Saturday, January 4, 2014

Breast Cancer from Anitpersperant?

A friend of mine recently shared a post on facebook that stated antiperspirants cause breast cancer near the armpit because they are full of toxins and cancer causing agents that get absorbed into your skin, and that washing the antiperspirant off before bedtime will prevent such effects.

This is a perfect example of half-truth being presented as a health warning or safety tip.

First, lets discuss why your pits stink:
Arm pits are typically a warm area of your body and when your skin is warm it will release sweat (essentially salt water) in an attempt to cool off. When the water evaporates from the surface of your skin it absorbs heat - the transformation from liquid to vapor is an endothermic process. The heat on the surface leaves your skin with the water. Sometimes you sweat out a bit of sugar (not quite the same kind you put in your morning coffee) or some small proteins - particularly while sweating more actively. These sugars and small proteins are the ideal food source for the bacteria that live in the moist environment under your arms. They break them down and create waste products that smell bad. Hence the stinky arm pits.

Second, lets define Deodorant and Antiperspirant:
They are not the same thing, however these terms are often used interchangeably.
Both are applied to the armpit with the goal of reducing odors caused by sweat and the bacteria that grow in your underarm.

Deodorant accomplishes this by basically putting perfumes and odor absorbing or destroying compounds on the skin to keep you smelling fresh even in the presence of sweat.

Antiperspirant is usually deodorant with added aluminum or aluminum containing molecules. The aluminum acts to clog the ducts that carry sweat from your glands to the surface. This will not usually clog 100% of your sweat ducts but should affect a large number of them. So no matter how warm your pits get, no matter how much sweat is produced in the glands, it cannot escape to the skin and therefore cannot be broken down by the bacteria. No sweat = no stink!

You can usually identify one from the other based on packaging that says things like "Keeps you dry" or better yet, turn the thing over and read the ingredients. Antipersperants will have ingredients like "Aluminium chloride, aluminium chlorohydrate, aluminium zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly and aluminium zirconium trichlorohydrex gly."
WebMD explored the other components of deodorants and antiperspirants.

Now, lets break down the claims in the post.

1 - Antipersperant is full of toxic chemicals that cause cancer - are you kidding me? There are so many regulations around everything you buy that no company would even consider adding a known toxic compound to a product intended to be applied to the skin. Additionally, antipersperant is classified as a drug (while deoderant is a cosmetic) and therefore is subject to FDA approval. The FDA investigated the safety of aluminum in antiperspirants and found the levels of aluminum containing compounds to be well within safe limit and only cautions people to refrain from eating antiperspirants and inhaling aerosol varieties; however, this was not solely due to the presence of aluminum.

2 - These supposed toxins will be absorbed through your skin. Percutaneous absorption is a difficult task to acheive. If there were toxic chemicals in your antipersperant, the chances of them being absorbed through your skin would be slight. The skin is a highly impervious membrane which only allows certain very small molecules with specific properties through. Ionization and hydrophobicity are some of the important aspects that govern what may and may not pass through the surface of your skin - they must have just the right charge and just the right relationship with water and fats. The only potential scenario for these chemicals to enter your body is if the skin is comprimised in some way due to cracking or cuts. Even then, the amount of toxins to enter these defects are highly unlikely to reach a concentration high enough to cause any real damage.

3 - Once in your body the chemicals will alter your DNA and induce cancer. This one is not so far fetched - if you can get past the absence of the compounds and the impermeable barrier of the skin. If there is a carcinogen in one of your cells, then yes it could potentially result in cancer. See Cancer: Not a bunch of dead cells.

4 - Washing antipersperant off your skin before bedtime will prevent any adverse effects the toxins may cause. Honestly, who comes up with this stuff? If there are so many toxic chemicals in the antipersperant and it has been sitting on/absorbing into your skin all day, then how will removing it from the surface for the night time prevent those supposed ill effects? Logically, it should follow that some of the toxins have already absorbed into your body and rising them off the skin would not have any effect on those toxins.

