Category: Chemistry

Apple cider vinegar: another huge scam!

bottleLast fall I had a pretty obnoxious cold, and since I was part of a singing group, I soon got advice from a lot of other singers on how to treat it or at least diminish the symptoms. One thing that seemed to come up a lot was various uses of apple cider vinegar.  While this was new to me, there seems to be a large population of vinegar-o-philes who use this folk remedy for treating all kinds of things. Of course, this means it was something to look into and write about.

Vinegar is made in two stages: first you ferment fruit juice (apple or several other fruits) to make alcohol. Various yeasts speed up the fermentation process. Under the right careful conditions you can make wines or apple jack this way. Essentially, the sugars are broken down to make ethanol (ethyl alcohol, CH3CH2OH). However, if you expose that solution to oxidation or let the fermentation proceed further, the ethyl alcohol is oxidized to acetic acid: CH3COOH. It is this acetic acid that gives vinegars their acrid smell and taste.

If you don’t filter the vinegar, it remains somewhat cloudy, and this may add slightly to the flavor. If you do filter it, you are left with a clear, but colored, liquid.  If you distill that vinegar, you are purifying the acetic acid, and this ends up giving the pure white vinegar used in some recipes. You usually use that in sweet-and-sour dishes and the like, but with little subtlety of taste.

Right now our pantry contains white vinegar, cider vinegar, malt vinegar, raspberry vinegar, balsamic and rice wine vinegar, each with different flavors for various kinds of cooking. You could use any of them to make a sour drink, but it really isn’t all that good for you.

Folk remedy claims

You will find a plethora of claims for the health benefits of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in articles like this wildly inaccurate  one in Healthy and Natural World. Here the authors claim you can use it for sore throats (mixed with honey, I think) , joint pain, acid reflux, weight loss, reduced cholesterol and several other completely unsupported claims.

Now, here is why we know they are nuts: they correctly note that ACV (which is mostly acetic acid) is acidic (low pH), so using for heartburn and the like seems silly. But they then claim that when vinegar is consumed, it turns alkaline (high pH). Holy smoke! Is this some sort of magical transmutation? No, it is just plain wrong.  This article also claims that honey is acidic (no it isn’t) but becomes alkaline in the body (no it doesn’t).

In fact ACV can be dangerous, since taking something so acidic, even diluted, it could harm your esophagus and damage your tooth enamel.  WebMD says there is insufficient evidence for any of the claimed uses being effective.

Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar

One of the largest promoters of health effects of ACV is Bragg, a small company founded by two naturopaths, which makes unsupported and downright crazy claims on their cluttered web site, reminiscent of tabloids and the Wretched Mess News. Those claiming to be naturopaths are simply quacks, and are not practicing anything like science-based medicine.  You can read a critical description of naturopathy here, in an article by a former naturopath.

Bragg ACV is organic, which is just a marketing term, gluten free (which apples contain gluten?), un- pasteurized  (why?), and Non GMO (no GMO apples have yet reached the market anyway). They call the cloudy pulp that remains in the vinegar “the Mother,” but it has no particular nutritional value. This is in reference to Kombucha which has a similar culture of bacteria and yeast also called “the Mother.” It doesn’t have any real health benefits either.

As a company, Bragg promotes every kind of pseudo-science you can think of. The web site has links to why cell phones cause cancer (they don’t: microwaves are not energetic enough to break any chemical bonds), dangers of water fluoridation, GMOs, Monsanto’s Terminator seed (which does not exist) and, most disturbingly, a diet for preventing suicide. They also claim MSG is dangerous, while recognizing the glutamates are naturally occurring in our body.

Finally, if you wonder if there is any nutritional advantage to ACV, here is the USDA analysis of apple cider vinegar: there isn’t much to it.

It seems that much of the apple cider vinegar myths are being pushed by two crackpot naturopaths, who have made a successful business out of making up new folk remedy treatments. There is not a shred of evidence they work, and you would do better with conventional and much safer nostrums.

