Greg Hewgill (ghewgill) wrote,
Greg Hewgill

better living through chemistry

Over the years, I've become increasingly aware of some of the chemicals that many people put in or on their bodies on a regular basis. Although it was over ten years ago now, I clearly remember the time I noticed my shoulder was a bit numb and it wasn't going away (as it would if I pinched a nerve or something). I was drinking diet soft drinks on a regular basis at the time. I recalled reading something months before about the link between aspartame and numbness, so I quit drinking the diet drinks and the numbness immediately went away (and never came back). I haven't touched the stuff since.

Since then, I've learned about various other potentially harmful chemicals that are commonly added to food or personal care products. For some of these, there is little direct evidence that the chemical is actually harmful to humans. This may be because the direct effect is hard to observe, or it takes a long time to show an effect, or other reasons. However, I think people should apply some common sense:

  • Would you consume more formaldehyde than you really had to? Aspartame breaks down during metabolism into formaldehyde and other compounds.
  • Would you willingly ingest benzene, which is absolutely known to cause cancer?
  • Would you regularly wash your mouth out with a substance that is known to promote growth of antibacterial-resistant strains of bacteria ("superbugs")?
  • Would you apply a known neurotoxin to your skin in a form that is easily absorbed into the bloodstream?

If you answered no to any of these, be sure to read below about how to avoid doing so.

Name Use Found in Danger How to avoid
Aspartame Sweetener Diet soft drinks, sugar-free sweets and gum Anecdotal evidence of links to serious diseases (see Aspartame controversy). I have direct experience with numbness in my shoulder caused by aspartame. Carefully check ingredients of "diet" or "sugar-free" anything.
Sodium benzoate Preservative Fruit juices, soft drinks, salad dressings, etc When combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), it forms benzene (a carcinogen). Check the ingredient list for sodium benzoate (E211) or potassium benzoate (E212).
Triclosan Antibacterial and antifungal agent Toothpaste, mouthwash, soap, kitchen utensils, cutting boards, toys, socks, etc Consistent use of antibacterial agents is known to promote growth of resistant strains. This one is tough to avoid. For products with an ingredient list, you can easily check. For other products, avoid anything labeled with "antibacterial".
Aluminium chlorohydrate Antiperspirant Antiperspirants Aluminium is considered a "heavy metal" in biological contexts and has also been found to be a neurotoxin. A link to Alzheimer's disease is possible. Use a deodorant-only product instead of an antiperspirant. The "crystal" deodorants work well.

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