Finally, the truth behind the lies:
There is a slight ounce of truth behind these claims however they are lost, buried in the fear mongering.
Aluminum clogs sweat ducts, this can cause some inflammation and irritation to these ducts. This is much more likely to lead to cancer than any theoretical toxins that are magically absorbed through the skin.
It has also be shown that aluminum can have estrogen like effects and therefore can theoretically cause breast cancer. This, however, would require a sufficient amount of free aluminum to cross the skin and accumulate in breast tissue - keep in mind most antiperspirants use aluminum containing compounds not just pure aluminum. Nevertheless, research has been done to investigate this theory and no evidence has been found to support the claim.
You may have also seen articles claiming a link between antiperspirants and other health concerns such as Alzheimers Disease and kidney disease. And, again, there is no evidence to support these claims.

Conclusion: NO - Antipersperant does not cause cancer, Alzheimers, or kidney disease. But if you are concerned about the aluminum in them the logical answer would be to use deodorant rather than antiperspirant (as opposed to washing your pits before bed - but your coworkers might like it if you do that anyway).

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Alas, time is short

I have not posted any earth shattering information for quite some time, and am unsure when I will be able to dedicate the necessary amount of time to put something coherent together.

In the meantime I hope you will enjoy this quiz from How Stuff Works about common misconceptions and pseudoscience.

If there are any topics covered that you would like to learn more about, leave me a note in the comments and I will discuss in further detail....eventually.....

until next time..

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cancer #1: Not a bunch of dead cells

Cancer is a word that everyone has heard but not many people actually understand.

"How can they kill cells that are already dead?"

I have had multiple conversations with family members explaining that cancer cells are not dead cells, in fact that is the problem.

Every cell in your body has a purpose; "be bone" "pump the heart" "feel heat" "make enzymes" and so on.

Every cell in your body has the same DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that codes for your entire existence. What makes a bone cell a bone cell and heart muscle heart muscle are the genes it expresses. Simply put it can be thought of as light switches. All cells have each and every switch built in but only some get turned on, the ones that say "make this protein". Each gene codes for a specific protein, those proteins can be enzymes that break down other molecules or put other molecules together, receptors that sit in the cell membrane and wait for a signal, or proteins that make the cell do other things like move.

All cells have genes that tell them when to divide and when to die. Most cells divide rather slowly and stop when they touch other cells, a phenomenon called "contact inhibition". Cells will die when they are no longer useful or there are too many of the same kind.

When a cell divides it replicates its DNA to make an identical copy. Each and every time this happens there is the possibility for error. A simple typo can cause the wrong information to be passed from a parent cell to a daughter. Most of these errors are found and fixed before it can do any harm. And many errors that occur are in areas that code for nothing. However, occasionally an error will get by, and the new cell will be dysfunctional in some way.

"Your pigment is blue now" rather than green; relatively harmless. Often the consequences are imperceptible.

When this happens in certain parts of the genome, the ones that code for cell division and cell death, we see a different scenario, we get cancer. The gene that says "stop dividing" has been silenced, or the gene that says "time to die" is quiet. With cancer the cells lose the ability to stop dividing, they no longer die as they should. Thus they continue to replicate faster than they die and accumulate a large mass of cells. They lose their original function over time and stop resembling the cell they originally were.

These cells have a high metabolic rate since they are constantly dividing and require a large blood supply to fulfill their need for oxygen and nutrients. They are leeching the nutrients away from the rest of the body, and that is when you start to feel ill. The mass gets large enough to put pressure on other tissue causing pain; symptoms emerge.
With quick detection and quick diagnosis, treatments can be very effective in removing the cancer or at least returning the patient to a normal lifestyle. The best case scenario we all hope for after hearing the diagnosis.


In a future post we will discuss the difference between benign and malignant tumors, and what metastasis means. We will also explore what chemotherapy means and how it works.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Science Trivia #1

I have been thinking that adding a bit of 'fun' to the blog would be beneficial, thus a new topic series: Science Trivia!!!! woooohooo!

Q: What is the most poisonous animal on Earth?
    a. The King Cobra
    b. A "Daddy-Long-Leg" Spider
    c. The Poison Dart Frog
    d. A Scorpion

A: The Poison Dart Frog

While the King Cobra is a venomous snake who's venom is extremely poisonous, this is not the most poisonous animal, nor the most poisonous snake.

The affectionately named "daddy-long-leg" or harvestmen, is not poisonous at all, as described in a previous post.

The Poison Dart Frog, as the name suggests, is a very poisonous animal, the Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis) from Venezuela is the most deadly variety. This animal has the capacity to kill 10 adult men.