Does MSG cause brain lesions or just improve taste?

foods with msg
Tomatoes, broccoli, soy sauce, bleu cheese and Marmite all contain MSG

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer that has been used in Japanese and Chinese cooking since about 1908. Dr Kikunae Ikeda recognized that seaweed broth had been used as a flavor enhancer and set about to isolate the substance that caused this brothy flavor that he called umami. He published this work in the Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo in 1909 and it was translated and republished in English in 2002 in the journal Chemical Senses. The paper is a fascinating little piece of detective work in which he eventually concluded that the umami flavor was caused by glutamate, the sodium salt of glutamic acid. He later developed and patented a process for extracting MSG from seaweed. Today, MSG is produced by fermenting starch, sugar cane, sugar beets and molasses. It is also an integral part of soy sauce(1090, also made from fermented vegetable protein.

Once isolated, MSG became a popular additive in Japanese and Chinese cooking and more recently has come under scrutiny as being the cause of all sorts of disorders from “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to brain lesions and various behavioral and physical disabilities. People have called it an “evil chemical” that is added to poison us and our children and other similar epithets. Always ready to spout nonsense, the redoubtable Joseph Mercola has called it a “silent killer lurking in your kitchen cabinets.”

Around 1968, reports of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS) began to appear, where a cluster of symptoms were described including flushing, headache and dry mouth. However numerous double blind studies have failed to confirm any relation between MSG and these symptoms.  In one such study volunteers were given either MSG or a placebo. Symptoms attributed to CRS did not appear more frequently in the MSG group than in the placebo group, and most subjects had no responses at all.

Another recent review article noted that while there have been reports of an MSG sensitive subset of the population, this has not been confirmed in placebo-controlled trials.

It is very important to note that this is not an evil chemical additive, but a naturally occurring substance, easily extracted from plants. Just as important, MSG can be found in large quantities in foods such as the bleu cheese in the picture (1280 mg/ml), obtained from Stop and Shop. You will also find it naturally in Parmesan cheese(1200 mg/ml), the British Marmite spread (1960 mg/ml), soy sauce, and in broccoli, peas and tomatoes.

It is also worth noting that the Japanese consume the largest amounts of MSG and they are considered one of the healthiest populations in the world.

Some have tried to argue that MSG as an additive is somehow different than that found naturally in foods. However, since MSG is a single compound and easily purified, it is clear that its source does not matter. This argument is rather like suggesting that the pure MSG from the red bottle is worse than the pure MSG in the green bottle.

In 2005, the journal Nature published a consensus following a meeting on the current state of MSG research, concluding that “the general use of glutamate salts (monosodium-l-glutamate and others) as food additive can, thus, be regarded as harmless for the whole population. Even in unphysiologically high doses GLU will not trespass into fetal circulation.”

In conclusion, the scientific consensus after years of study is that MSG is harmless and that no cluster of allergic symptoms has been observed. MSG is extracted from fermented plant products and occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods: it is not a synthetic additive.

Nonetheless, there are a variety of hoax sites that call into question the safety of MSG, such as, and probably any of a number of others. They can and should be ignored.

The safety of MSG is firmly established and need not trouble us further.

Related articles

  1. Science is so inconvenient to food scares – Sandy Swarc, JunkfoodScience
  2. New Seasonings – K. Ikeda
  3. Reconsidering the effects of monosodium glutamate – M Freeman, J Am Acad Nurse Proc.
  4. Monosodium L-glutamate: a double blind study and review – L Tarasoff and MF Kelley, Food Chem Toxicol
  5. What’s the story on MSG? – Marion Nestle Foodpolitics
  6. Consensus meeting – monosodium glutamate: an update – P Stehle, Nature
  7. If MSG is bad for you why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache? Alex Renton, The Guardian


ConnFACT lies about fluoridation

ConnFACT lies about fluoridation

We hadn’t heard of anyone actually opposed to water fluoridation since Colonel Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) complained to Colonel Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) in his famous “precious bodily fluids” rant in Dr. Strangelove.

