitely plan to keep on taking shots every so often at prominent stuff that mangles chemistry and/or drug research as part of its argument. In this latest case, it was the roaring success of the BuzzFeed piece coupled with its chirpy, confident, and bizarrely wrong takes on chemistry and toxicology that set me off.

I spent the weekend, by the way, being called a paid shill for Monsanto, DuPont, and all the other evil monied interests. It made a refreshing change from being called a paid shill for Big Pharma. Going straight to that accusation, by the way (or using it as if that's all that needs to be done) does not say a lot for the people who advance it. There's not much persuasive force behind "I don't like this, therefore the only reason anyone could be advocating it is that they've been paid to do so". What's also interesting is how some of these people act as if this is some newly discovered counterattack, that no one in the history of argument has ever thought of accusing an opponent of bad faith. What else has someone like this not come across, or not bothered to notice?

There's also a strain of Manicheanism running through a lot of the more worked-up responses: Good vs. Evil, 100% one way or or 100% the other. If I don't think that potassium bromate in flour is that big a deal, then I must think that chemical waste drums should be poured into lakes. If I don't think that 2 ppb arsenic in chicken is killing us, then I must want to feed spoonfuls of the pure stuff to infants. And so on.

Not so. As it turns out, the flour we use at home for baking (King Arthur) is not bromated, although I didn't pick it for that reason. Not being a professional baker, I doubt if I could notice a difference one way or another due to the bromate. And while (true to my Arkansas roots) I do drink a Mountain Dew every so often, I really do think that drinking gallons of the stuff day after day would be a very bad idea. The brominated vegetable oil would not be the first of your worries, but (as the medical literature shows) it could indeed catch up with some people.

There is such a thing as overloading the body's clearance mechanisms (as any medicinal chemist is well aware), and that level is different with every substance. Some things get blasted out of the body so quickly by the liver and the kidneys that you never even notice them, even at rather high doses. Others (acetaminophen is the classic example) are cleared out well under normal conditions, but can be real trouble if the usual mechanism is impaired by something else. And others (such as some radioactive isotopes, say) are actively accumulated in the body as well as being cleared from it, and therefore can have extremely low tolerance levels indeed. Every case is different; every case needs its own data and its own decision.

I am planning a follow-up post, though, based on one of the reasonable counterarguments that's come up: why are some of these ingredients banned in other countries? What reasons are behind those regulatory decisions, and why did the FDA come to different conclusions? That's worth going into details about, and I will.

Comments (65) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Snake Oil | Toxicology


COMMENTS

1. eugene on June 24, 2013 9:06 AM writes...

Yeah, that thread had a lot of comments. There are still some warriors going at it at the moment, but it's not really 'In the Pipeline' style. Still, I especially liked the comment that began with:

"Not being a scientist I am sadly reduced to using common sense."

and then predictably continues with,

"Being a simpleton I reduce everything to an either/or question."

It makes me smile every time I read it still.

Permalink to Comment

2. John Wayne on June 24, 2013 9:07 AM writes...

Bravo Derek! Thank you for replying to the Buzzfeed article calmly, and without stooping to 'Us vs. Them'-ism. The issue of risk management and consumer product and drugs is fascinating; as a society, we won't be able to come to a reasonable balance while engaging in polarizing debate.

1. I think it is important to mention that the absence of damning data on a food additive does not necessarily make it safe. Everybody is going to draw the line in a different place here, but I think it is worth mentioning.
2. Is manufactured vitamin C ever sold as a racemate mixture? If so, how would we know (outside of dusting off the polarimeter)?
3. It would be interesting to write a piece about consumer products that have been on the market and recalled. Did people have an appreciation for the dangerous nature of lead-based compounds when they waere put into gasoline, paint, and hair dyes for men? What role did politics, money, and data play into those policy decisions?
4. I'm very interested in the different perspectives that the FDA has on food safety relative to their European counterparts; looking forward to it.

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3. Anonymous on June 24, 2013 9:30 AM writes...

Derek, I applaud you for being responsive to many comments, especially the critical ones, made to your last post. I also find this follow-up post is more acceptable in terms of the scientific neutrality and your commitment to research further on the differences of food regulations between here and the other countries.

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4. Anonymous academic on June 24, 2013 9:36 AM writes...

I found it very telling that only a handful of the critical comments actually offered actual published counter-evidence indicating why these chemicals might be bad. The level of scientific literacy was dismayingly (but unsurprisingly) poor. On the other hand, I'm now thoroughly convinced to avoid BGH-treated cow products, for reasons having nothing to do with my risk of getting cancer. Yuck.