The Scorpion is also a very poisonous animal, but most do not contain enough venom to kill one human.

None of these guys are particularly pleasant, and aside from the harmless daddy long leg, you would best avoid them altogether. 

I hope you enjoyed this trivia question, and if you have one of your own, please leave it in the comments.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad Infomercials #1: Kinoki Foot Pads

Okay, so I felt it was time to tackle some of the worse infomercials, and how they manipulate and fabricate science to get you to believe their claims and buy their products.

First up is the Kinoki Foot Pads - a product that claims to detox your body by extracting toxins through your feet.

In case you are not familiar with this product you can view the commercial here - take a gander at some of the comments too.

First, the commercial asks if you "are poisoning yourself with unavoidable toxins in the food, water, and air we breathe" and if you suffer from ailments caused by them.
As it is true that some foods do contain things that are less than healthy for you, it is very rare that you actually ingest enough "poison" to actually make you sick. And if you did, your symptoms would be much more severe than the ones they suggest. Also, these symptoms are completely non-descript and very common among most people who are not actually ill.

Second, they claim this "ancient Japanese secret to perfect health" removes those toxins and other things from your body.
Now they are pandering to those who believe in and trust actual western health practices. While heavy metals can be dangerous, an individual is very unlikely to have an appreciable amount of heavy metals in their body, unless someone is intentionally poisoning them. You do however have metabolic waste and some toxins in your body, but again, not enough to make you ill, and your liver and kidneys are there to remove them for you - not your feet. Parasites simply are not a thing that can diffuse through skin, and if you have enough of them, the symptoms will let you know and modern medicine has plenty of ways to kill them. Chemicals are not out of place in our bodies, we are basically a bag of them, everything we eat and drink can be described as a chemical and we would die if there were no chemicals in our bodies. In terms of dangerous chemicals, again you would be painfully aware of the effects of consuming something like drain cleaner.  Cellulite is not really a thing, it is the appearance of subcutaneous (just under the skin) fat when it is less than evenly distributed.

Third, they claim you can reclaim your vitality with these amazing foot pads.  "Just like a tree that takes in energy from the sun and removes toxins through the roots, your body works the same way!"
As one of the commenters on the video stated: Not only is that not how your body works, that is not how a tree works!
Trees use their roots to absorb water and nutrients from the soil, not to expel toxins. Their one metabolic waste product formed by photosynthesis is oxygen which they release from their leaves into the air.

Next, they say this is based on "ancient Japanese reflexology." In case you are not familiar with reflexology, the only thing it has in common with a foot pad, is that it involves feet.  Reflexology is a tool used to relieve stress and improve relaxation. You can learn more here. While some scientists doubt the effectiveness of this method, it is still in no way related to extracting toxins through the skin on the bottom of your feet.
Additionally, your liver and kidneys are there for removing toxins and metabolic waste from your body, there is no need for your feet to be involved in this process.

They go on to show the "lab results" for 2 individuals who used this product. They say that the pad gets lighter every time you use it, until there are no toxins left in your body. Lets take a closer look at these results. First, these results are displayed as a 'Yes' or 'No' not as a number with associated healthy ranges. If you have ever had blood work done, you will see a range for the acceptable/expected values and then your number with a note on whether your values are too high or too low.
As if it was necessary to continue debunking the claims made by this products commercial, we can look at the specific items they test for.
Benzene is a colorless, odorless liquid that readily evaporates and is commonly found in a laboratory. While it is possible to be exposed to this compound environmentally, the levels would likely be low enough for your liver to handle. Isopropyl and methyl alcohol are simple solvents, both evaporate quickly and you are unlikely to ingest a dangerous amount unless you do so intentionally. Aluminum, cadmium, copper, and nickel are all metals that we need, in very trace amounts, in our bodies and can be found in some supplements. Mercury and lead are highly toxic and if you ingested even a small amount, you would not survive long enough to order, use, and receive the results from this product. Trace amounts of thallium are not dangerous, and thulium is something only specialized professionals would come in contact with. Arsenic is highly toxic, would be very unlikely to find, unless again it was intentionally being dosed to someone. Asbestos is something we can be exposed to environmentally, but it is a fiber not a toxin, that can be inhaled, not absorbed, so it would not likely be in your blood to be extracted by these pads. Azo dyes are used in many foods, and are therefore something we can be exposed to and ingest, however "Direct toxic levels of azo dyes will never be reached by consuming azo dye coloured food." PCB's, Polychlorinated Biphenyl, can be very dangerous, but their use has been long banned, and exposure probability is very low.

