Up-to-date Science Info
You Asked: Can consuming food, such as beef, treated with ammonia hydroxide potentially cause any health problems? Jamie Oliver seems to think so.
Jamie Oliver doesn’t like “pink slime.” He doesn’t want any of it in his hamburger. In fact, the famed British chef was so disgusted that McDonald’s in the U.S. was using this “beef filler” that he orchestrated a campaign to get rid of it. So what is “pink slime,” as Jamie calls it, and what horrors does it hold?
Once a cow has been butchered and disassembled into the various cuts, some fatty trimmings always remain. Traditionally these have been used for pet food, but in 1991, Beef Products Inc., an American company developed a process to convert the trimmings into what it calls “Boneless Lean Beef.” The fatty portions are separated by spinning in a sophisticated centrifuge, leaving behind the muscle tissue which is then ground into a slurry that is roughly 94% lean beef. This “pink slime” is then frozen into chips or blocks, ready to be incorporated into hamburger or into processed luncheon meats.
Because meat trimmings are particularly susceptible to bacterial contamination, the company introduced a novel method to control the risk. Salmonella and E. coli bacteria, having evolved in an acidic environment, cannot survive under basic, or alkaline, conditions. Ammonia gas can introduce such conditions as it dissolves in water to form ammonium hydroxide, a base. An equilibrium is then established between the dissolved ammonia and the ammonium hydroxide, with very little ammonium hydroxide actually being present at any given time. But when it is used up, as in the reaction to destroy bacteria, it is replenished as more of the dissolved ammonia reacts with water.
Ammonia gas is used to treat the beef slurry as it passes through specially designed stainless steel pipes. Some of the ammonia dissolves in the meat’s moisture and maintains the alkaline conditions needed to control bacteria. Neither the dissolved ammonia, nor the ammonium hydroxide it forms presents a health concern. Ammonia is a product of protein metabolism and therefore routinely forms in the human body. It ends up being converted into urea which is then excreted in the urine.
Since alkaline solutions are very effective at breaking down greasy materials, dissolved ammonia is widely used in cleaning agents. Many window cleaning products feature ammonia as their basic ingredient. And when Jamie Oliver made his version of “pink slime” on TV, cleaning agents were prominently featured. In a cleverly crafted “made for TV” piece Jamie opened up a padlocked cabinet, obviously intended to emphasize the danger, and removed a bottle of ammonia that prominently features the skull and crossbones. I’ve never seen such a bottle. He then proceeded to place some meat trimmings in a washing machine that played the role of a centrifuge, and dumped in the ammonia cleaner liberally while admitting he has no idea how much to use. The impression given was that the meat is washed in an ammonia solution which is not at all the case. Jamie’s ugly mash solicited plenty of yucks and eeews from the onlookers along with snide comments about the food industry.
Let’s get real here. Whether or not ammonia is found in cleaning agents has nothing to do with whether it is safe or effective as an antibacterial agent in meat.Read more
Yesterday Dr. Oz had a 21 year old woman as a guest who believes that keeping a cell phone in her bra for four years caused her breast cancer. Oz described that the location of the tumour corresponded to the placement of the cell phone. A surgeon then described that he had seen several other similar cases in young women who had no family history of the disease. In theory a cellphone triggering breast cancer does not seem plausible. The electromagnetic fields produced are way too weak to have an effect on living tissue by any known mechanism and despite that loud rhetoric coming from some alarmists, there has been no increase in brain tumours since cell phones have become popular. Of course I'm not an expert on breast cancer, but I do have access to noted surgical oncologist Dr. David Gorski whose opinion I value. Here are his comments:
"Breast cancer in women under 25 is fairly rare, but it happens. Over my 14 year career thus far since I finished my fellowship, I personally have treated a 19-year-old for breast cancer (my youngest breast cancer patient ever thus far in my career), a handful of women, no more than 10, in their 20s (one of whom was 26 and pregnant at the time of her diagnosis), and more women in their 30s than I can remember. (I just operated on a 33 year old on Wednesday.) A former partner of mine once treated a 14-year-old. Moreover, the vast majority of breast cancer cases, including breast cancer in young women, are not linked to genetic predisposition; more than 80% are sporadic; so it means almost nothing that these women didn't have a family history or other evidence of a genetic predisposition. As for women under 40, it is hardly impressive to have found four women under 40 with breast cancer who might have been keeping their cell phones in their bras.