But we heard a great deal in a talk given last spring by members of ConnFACT about the dangers of mandatory water fluoridation. We had already interviewed the speakers, Carol Peringer and Christine O’Day, noting that ConnFACT stands for Connecticut Families Against Chemical Trespass, a group that seems to specialize in taking positions contrary to all accepted science. In fact, you have to wonder what rational group would talk about “chemical trespass.” What chemicals? How about water or salt? You can also experiment different chemicals by buying 3-mmc.

The sparsely attended meeting featured a half-hour film “Professional Perspectives on Water Fluoridation,” full of quotes from marginal and fringe scientists decrying the use of fluoridation. A few were actually qualified, but many, like the Earl Baldwin of Bewley were just spouting nonsense. Also in attendance were representatives of Professional Water Systems, who subsidized the printing of the slick handouts.

Fluoridation works by having fluoride ions replace some of the hydroxyl ions in the mineral making up our teeth: hydroxyapatite becomes fluoroapatite, which is harder and resistant to tooth decay. Fluoride, furthermore is naturally occurring in our soil and in most drinking water: it is only the concentration that is adjusted to a level determined to do the most good. Moreover, water fluoridation is considered the single greatest public health advance of the 20th century.

Erroneous Assertions

However, the overriding problem with their presentation was nearly every statement they made was easily determined to be untrue.

Fluoride causes bone cancer:  Not according to the American Cancer Society

Fluoride increases risk of bone fracture: Not according to the paper in Nature by Thomas.

Fluoride decreases brain function: There is one study of naturally occurring high levels of fluoride in China where there may be some effect, but their control groups had the same level of fluoride as are recommended in the US. Thus standard fluoridation levels are perfectly safe.  And, as Steve Novella pointed out in Science Based Medicine, these were not experiments, but retrospective studies.

Fluoride causes diabetes: The American Diabetes Association recommends brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and the CDC finds no problem for diabetics drinking fluoridated water.

Fluoride causes kidney disease: According to reviews by the American Kidney Foundation, there is no evidence that drinking fluoridated water is harmful to or causes kidney disease.

Fluoride is an endocrine disruptor: The WHO’s extensive report on fluoride’s effects on humans specifically says that no endocrine effects are observed in rats at any concentration (pp 95-96).

Fluoride accumulates in the body; the benefit is topical, not systemic. Contradictory and both wrong. The European Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks says that fluoride builds up in the plasma and is eventually excreted. Some ends up in the saliva where it can react to protect the teeth. Some will end up in the bones, but does not stay there.

Dental Fluorosis

By far the biggest objection that anti-fluoridation crowd makes is that fluoride can cause a sort of tooth enamel mottling called fluorosis.  Fluorosis is caused by excess fluoride consumption before the teeth erupt, and is divided into Questionable, Very Mild, Mild, Moderate and Severe. The first three categories are only apparent to a specialist, and while Moderate may involve brown staining, the teeth are still healthy and resistant to decay.  Only about 1-2% of all patients show Moderate and Severe fluorosis, and that is cause by very high dosages of naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply, far higher than would ever occur in water fluoridated for dental health.

According to the CDC: among persons aged 6-49, 16.5% had questionable fluorosis, 16.0% had very mild fluorosis, 4.8% had mild fluorosis, 2.0% had moderate fluorosis, and less than 1% had severe fluorosis. Adding these up gives you the relatively meaningless number of about 39%. And in the teenager sub-category, that number is 41%. However, claiming that 41% of teenagers have dental fluorosis is seriously misleading, because the lower categories aren’t even visible, let aloneharmful. Using this scary number in their literature as ConnFACT has done is intentionally misleading at the very least.