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5. Sharon_M on June 24, 2013 9:47 AM writes...

Anonymous academic: I love your last comment about avoiding BGH. If most people looked at how 'normal' foods that they love are produced, they would become paleo vegetarians. You should visit a mayonaise factory some time.

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6. Anonymous on June 24, 2013 10:00 AM writes...

Hi Derek,

thanks for taking the time to dissect that garbage in a very factual and clean way. I would not have had the patience.
Unfortunately, the level of scientific literacy seems to be decreasing. In the world of the internet, a ranting dimwit who knows HTML can get a bigger audience than a scientific expert publishing only in scientific journals.

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7. SCHINDERHANNES on June 24, 2013 10:02 AM writes...

Hi Derek,
I wasn´t going to comment on the other entry because of the bad signal to noise ration...
But the question you promised to answer is exactly the one that I´t like to see you trying to answer (me being in safe (or simply extremely risk advert) Europe.
I had a similar question coming up about aluminum (more precisely alum)used in cooking. In Europe residual levels allowed e.g. in glass noodles seem to be a problem, in the US you still use it for pickles.

see: http://www.cookingissues.com/2013/04/29/recipe-quest-shear-thickening-starch-noodles/

so if you don´t mind adding a 9th super toxic food additive to your assessment, that would be great!

Best Regards
Hannes

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8. bad wolf on June 24, 2013 10:07 AM writes...

By the way, it is already too late for some policy or corporate changes being made without scientific basis.

Like the high school student who started a petition to remove BVO from Gatorade based on a one-minute Google search:

http://www.change.org/petitions/gatorade-don-t-put-flame-retardant-chemicals-in-sports-drinks

"The other day, I Googled "brominated vegetable oil." It was the last time I drank Orange Gatorade. I found out that this "BVO" is a controversial flame retardant chemical that is in some Gatorade drinks! Who wants to drink that? Not me!"

Congratulations! She was successful.

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9. SPQR on June 24, 2013 10:20 AM writes...

To heck with milk, I'm now scared of playing football in Wisconsin, that's for sure.

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10. newnickname on June 24, 2013 10:50 AM writes...

@2 John Wayne: "Did people have an appreciation for the dangerous nature of lead-based compounds when they waere put into gasoline, paint, and hair dyes for men? What role did politics, money, and data play into those policy decisions?"

I do not think that Derek or any other reasonable scientist contributing to Pipeline denies that science can be corrupted by corporate interests. Some of us have even tried to expose it. "Lead" is one well documented example. See the Wikipedia entry for Thomas Midgley, Jr. Midgley KNEW. The industry KNEW. They all knew that lead was toxic and lied and lied and suppressed the truth. (See also "Deceit and Denial" by Markowitz and Rosner.)

Industrial cover-ups can be exposed with scientific and forensic evidence. I suspect that industry loves the idiotic uninformed falsehoods perpetuated by the buzzfeed type articles because they are so easy to refute in a court of law (as long as they can keep the damning science off the record).

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11. Shakerag on June 24, 2013 11:08 AM writes...

So, as I am not (sadly) a chemist myself, were there any legitimate points raised in the other thread at all?

It seemed like the responses (to Derek's post) boiled down to:
1) Why are these things not banned in the US?
2) Accumulation of bad stuff over time.
3) So. Many. God. Damned. Ad. Hominems.

To which, in my mind, the responses/explanations to the responses would be:
1) Politics/scaremongering/non-scientists passing laws/etc.
2) You'll die of pretty much everything else first (if it even is being accumulated).
3)

Permalink to Comment

12. Shakerag on June 24, 2013 11:11 AM writes...

Ahh, so much for angle brackets.

That empty item should be "wholly inappropriate and illegal things".

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13. dave w on June 24, 2013 12:21 PM writes...

I seem to recall a recent case in New Zealand where someone died after subsisting - for a long period - on several liters per day of Coca-Cola and virtually nothing else... and it was, evidently, the "nothing else" that did her in: the reported cause of death was potassium deficiency.

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14. Sam Adams The Dog on June 24, 2013 12:35 PM writes...

" I don't really want to make it my daily diet..." Yeah. It's kinda toxic, isn't it?

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15. Willie on June 24, 2013 12:41 PM writes...