Then, the commercial says the foot pads "contain ions to refresh your body and enhance your overall well being." It may very well contain ions, perhaps that is part of how they manage to change color whilst doing nothing but fooling you into thinking this product actually does something. Ions are important in your body, all cells in your body - neurons, muscle tissue, skin, all organs - are full of, and surrounded by, ions of many varieties and require them to function. Calcium, chlorine, sodium, potassium, and many other important minerals exist as ions in your body.

Lastly, the product is 'FDA Registered' this is not to be mistaken by something that has been FDA Approved. As stated on the FDA's website "Assignment of an NDC number does not in any way denote FDA approval of the product. Any representation that creates an impression of official approval because of possession of an NDC number is misleading and constitutes misbranding."

Please, do not let people like these fool you into buying into their lies, do not jeopardize your health or your bank account hoping for a 'miracle.' If you have a legitimate health concern, call your doctor, or schedule an appointment. Do your research and know what you are dealing with, with every purchase, especially those dealing with your health.

The Mayo Clinic has some additional information that may be helpful.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sleep well, breathe deep!

As a brief respite from research and thesis writing, I read a link sent to me by a friend..

89 Simple Swaps That Could Change Your Life on has a long list of things you can do to switch a poor choice out for a good one; while this list is far from perfect and I certainly do not agree with everything it says, I think it is worth a read.

One item I found particularly important is #71:

"71. Fun alarm clock song for annoying ringer. Who wants to be woken from a peaceful slumber thanks to an irritating beep? (Waking up early is hard enough.) Choose a fun little melody on the cell phone to wake up to instead!"

I definitely agree with this one; I have always said that the worst way to wake up is to be scared awake, and that basically what traditional alarm clocks do - BEEP BEEEP BEEEP BEEEEEP - not a pleasant way to start the day.  If your clock has no tone or tune options try using your cell phone which often come with a number of alternative ring tones, usually you can set one of them as your alarm tone. If you don't like the ones they've got most phones allow you to add your own tones whether by downloading them on your phone or syncing it to your computer. (Note: a free software to let you make any sound file a ring tone on most phones - bitpim)

If you are interested to know my personal preference, I use 2 alarms, both on my phone - both preloaded Verizon ringtones. The first is called Deep Blue Calling (if you happen to have it too) a very subtle song and it is set to go off half an hour before I intend to wake up. The second is called Rodeo Clown (doesn't remind me of either to be honest) and is a bit louder, set for the time I want to get up. Also note, for my phone there is an auto-sleep time of 5 minutes. I would recommend something like this if you are considering changing your wake-up soundtrack.

Another great one is #74:

"74. Breathing for bein’ a stress mess. Calm breathing can boost relaxation and calm the mind. Take a long, deep breath to relax the bod rather than stressing out."

I can't begin to count the times I have used this myself and told my friends to do so. A few simple deep breaths in and slow breaths out has the amazing ability to calm the mind and help you keep from getting overwhelmed - or help you stop being overwhelmed. I know it seems stupid and it's kind of a cliche, but it really works! Next time you are in a bit over your head or have a mound of work to tackle, try taking a few deep slow breaths before moving forward and I'm sure you will see.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wishful thinking..

In the hopes that my schedule will become less crazy in the weeks to come, I offer you this.

Here is a great example of how science can be twisted and warped to support a claim that may not be entirely true; luckily, someone was present to set the record straight.

You may have heard that a glass of wine contains beneficial compounds such as antioxidants, this is true, and apparently so does a bottle of whiskey. Unfortunately the beneficial effects of these compounds will be outweighed when one chooses to consume excessive amounts of either of these beverages. Additionally, the very same antioxidants as well as many others are also found in a variety of foods and beverages that have lesser negative effects.

~ anti - oxi - what now?? in a future post (when I have more free time) I plan to explain the role antioxidants play in protecting your cells, what they protect against, what this means for your overall health, what the heck antioxidants really are, and where you can find them. but this is all for now ~