Fertilizer byproduct

One of the most mendacious assertions of the anti-fluoridation crowd is in their description of how water is fluoridated. Fluoride is obtained as a byproduct of fertilizer manufacture mostly in the form of fluorosilicic acid. They claim without any evidence that these byproducts are contaminated with heavy metals and are just “dumped” into the drinking water supply. This is simply false. Any additive to our drinking water must pass safety standards of the American Waterworks Association, the EPA, and NSF International (page 42). Opponents have made up this lie to make fluoridation seem dangerous or contaminated. This is simply untrue.

Misrepresentation of Fluoridation Facts in Europe

Their handout suggests that “most other countries banned fluoridation,” which is demonstrably false. In fact, most European water supplies are not fluoridated because of their size and age, and because of multiple water sources. Instead fluoride is provided in their table salt.

They suggest that Cuba discontinued fluoridation and caries did not increase, but in fact Cuban children receive fluoride mouth rinses regularly  and fluoride varnish treatments several times a year.

They suggest that water fluoridation in Kuopio, Finland was ceased in 1992, but that caries has decreased or remained the same. In fact, virtually all children took advantage of government dental care which included topical fluoride and dental sealant programs.

They suggest that two towns in East Germany, Chemniz and Plauen, saw a significant fall in caries after fluoridation was stopped, but again neglect to mention fluoridated salt, rinses and sealants.

Each of these cases is also summarized (in that same order) in the ADA report Fluoridation Facts, where they may well have drawn their summary from, conveniently leaving out the facts that fluoride treatments of other types replaced fluoridation. In other words, they are lying.

They also mention Landrigan and Grandjean’s discredited Lancet Neurology paper which calls fluoride a neurotoxin. Critics have called the authors “long time toxic terrorists,” who completely ignore dose-response information in order to write papers calculated to scare people. They also confuse correlation and causation.

Finally, the ConnFACT handout asserts that there are studies showing that there is no link between fluoride and cavity reduction. They cite this study by Warrren et. al.  to prove that assertion, but Warren’s study was on the optimum fluoride level to minimize dental fluorosis among caries-free children. But they did note that children with caries had slightly lower fluoride intakes (as you might expect). The ConnFACT handout also claims that Cheng’s study in the British Medical Journal concludes there is a lack of strong evidence for fluoride’s benefits. That isn’t true either. Cheng asserts that the optimum fluoride level is difficult to establish exactly.

They also state that there have never been any randomized clinical trials demonstrating fluoridation effectiveness.  Another fib. Just read the summary of studies on this early CDC page.


No matter how well intended the speakers were, the materials they were working from can best be described as a tissue of lies. And when we discovered that their assertions were cribbed from an ADA Report with critical facts removed, it is clear that this lying was intentional.

  • None of the health assertions they make are true.
  • None of the papers they quote say what they say they do.
  • None of the assertions about dangers of fluoridation are true.

Like Joe Isuzu, knowingly or not, they are lying about every aspect of fluoridation.



Medical science says cleanses are bogus

Medical science says cleanses are bogus

This time of year we try to recover from our vacation excesses by eating more sensibly.  Fine. Good idea. But Bon Appetit has gone a little over the deep end by recommending a “juice cleanse” and a two week long “cleansing diet.”

Juice cleanses are a scam, calculated to part you from your money by selling you weird vegetable juices at high prices. The Mayo Clinic notes that such “detox diets” have no real effect.

However, there’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Indeed, the kidneys and liver effectively filter and eliminate most ingested toxins

And the Cleveland Clinic notes that while there may be some useful vitamins and minerals in juices, much of the benefits of these vegetables and fruits is in the skin, which is normally discarded. If you make your own juices, you could include these, but a well-balanced diet will give you the same effect.

You will find the same advice on WebMD:

As for detoxification, your liver already does that. There is no medical evidence that medical alert systems actually rid the body of any toxins not otherwise discarded in bodily waste.

And Robert Lamberts, MD wrote in MedHelp that Body Detoxification is a Hoax

  1. Your body is not “full of toxins.”  When it is, your liver and kidneys are designed to handle those “toxins” and will do so far better than anything someone tries to sell you.
  2. Diets only work when they restrict calories.
  3. Your colon is fine and does not deserve to be regularly “cleansed.”  Colonics have been around since the early 1900’s (maybe earlier) and the fact that they are still being used is only evidence of the gullibility of humans.