This followup is much more grounded in its logic and focus; it seems to resolve part of the mystery about the constant flow of tiny amounts of toxins into our body, and what become of them.
The first article said to me "there are toxins in the food, but the amount is so tiny that it won't make a difference". I disagree with that kind of thinking, and yet I have to adhere to it sometimes, because I live in a world full of man-made poisons which seem impossible to avoid. I think it is very wise that the Author notes "every case needs its own data and its own decision". Information about all kinds of cases of detoxification of the body is so important for people to understand.

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16. weirdo on June 24, 2013 12:57 PM writes...

" I live in a world full of man-made poisons which seem impossible to avoid"

You live in a world of naturally-made poison which ARE impossible to avoid.

Your last sentence is key: "information . . is so important for people to understand".

Derek's original post on the topic was directly to that point. The BuzzFeed article was crap. Which many people believe. Which does not lead to understanding.

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17. LeeH on June 24, 2013 12:57 PM writes...

Derek

I have always looked up to you, in spite of our political differences. But really, Mountain Dew? How could you?

That's it. I'm breaking up with you.

Permalink to Comment

18. Anonymous on June 24, 2013 2:10 PM writes...

Apparently we consume several grams per day of formaldehyde. It mostly comes from natural sources in our food. About 10% is inhaled at most. It's something we evolved dealing with. This is the key difference between naturally occurring toxins and the man made ones. Naturally occurring estrogen mimetics in soy products vs the kind found in plasticizers comes to mind. I don't know that there is a difference but I still eat soy. I try to avoid the plastic stuff.

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19. Michael McG on June 24, 2013 2:46 PM writes...

Shakerag-

The less-than and greater-than signs, < and >,respectively, designate mark-up tags in HTML, so text delimited on the left by < and on the right by > is not parsed as plaintext. To get around this, you can use the character reference instead, which are parsed as the desired characters and all begin with a & and end with a ;. For instance, <wholly inappropriate and illegal things> becomes &#60;wholly inappropriate and illegal things&#62; when written out with character references.

Note 1: In order to write out the character references in a way that will not be parsed as the character desired to be written out, you must use the character reference for one of the characters in the character that you wish to be displayed unparsed. For example, &#60; becomes &#38;#60;.

Note 2: Frequently used characters such as <, >, & have more human-friendly secondary references such as &lt;, &gt;, and &apm;, respectively.

Note 3: The HTML 5 Unicode character references are available here. Use the decimal references (second column), the blog software apparently doesn't parse the hexadecimal references.

Michael McG, your friendly neighborhood illiteratus ;)

Permalink to Comment

20. Michael McG on June 24, 2013 2:47 PM writes...

Shakerag-

The less-than and greater-than signs, < and >,respectively, designate mark-up tags in HTML, so text delimited on the left by < and on the right by > is not parsed as plaintext. To get around this, you can use the character reference instead, which are parsed as the desired characters and all begin with a & and end with a ;. For instance, <wholly inappropriate and illegal things> becomes &#60;wholly inappropriate and illegal things&#62; when written out with character references.

Note 1: In order to write out the character references in a way that will not be parsed as the character desired to be written out, you must use the character reference for one of the characters in the character that you wish to be displayed unparsed. For example, &#60; becomes &#38;#60;.

Note 2: Frequently used characters such as <, >, & have more human-friendly secondary references such as &lt;, &gt;, and &apm;, respectively.

Note 3: The HTML 5 Unicode character references are available here. Use the decimal references (second column), the blog software apparently doesn't parse the hexadecimal references.

Michael McG, your friendly neighborhood illiteratus ;)

Permalink to Comment

21. Blaise Pascal on June 24, 2013 3:05 PM writes...

I have rarely seen anything coated in hydroxic acid or hydrogen hydroxide catch fire, and I know both are used in other forms of fire suppression. Very few fire departments work without those two anti-flaming agents in their arsenal.

Yet their presence in Gatorade dwarfs that of BVO, and nothing is being done about it.

Permalink to Comment

22. Michael McG on June 24, 2013 3:34 PM writes...

@Willie #15

The first article said to me "there are toxins in the food, but the amount is so tiny that it won't make a difference".

Did you miss the "the dose makes the poison" part?

Permalink to Comment

23. Fearmonger on June 24, 2013 4:20 PM writes...

Blaise Pascal, hat tip to you sir. Very informative.

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24. Anonymous on June 24, 2013 4:58 PM writes...

I have to say I was amazed at the vitriol this topic unleashed. This comes back to having a serious and grown-up discussion about risk assessment. One thing I would love to see is an assessment of the 'precautionary principle' stating that chemicals need to be proved safe before they can be used. What standards for 'safe' make sense? I suspect the standard used by 'Big Pharma,' maker of the best assessed novel chemicals on the planet, is too onerous, but some level of scrutiny is probably sensible. Should concentrated botanical extracts and supplements that are full of biologically active compounds be assessed in a similar way? etc...