Of course, eating nutritious foods is a good idea any time, although some of their recipes border on somewhat disgusting, like Pistachio Quinoa with Spinach and  Egg and Orange Breakfast Bulgur with Pumpkin Seeds.

But bear in mind: there is nothing to cleanse.  Your body does not ever need cleansing. That is what the liver and kidneys do.

And if you have been overindulging during the holidays, just stop and eat a normal, healthy diet. You don’t have to go for anyone’s fad diet, just cut down on fats and sugars.

And enjoy the summer! Read Bon Appetit for their recipes, not their pseudo medical advice.

Are antioxidants any good?

Are antioxidants any good?

We know that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are generally more healthy than those who don’t and people have hypothesized that the antioxidants in those fruits are the reason. What is a functional doctor? According to this hypothesis, free radicals in the body can do damage to cells and genes and even cause cancer. And antioxidants can vacuum up free radicals by combining with them.

This time of year, we get our antioxidants from eating fresh New Jersey blueberries from Stop and Shop.

The trouble is, we really don’t have any idea what those free radicals are there for and whether they really should be Hoovered up. This discussion comes from one I found in Ben Goldacre’s delightful book “Bad Science.”

You can buy all kinds of antioxidants in pharmacies and health food stores, pretty much unregulated, and to hear the pill peddler talk, they might do some good and can’t do any harm, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually we do know. There have been a number of very good studies on these issues and the results are not encouraging.

In a 1996 Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of 29,133 male smokers were randomly assigned to receive the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, both or a placebo for 5-8 years. The study followed incidence of lung cancer in the subjects, and it was found that

No overall effect was observed for lung cancer from α-tocopherol supplementation, and

β-carotene supplementation was associated with increased lung cancer risk.In another trial called CARET for Carotene and Retinol Efficiency Trial, the results were worse. They followed 18,314 smokers, former smokers and workers exposed to asbestos, giving them a combination of beta-carotene and retinol (Vitamin A) daily, or a placebo. They found that the risk of death from lung cancer was 1.46 times greater in the active treatment group than in the placebo group, and the trial was stopped 21 months early.

The Cochrane Database is a collection of reviews of papers on hundreds of medical topics, and is a major destination for scientists seeking to review the work in any medical area. The review Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases was published this March and finds similar conclusions:

The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

So, it would seem that eating your fruits and veggies is still a great idea, but antioxidant supplements are useless or even worse.


Food coloring alarmism

Food coloring alarmism

The ever alarmist Center for Science and the Public Interest (CSPI) published a pointless article on the actual food colors used in various colorful foods. Referring to a piece of interesting but ultimately useless research in Clinical Pediatrics by Laura Stevens and other researchers at Purdue’s Nutrition Science department, the CSPI article breathlessly notes that

Clinical trials have shown that modest percentages of children are affected by doses up to 35 mg of mixtures of synthetic coloring, with larger percentages generally being affected by doses of 100 mg or more. The amount of dye that is needed to trigger reactions in the most sensitive children is not known.

They also claim that “Until now, how much of these neurotoxic chemicals are used in specific foods was a well-kept secret…”

However, there is little evidence that the CSPI’s extravagantly scare claims are true. The most commonly cited papers on hyperactivity and food colorings were two papers by Jim Stevenson at the University of Southhampton. But when the FDA convened a 2011 conference to consider warning labels on food coloring ingredients, they commissioned Oak Ridge National Laboratory to review that work and concluded:

However, due to the absence of confirmation of treatment effects between parental ratings and other behavior measures together with the concerns about the data analyses described above and various procedural weaknesses … it is the opinion of this reviewer that there is questionable confidence in the reliability and biological relevance of the primary findings from this study.

Ultimately, the FDA committee voted that current data supported that FDAs conclusion that a relationship between certified color additives and adverse effects on behavior in children had not been established.

Since then, Nigg has published a 2012 meta-analysis of papers on food colors effects on children, concluding that there may be a small effect, but this was affected by publication bias:

A restriction diet benefits some children with ADHD. Effects of food colors were notable were but susceptible to publication bias or were derived from small, nongeneralizable samples. Renewed investigation of diet and ADHD is warranted.

A similar review of prior studies was also published about the same time by Arnold, et. el.

With these studies in hand, it is difficult to understand why Laura Stevens’ Purdue group undertook these complex colorimetric studies. Her papers feature extensive tables showing the exact amount of colors their group measured in sodas, cereals, candies and dairy foods. While these tables are interesting and represent a lot of work, Stevens cites these same papers, clearly aware of their less than persuasive conclusions.

The best they can conclude is should you wish to try to try an Artificial Food Coloring (AFC)-free diet (which she knows has little effect) these tables will help you do so.

This brings us to Ravella’s article in Slate today, which reviews the same work and some alarmist proclamations by the CSPI. It adds nothing new to the existing science.

So to conclude, there is little evidence supporting the assertion the AFCs are harmful to children or anyone else and you need not concern yourself with the CSPI’s alarmist pronouncements.

This is an update of our May 2014 article, published on

The WHO and the UN: Roundup is not carcinogenic


Everyone with an axe to grind about “evil chemicals” has been repeating the questionable finding of the IARC that glyphosate (Roundup’s main ingredient) is “probably carcinogenic.” The IARC is a subcommittee of the WHO, so the opponents of science were saying that the WHO said that glyphosate causes cancer.  They didn’t.

The IARC made no estimates of risk or dosage, however, so the finding was of little value. As we reported earlier, this finding was extremely questionable, based on only 8 cherry-picked studies rather than the vast body of existing literature, Further, it turned out that the result was politically motivated, being pushed by activist Christopher Portier, formerly of the Environmental Defense Fund, who is not a toxicologist.

The WHO says glyphosate is not carcinogenic

Now all this is overshadowed by the joint announcement yesterday by the WHO and the UN itself that they have determined that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet”  and that “glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures.” You can read the Reuters summary here  and the complete WHO report here.

So that’s it. Glyphosate has not been found to cause cancer or cause mutations.  People can take down their signs in California. The IARC was clearly wrong, as the EFSA had already pointed out. And those marching against science will have to find new signs. Roundup is as safe as aspirin. Oh, and they found that diazinon and malathion aren’t carcinogenic either.

Originally published on on May 17, 2016

No, Roundup does not cause cancer

RoundupThe scientific world was astonished (to put it mildly) when the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), a sub-unit of the WHO declared that Roundup (glyphosate) probably causes cancer, putting an herbicide that has been in use for over 40 years into their Group 2A. Their report was published initially as a summary in The Lancet, and then as a complete IARC monograph.

Glyphosate has been available for over 40 years, and is the world’s most widely-used herbicide. Its toxicity has been compared to aspirin. Hundreds, if not thousands of studies have found it to be relatively harmless, and none have suggested it was carcinogenic. It works on plants by disrupting the Shikimate pathway plants use to synthesize several essential amino acids (tyrsosine, phenylalanine and tryptophan). Humans and animals in general do not have such a pathway and must get these amino acid from their food.

As Reuters has explained, the IARC was formerly a stand-alone French agency and ended up with a much reduced budget as a “semi-autonomous part of WHO.” The problem is, their finding that glyphosate is carcinogenic is simply wrong. As David Zaruk notes, they ignored decades of government studies, choosing to focus only on eight cherry-picked papers, and spent only a week on the entire issue.

And, in one case, the author of one of those eight papers, Keith Soloman, a respected toxicologist, pointed out that the IARC had gotten his paper “totally wrong.

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR)  disputed these findings. There are dozens of studies and reviews showing no finding of genotoxicity or carcinogenicity.  And as James Gurney reported, the papers they cherry-picked were full of scientific weasel words like “induced a positive trend,” and the statistical test “often gives incorrect results.”