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25. MoMo on June 24, 2013 5:24 PM writes...

While Derek may have deflated the toxic-chemicals-in-food debate for the masses. The real point is who has the right to tell us what we put in our bodies? If you add a synthetic chemical to food it should be on the label.

Don't bomabard us with hidden chemicals then tell us it's OK. We may rebel, find you, then beat you to a pulp for exposing us.

Its the American Way!

Permalink to Comment

26. Nile on June 24, 2013 5:44 PM writes...

Remind me to uy Monsieur Pascal a beer, and start another Dihydrogen Monoxide scare.

Meanwhile, all these nasty man-made chemical additives in our food! Some of them are as bad as the insecticides and insect-repellants produced by herbs which we use as natural flavourings; or the fungicides which are, well, toxic fungicides.

Lets not talk about the 'natural' chemicals produced by fungi.

The Big One they missed in Buzzfeed is the use of low doses of amtibiotics as 'growth promoters' in cattle and pigs. There's a reason it's illegal in the EU, and it'll kill more people, indirectly, than all the obscure effects of 'additives' put together. But that's a bit too, you know, scientific for a buzzfeed hack.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear of even bigger ones: indeed, I'd be disappointed if any of the regular readers here couldn't come up with half a dozen.

Permalink to Comment

27. Anonymous BMS Researcher on June 24, 2013 6:09 PM writes...

@Nile, I totally agree with you about antibiotics: using them routinely in animal feed is highly likely to encourage the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. I personally have been worried about this exact problem for a very long time.

Permalink to Comment

28. Rev. Cherrycoke on June 24, 2013 7:12 PM writes...

that thread's comment section has raised my blood pressure, and i'm not even halfway through it. for some reason i feel compelled to read the rest of it simply because it's on this site.

if there were one or two blithering idiots saying things like their backache can detect ppb BHT (how about we set up a blindfolded test for that, and i get to stomp on your toes if you get it wrong) i could vent my rage in an anonymous string of insults and feel good about myself, but there's just too many of them

as for the complaints about the tone of the article, i think it wasn't nearly insulting enough. these people have demonstrated a profound inability to process rational arguments and a propensity to share their horse's ass opinion nonetheless

awash in all the idiocy there were a few relatively salient counterpoints made - namely that other countries have erred further on the side of caution with certain substances than the FDA has - but really what is the point in addressing them. i don't think you changed a single reader's mind with that post, and you wouldn't change any more with a follow-up. these are people who read your entire post, absorbed every word and then came back with "yeah, sure those chemicals are safe at low enough levels, but if you consume them every day, who's to say how much will build up"

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29. kemist on June 24, 2013 7:29 PM writes...

People they live longer healthier lives today than they have at any other time in history, mainly because of chemistry. The only reason cancer is on everyone's mind is cause we live long enough to die from it now

Permalink to Comment

30. kemist on June 24, 2013 7:30 PM writes...

People they live longer healthier lives today than they have at any other time in history, mainly because of chemistry. The only reason cancer is on everyone's mind is cause we live long enough to die from it now

Permalink to Comment

31. Anon on June 24, 2013 7:36 PM writes...

#18: You say that "Apparently we consume several grams per day of formaldehyde. " This seems very, very unlikely. OSHA says "Ingestion of as little as 30 ml of a 37 percent solution of formaldehyde (formalin) can result in death." (That's only 9 grams!). It is an irritant even at quite low levels (~0.1 ppm) in air.

As for your second comment: just because something occurs in nature doesn't mean that it isn't dangerous. There are plenty of naturally-occurring compounds which will kill you. Derek already mentioned ricin. Here's a few more: amatoxins (found in mushrooms such as the death cap), tetrodotoxin (fugu) and the alkaloids in the skin of poison dart frogs.

Permalink to Comment

32. Anonymous academic on June 24, 2013 8:39 PM writes...

@29: This has been on my mind a lot recently, because I live in an area with lots of clueless fanatics who are varyingly anti-chemical, anti-Western medicine, anti-unnatural food, anti-electromagnetic radiation, etc. Most of them had the good fortune to be born after the huge advances in medicine and public health of the early-to-mid 20th century, so they are utterly clueless about what a truly "natural" lifestyle would look like. They've never seen a smallpox or polio victim, they've never experienced a cholera epidemic due to raw sewage in their drinking water, most of their children reached adulthood, and most of their friends and family probably made it into their 70s (at least). They (and I) can buy expensive organic foods and shop at farmer's markets because they have the necessary disposable income. (They probably also know a fair number of mentally handicapped persons, more than their parents did, because we no longer institutionalize those at an early age and conveniently forget about them, but instead try to help them to lead a relatively normal and happy life.)