And, responding to the IARC report, the European Food Safety Association (EFSA) reviewed studies including those from the BfR and concluded:

“…glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans and the evidence does not support classification with regard to its carcinogenic potential according to Regulation.”

And EFSA Executive Director Bernhard Url accused the IARC of “Facebook Science,” saying that they had “left the domain of science…entering into the domain of lobbying and campaigning.”

Finally, if you actually read the IARC report, as opposed to their brief opinion piece in The Lancet, you will find that among the papers it references is the disgraced and withdrawn lumpy rat paper by Giles-Eric Seralini. (In order to preserve a record of this travesty of a paper, it was reprinted in a new third-rate journal, but without being refereed further.) This is a direct violation of the “Seralini rule,” first proposed in Skeptico, that

If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.

In fact, the IARC report cites seven separate papers by the anti-GMO activist Seralini. Seralini’s papers suffer from being not only incomprehensible and inconsistent as Henry Miller has noted, (also in this article) but none of them has ever been replicated.

So what’s going on here? How could the IARC have come to such incredible wrong conclusions? Well, as you might expect, someone there seems to have had an agenda. In this case, it was Christopher Portier, an American anti-pesticide activist formerly employed by the Environmental Defense Fund, whose views on pesticides are well known and not science based. This is explained in detail in David Zaruk’s Risk-Monger blog According to the IARC, Portier was an “invited specialist,” and “receives a part –time salary from the Environmental Defense Fund.” Portier has a Ph.D. in biostatistics and is not a toxicologist. Even though he was working for the anti-pesticide EDF, he was the only external representative on the IARC glyphosate team.

To continue the story of EFSA’s accusation of “lobbying,” Portier went to the German Bundestag, the EFSA, and NGO’s like the Soil Association expressing his view that glyphosate causes cancer (learn how was mesothelioma explained and legally managed), stronger statement than even the IARC’s flawed report made. Clearly science has not been well served by the IARC report, which so far has not actually been accepted by the WHO itself. If the IARC is no longer producing credible scientific reports, one can raise the question as to whether they have any legitimate purpose.

Cleansing diets: are they right for you?

bottlesWith the start of each New Year, there have been several surveys of diet plans, explaining which are most effective, easiest to follow and most heart healthy. US News recently published their recommendations based on their expert panelists. WebMD has a summary of dozens of such diet plans, and has a good summary of the highly successful (and free) DASH Diet Plan.

But you may also have friends who decide that what they really need to do is “cleanse their systems.” The idea behind this is that a lot of nasty processed foods and the like build up in your colon, and need to be “cleansed.” If this sounds like purging, it is.

Nevertheless you don’t have to go very far to find people peddling their highly profitable “juice cleanses” and other detox diets. For example, Westport’s Kaia Yoga Café offers a 3-day juice cleanse program for $195. And the quack-bound Darien Center for Integrative Medicine offers cleansing and detoxification programs. This is an alternative medicine group. But remember that

alternative medicine is made up of things we don’t know work and things we know don’t work.

The whole cleansing idea is not well regarded by the medical community. For example Dr Eric Yoshida, head of gastroenterology at the University of British Columbia says:

… this is all bunk. The body’s systems just don’t work the way the proponents of the cleanses claim they do. Once in the colon, nothing but water gets reabsorbed, he says. The liver detoxes our food very efficiently.

If you consult WebMD, it expresses similar concerns:

The Master Cleanse Diet is supposed to “release years of built-up waste in just 10 days, while your energy soars.” Yet, experts point out, the liver already detoxifies the body. Further, there is no medical evidence that fasting or “cleansing” diets actually rid the body of any toxins not otherwise discarded in bodily waste.

And the Mayo Clinic web site says much the same thing:

There’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Most ingested toxins are efficiently and effectively removed by the kidneys and liver and excreted in urine and stool.