For all of the chemicals, processed foods, electronic devices, and other artificial products in our lives, there has never been a better time or place to be alive than today in the developed world. I'll take any amount of BVO and BGH over smallpox epidemics and a 40-year life expectancy.

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33. Nick K on June 24, 2013 9:08 PM writes...

#32: Well said.

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34. White or Fair on June 24, 2013 10:45 PM writes...

Nobody thinks they are secretly on the fence since waivers ended. If I were the jags, I would keep my mouth shut because there are plenty of Tebow/Jags combo fans with more loyalty to Tim, and talking will just make them shoose like people do when friends break up.
Jax has no business with an NFL franchsie anyway.

Permalink to Comment

35. willie on June 25, 2013 12:49 AM writes...

@22
"The dose makes the poison" is only true on a case by case basis. Countless factors indicate when and why toxins concentrate in a body, damage cells, or cause a disease. Some toxins will stay in some bodies and not others. Each body is different. I don't believe there is an overall safe dose of any petrochemical. Sure, some may be safe from it; some may get arthritis from epigenetic malfunction, some may get cancer this year, some may get cancer after 50 years of tiny doses of different chemicals, and some may become schizophrenic. Some may get cancer anyway, simply due to a stress reaction in their body. There's really now way to prove any of these things are safe at any dose.
@16,
There are some natural poisons that are unavoidable, but they don't cause cancer, schizophrenia, epi-genetic disease, or mental retardation. THOSE poisons are added to our food and environment unnaturally. Natural toxins have been affecting humans for millenniums, and we have a natural resistance to them in small doses. A case by case situation means that many many people need show suffer from toxicity need to be studied in order to reveal the source of their toxicity, expecially in terms of major disease; rarely is it caused by something "natural".

Permalink to Comment

36. Nick K on June 25, 2013 1:34 AM writes...

#35 Willie: Thanks for revealing your complete ignorance of toxicology, chemistry, or biology. Personal conviction and wishful thinking are no substitute for actual facts.

Aflatoxins: fungal natural products and exceptionally potent mutagens. Will give you liver cancer at the parts per billion level.

Penitrem A: Causes ataxia and tremors by neurotoxicity at the nM level. Natural product.


Permalink to Comment

37. Joe T. on June 25, 2013 2:35 AM writes...

Watch out, it's going around again:

80% of Pre-Packaged Foods in America Are Banned in Other Countries

Same source, same list, but with a new and scarier headline. I smell a coordinated PR campaign.

Permalink to Comment

38. bad wolf on June 25, 2013 7:44 AM writes...

@Joe T--
Yes, same authors shilling a book. Strange that the research science and corporate interests are always contaminated by profit motive, but wild accusations by people with dubious degrees selling a book are considered unbiased!

Permalink to Comment

39. Rachel on June 25, 2013 8:39 AM writes...

Ah, the debates. :) I feel that the quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it," applies all too often.

I just wanted to give you a pat on the back for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and educational post in response to that Buzzfeed article. I came here through a link from an NPR article that also had issues with the original Buzzfeed article, since BF had attempted to link to one of NPR's articles that actually debunked the particular myth they were trying to relay. As a fellow chemist who has taken on these kinds of tasks myself (I once lost a very ignorant friend when I pointed out that her fear of "microwaved water" was entirely irrational), I have a lot of respect for you.

Permalink to Comment

40. David on June 25, 2013 9:25 AM writes...

Sir, I just want to thank you for "Eight Toxic Foods: A Little Chemical Education". You are an education hero.

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41. Vader on June 25, 2013 9:29 AM writes...

Antibiotic resistance from antibiotics in cow feed? Meh.

What irritates me is when I add kefir grains to a fresh glass of milk, and it simply refuses to ferment.

Permalink to Comment

42. Anonymous on June 25, 2013 10:40 AM writes...

#27 usually the resistance comes from poor compliance. Putting the antibiotics in animal feed is actually pretty good for ensuring that systemic levels are high enough to prevent resistance

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43. JediaKyrol on June 25, 2013 11:27 AM writes...

I got a guy I work with who is a "anti-chemical" band-wagoner to read the "Eight Toxic Foods:..." post, and he actually started to agree with it...until he realized that you were a chemist and have worked for pharmaceutical companies, then he said that of course you were being paid off to make stuff up... ... ...I just... ... ...there's no helping some people.

Permalink to Comment

44. Amy on June 25, 2013 1:24 PM writes...

I appreciate the effort Derek has put into this topic. Imagine my utter dismay when I saw that my local "news"paper was reprinting the ridiculous article! It makes me sad for our youth - how will they ever be able to figure out the difference between a credible source and all of the crap out there?

Permalink to Comment

45. cynical1 on June 25, 2013 1:27 PM writes...

There is something that the regular readers of this blog have failed to point out which might be educational to the scientifically disinclined. There's a lot of chemists, organic chemists, who read this blog. Most of us have and continue to work every single day of our working lives with stuff that would have these people run screaming for the hills. I think their heads would explode if they knew the stuff we handle every day in the lab. OMG, it's tributyl tin hydride again! Yee gads, it's Pd tetrakis. Holy sh*t, I have to use HMPA as a solvent in this freakin' reaction. And I, for one, have been exposed through inhalation and skin exposure for the past 30 years now. Well to quote a Monty Python movie, 'I'm not dead yet!' (although sometimes I do feel like I've died and gone to hell). And, as far as I know, I don't have cancer either. As an aside, I am Vit. B-12 deficient mostly because I don't eat dead animals (or live ones) and I should be taking supplements but the nurse who gives me my injection is just way too cute for words and it only costs me $12.00.

I wonder if there is any epidemiology out there that shows what our relative lifespan and cancer rates are compared to non-chemists. If chronic "low level" exposure to "chemicals" is likely to shorten your lifespan, we're your poster children to show it in a scientific study. Anyone know?

Oh sure, sometimes we blow ourselves up doing something stupid but that's different........That doesn't really count.

And one other thing, if we're all part of some sort of grand conspiracy............ummmmmm, why would we do this for a living? Do we all have a death wish? Please, for the love of a spot-to-spot reaction, explain that to me. I really am all ears here. I don't get it........and that's why I just do a face palm when I hear this stuff and just ignore them.

Stupid should hurt...........I'm going to go have a cigarette and grab a Diet Mountain Dew on the way back in and get on with being the human fraction collector. Oh no, not methyl cyanide in dihydrogen monoxide again!!!! Run away! At least the TFA is okay because it's almost like the stuff in vinegar and that's natural.

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47. Nick K on June 25, 2013 7:08 PM writes...

#45: Several years ago the Royal Society of Chemistry in Britain analysed its databases for the mortality of its members. Apparently, chemists lived just as long as the rest of the population.

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48. Anonymous on June 26, 2013 7:24 AM writes...

@45: "I wonder if there is any epidemiology out there that shows what our relative lifespan and cancer rates are compared to non-chemists. If chronic "low level" exposure to "chemicals" is likely to shorten your lifespan, we're your poster children to show it in a scientific study. Anyone know?"

Many years ago, C&EN did a story about a published study of chemistry workers at industrial plants with benzene exposure. Compared to the non-exposed matched cohort, the industry workers outlived (and had slightly better health than) their non-exposed counterparts. Nevertheless, the study concluded that benzene is toxic and causes cancer and will kill you. (They also admitted that the unexpected outcome was probably due to more careful health monitoring, health care, etc., afforded to industry workers compared to the general population.) However, because the raw data didn't seem to support the conclusion w/o taking many other factors into consideration, a famous chemist-blogger commented about the study and its conclusion: "According to this study, benzene kills you by making you live longer."

Warning to stupid people reading this: Benzene IS toxic. Benzene IS a carcinogen. Deliberate and unnecessary exposure to benzene is a bad idea. The study was complicated and not a very good one. The left wing conclusion ("we know and report that chemicals are bad for you even if the data don't support that conclusion") was belittled by a right wing chemist-commenter to highlight the importance of doing such studies well.

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49. daveh on June 26, 2013 10:02 AM writes...

Since self-service gas stations arrived 40 years ago nearly everybody has chronic low level exposure to benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene etc. Except maybe in NJ, if you hold your breath. Of course even NJ residents need to watch out for the PAH exposure from breathing while driving on the road. This runs through my mind every time people are worried about what's ingested through the GI tract.

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50. Toad on June 26, 2013 2:37 PM writes...

Derek,

Now that links have made it into NPR and ABC News (Good Morning America) online articles, we're curious to see the aftermath of the aftermath. Up to 1 MM pageviews yet? I just assume I'll see your ugly mug on tv tomorrow morning.