Finally, Robert Lambert, MD noted that Body Detoxification is a Hoax

  1. Your body is not “full of toxins.”  When it is, your liver and kidneys are designed to handle those “toxins” and will do so far better than anything someone tries to sell you.
    2. Diets only work when they restrict calories.
    3. Your colon is fine and does not deserve to be regularly “cleansed.”  Colonics have been around since the early 1900’s (maybe earlier) and the fact that they are still being used is only evidence of the gullibility of humans. Careful with certain exotic fruits claiming to cleanse also, make sure you read irvingia gabonensis side effects before consuming something you can’t pronounce. Just be smart.

You will find hundreds of web sites promoting these quack remedies, but they are snake oil: they are all out to take your money.

New Year’s is a great time to take stock of your weight and perhaps lose some holiday overage, but use one of the diets listed on the US News of WebMD sites above, and stay away from quackery.

This article was originally published in on January 9, 2012

The Dirty Dozen is a scam, you know

produceEvery year the Environmental Working Group, as Washington-based organic lobbying group, publishes a list they call the Dirty Dozen, allegedly a list of fruits and vegetables with the highest residual pesticide concentrations. And every year the gullible mainstream press parrots their “findings” completely uncritically. Here’s the CNN report. You should note, however, that none of their board or staff has advanced degrees in science, with the exception of noted quack doctor Mark Hyman.

Here’s what the EWG’s crack staff actually does. They get the USDA’s annual Pesticide Data Program, and count pesticides per crop. Specifically they count

  • Percent of samples tested with detectable pesticides
  • Percent of samples with two or more detectable pesticides
  • Average number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Average amount of pesticides found, measured in parts per million
  • Maximum number of pesticides found on a single sample
  • Total number of pesticides found on the commodity


The resulting numbers themselves do not appear anywhere on their web site however. But if you consider these counts with a critical eye, you will discover that nowhere do they compare the pesticide concentrations reported with known toxic levels for these compounds. In other words, these uncritical counts really don’t mean much.

This is not new news: it was reported in a well-regarded paper by Winter and Katz, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Toxicology in 2011. They point out that the detection limits of modern analytical techniques are so sensitive that they can detect residues far below any concern for toxicity.  In fact, for pesticides the EPA has developed a measure called the minimum reference dose (RfD) that is defined as

[A]n estimate, with uncertainty spanning perhaps an order of magnitude, of a daily oral exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime.

In other words, the RfD is the amount you could ingest daily for the rest of your life, without any ill effects. For example, for malathion, that dose is 20 ug/kg/day. So, for a 75 kg person (165 lb) they could ingest 1500 ug or 1.5 mg per day with complete safety.

So how much malathion did the EPA detect on strawberries which tops the EWG’s list? A range of .005 to 0.15 ppm. So for 100g of strawberries the maximum you might ingest is .015 mg, which is 100 times less than the reference dose of 1.5 mg.

This is typical of the misdirection of the EWG. They do everything to scare you but fail to note that the amount of pesticide detected is hundreds to thousands of times less than the safe dose determined by the EPA. Winter and Katz pointed all of this out five years ago.

In addition, Bruce Ames’ landmark paper in PNAS (Dietary Pesticides 99.99% all natural) showed that the pesticides that the plants manufacture on their own are 10,000 more concentrated than those residues. So this simply shows that the residues from farmer-applied pesticides are so small as to be insignificant, and that our food is safe, whether conventional or organic. Of course, the EWG suggests switching to organic because that is their bias, but both conventional and organic crops are sprayed, and some of the USDA organic approved chemicals are not that desirable either.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Environmental Working Group is not a practitioner of sound science. As Activist Facts notes, the EWG has been making wild, breathless claims for over 20 years, none supported by actual science, and simply to scare you away from “chemicals,” neglecting the fact that everything is made of chemicals. The EWG has taking anti-science positions against genetic engineering, and encouraged anti-vaccine hysteria. They are simply not credible, and you should disregard their crazed, but utterly mendacious claims.

This article was originally published on on May 6, 2016