Congrats and thanks for catalyzing the responses to this garbage.

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51. DeborahMarchant on June 26, 2013 3:39 PM writes...

This is a response to the 32nd comment about the reminder for humans to be grateful that we live longer and healthier, as a result of chemistry.

I agree with expressing gratitude, but are we all actually healthier as a result of living in a human-made chemical and GE world?

The 32nd commenter overlooks how some human-made chemicals, including some agriculural GE, damage and shorten the lives, for example, of insects, seeds, plants and other animals, including birds, fish, and humans, and the waters. For instance, the current use of the herbicide Round-Up is damaging to our entire eco-system.


My questions are these: At what point will pro-cide and GE chemists be finally content with simply using organic-based medicinal plants that already exist in nature? When will pro-cide and GE chemists promote organic agricultural practices that have already been proven to produce high quality and healthier soil, air and living beings?

Another question I have is this. How many reading this were or are currently organic gardeners?

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52. DeborahMarchant on June 26, 2013 3:40 PM writes...

This is a response to the 32nd comment about the reminder for humans to be grateful that we live longer and healthier, as a result of chemistry.

I agree with expressing gratitude, but are we all actually healthier as a result of living in a human-made chemical and GE world?

The 32nd commenter overlooks how some human-made chemicals, including some agriculural GE, damage and shorten the lives, for example, of insects, seeds, plants and other animals, including birds, fish, and humans, and the waters. For instance, the current use of the herbicide Round-Up is damaging to our entire eco-system.


My questions are these: At what point will pro-cide and GE chemists be finally content with simply using organic-based medicinal plants that already exist in nature? When will pro-cide and GE chemists promote organic agricultural practices that have already been proven to produce high quality and healthier soil, air and living beings?

Another question I have is this. How many reading this were or are currently organic gardeners?

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53. DeborahMarchant on June 26, 2013 3:41 PM writes...

This is a response to the 32nd comment about the reminder for humans to be grateful that we live longer and healthier, as a result of chemistry.

I agree with expressing gratitude, but are we all actually healthier as a result of living in a human-made chemical and GE world?

The 32nd commenter overlooks how some human-made chemicals, including some agriculural GE, damage and shorten the lives, for example, of insects, seeds, plants and other animals, including birds, fish, and humans, and the waters. For instance, the current use of the herbicide Round-Up is damaging to our entire eco-system.


My questions are these: At what point will pro-cide and GE chemists be finally content with simply using organic-based medicinal plants that already exist in nature? When will pro-cide and GE chemists promote organic agricultural practices that have already been proven to produce high quality and healthier soil, air and living beings?

Another question I have is this. How many reading this were or are currently organic gardeners?

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54. DeborahMarchant on June 26, 2013 3:43 PM writes...

This is a response to the 32nd comment about the reminder for humans to be grateful that we live longer and healthier, as a result of chemistry.

I agree with expressing gratitude, but am I actually healthier as a result of living in an a human-made chemical and GE agriculural world?

The commenter overlooks how some human-made chemicals, including some GE, damage and shorten the lives, for example, of beneficial insects, seeds, plants and other animals, including birds, fish, and humans, and the waters. For instance, the current use of the herbicide Round-Up is damaging to our entire eco-system.


My question is this. At what point will pro-cide chemists be finally satisfied and content with the value of using organic-based medicinal properites that already exist in nature?

Another question I have is this. How many reading this are currently organic gardeners?

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55. Vince on June 26, 2013 6:08 PM writes...

@51-54

You only have to post once. Skipping past reposts is tiresome. Now on to the topic at hand.

"Organic"-based medicinal properties are not efficient and many times not very effective for large scale usage. There's 7 billion people and counting to feed. Good luck doing it without chemistry.

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56. Anonymous on June 26, 2013 6:46 PM writes...

@54: Yes, you are healthier. Even if you've never required medical care - which gets easier when the people around you aren't spreading now-treatable infections - the fact you have food to eat has a lot to do with human engineering. Look up the Green Revolution.

Granted, most of that was pre-GMO. But mutagenesis and cross-breeding are blunt instruments, and we're going to need to do better - the crops we have are intended for a world with infinite water, energy, space, and fertilizer. Those assumptions are failing, and quickly. We need to make efficient, locally-specialized crops, and GMO is basically our only hope of doing that at scale.

Or we could give up and go natural. The world can support something like a billion people in that case - are you volunteering to be among the 85% of surplus population?

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57. jl on June 27, 2013 8:21 AM writes...

Deborah - natural products derived from "medicinal plants" are valuable, but there are not nearly enough products in nature to treat the full range of human disease (nor are they optimized to do so). The active chemicals in medicinal plants can be quite toxic and even acutely poisonous to us (they have, after all, evolved to produce these chemicals for their own purpose, not for treating human disease). These chemicals also tend to target highly connected genes that will cause death to any infringing organism (insects, fungus, bacteria, etc.) Many human diseases (i.e. cancer), on the other hand, are the result of genetic mutations in less connected genes. For this reason, among many others, chemists try to develop drugs that will specifically target these genes. By no means do chemists ignore "natural, organic products" as potential medicines, however, these chemicals are severely limited in terms of what diseases they can treat.

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58. Anonymous academic on June 27, 2013 9:39 AM writes...

@57: "there are not nearly enough products in nature to treat the full range of human disease"

Actually, we don't really *know* that for certain - maybe if we examine every plant species in the Amazon rainforest, we'll find natural products to cure every type of cancer. We can be pretty confident that this will be extraordinarily more expensive and time-consuming than the current method, however, and it's a reasonable guess that many of those molecules will need to be further optimized in lab to get the best possible results. Munching on exotic vines, of course, is probably not going to do the trick.

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59. jl on June 27, 2013 10:28 AM writes...

58 - I was going to mention something along those lines, but thanks for bringing it up preemptively before the "nature cures everything crowd" did. Technically yes, we couldn't know that for certain unless we examined every species on earth. It's also worth mentioning to those with less experience in this area that many bioactive natural products of interest are only available in minuscule amounts. So unless you want to wipe out an entire species of sea sponge that produces an anticancer metabolite, you're going to require the aid of synthetic (gasp!) chemistry.

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60. J on June 28, 2013 8:15 AM writes...

@57 and @58 - Even if there are natural products to cure everything, there is the issue of sustainability. For instance pacitaxol, which needs to be harvested from Pacific yew. But it would not have been a sustainable practice and would have decimated the yew population to meet the demand.

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61. Anonymous on June 28, 2013 2:51 PM writes...

#60 paclitaxel aka taxol

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62. just sayin' on July 2, 2013 2:09 PM writes...

Deborah, jl, et al., it just warms the heart to see non-sense pitted against "non-science". Where to start? Maybe we need to first understand what a "human-made chemical and GE agriculural world" is? Maybe we should question assertions about how much food we can produce and by what means? Maybe we should try to understand pharmacology so we would know that most of those "natural" medicinal thingies act on ion channels, 7-TM receptors, enzymes, and nuclear receptors, not "highly connected" or "less connected" genes. Most of us don't work on drugs that target any genes directly.

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63. Diane K. on July 3, 2013 2:20 PM writes...

Re: 51-54. I am a UC trained Plant Scientist. I run small vineyard management company, and grow wine grapes for 12 clients, some "organically", some "sustainably". I also garden (like most farmers).

I use pesticides in all my farming operations as needed. Because our farming practices seek to create healthy vines, we have few pests that reach economic thresholds for damage. But the climate which makes great wine also makes great conditions for powdery mildew, and we have to spray fungicides or we would have a complete crop failure.

I use no pesticides in my garden, because there is no "economic threshold" for damage (we would never treat any "pest" if it didn't cause economic damage). If I lose my tomato crop, I can still pay my mortgage. If I lose my grape crop, I will become homeless.

In my experience, the pesticides used in organic farming (which have to be naturally derived) are not intrisically "better" than synthetic pesticides, if you define better as less toxic, less damaging to non-target creatures, less damaging to the ecosystem, or safer for the worker or the consumer. They are simply natural.

But so is rattlesnake poison completely natural.

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64. anon on July 10, 2013 6:25 PM writes...

stumbled upon this stinker on CNN's front page - http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/10/diet-soda-may-do-more-harm-than-good

some individual wrote an opinion piece saying artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain and other health problems, CNN naturally ran with it since it's an attention-grabbing topic.

only problem is i've looked at the studies in the paper and the only one that is even halfway supportive is a rat study where rats gained more weight with access to saccharin-sweetened yoghurt than glucose-sweetened yoghurt - which doesn't quite nail down a mechanism for the observed effect

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65. Thomas on July 12, 2013 10:06 PM writes...

I'm looking forward to the post addressing why (and if) the substances mentioned are banned in Europe but not in the US. As a Briton, I perceive the American FDA as more lenient in terms of what goes into food than our own regulators - and the USA in general, both its government and its people, as more pro-business.

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