That being said, how many 21-year-olds hold their cell phones in their bra or in shirt pockets near their breasts?Read more
The zeal to recommend extreme reductions in sodium...is a case of ideology replacing good science.” Is this the statement of some right-wing newspaper columnist or food industry executive? No. This is Dr. Salim Yusuf, the Heart and Stroke Foundation chair in Cardio- vascular Disease at McMaster Univer- sity, arguing that there has been far too much focus on the policy of sodium reduction as a means to curb cardio- vascular disease. Immediately, another leading Canadian scientist, Dr. Norman Campbell of the University of Calgary, came out swinging, not only disputing Yusuf’s science as having “fatal flaws,” but getting down in the scientific gutter questioning his competence in the field by claiming that Yusuf “is way off his expertise...he doesn’t have a strong understanding of what the evidence is.” Not to be outdone, Yusuf countered that while he considers that Campbell is well-meaning, the poor chap is basing his dramatic public health measures on “scant” evidence. Moreover, “Norman has been one of those — in polite terms — evangelists about sodium — in impolite terms, Talibans about sodium.” Them’s fighting words!
With this level of “scientific” debate, what’s the consumer or policy-maker to do? Only two years ago sodium reduction was widely presented as an area of relatively settled science, and senior managers (and the minister) were criticized for not follow- ing more aggressively their scientists’ advice to get tougher with the food industry.Read more
You Asked: How close to the wind can a conventional sailboat sail? Is there a theoretical limit to the angle to the TRUE wind that a boat can achieve (including lateral drift)? I was taught (many years ago) that the limit is 45%. Is this considered correc
Good question. I don't think there's a fundamental limit that is the result of some physical law. I think the 45 degree rule is about **efficiency** - if you sail any closer than this, then you're not taking maximum advantage of the wind.Read more
In 2007, seventeen-year-old cross-country runner Arielle Newman was found dead in her home. Autopsy results were inconclusive. After a two-month investigation, the medical examiner concluded that Arielle Newman’s death was caused by methyl salicylate, the key ingredient in sports creams like Bengay and IcyHot. How can a muscle-soothing cream lead to such a tragedy? It seems to be a matter of dose.
Sports creams may seem harmless since they are routinely used for alleviating minor arthritic pains, back aches, strained muscles and joint pains. But those searching for instant relief may be easily tempted to over-apply the medication. There is no doubt that methyl salicylate can be toxic when ingested but most cases of human toxicity occur as a result of topical over-application! Dr. Thomas Kearney, a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, is of the opinion that “topical application of methyl salicylate can be hazardous if it is smeared over 40 per cent of the body, if someone has a skin condition or if another medication interacts negatively with the products.”
Warning symptoms of methyl salicylate toxicity range from fatigue, nausea, hallucinations, dizziness, difficulty breathing, convulsions, ringing in the ears and vomiting. How well one recovers from methyl salicylate poisoning is dependent upon how quickly the treatment is received and on the amount of salicylate present in the blood.
Although synthetic methyl salicylate is prominently known for its role as an analgesic in sports creams, the compound also occurs naturally in oil of wintergreen.Read more
A lot of people have asked about Zenbev, the "organic sleeping aid" available in health food stores. This combination of pumpkin seed extract and dextrose with some rice starch and guar gum was developed by psychiatrist Craig Hudson based on the assumption that the tryptophan-rich protein in the seed releases tryptophan upon digestion, and that insulin secretion in response to the dextrose component leads to other amino acids being absorbed into muscle cells leaving trytophan free to cross the blood brain barrier. This amino acid is the precursor both for serotonin and melatonin with melatonin production being favoured in the dark. Since melatonin is known to enhance sleep, Zenbev should work, at least in theory. Hudson quotes a couple of pilot studies but I can't find any proper randomized double blind trials. There appears to be plenty of anecdotal evidence and the product sells well, especially in Europe. The Natural Products Directorate in Canada has granted Zenbev an NPN (Natural Product Number) giving it some legitimacy, although the requirements for this are not very stringent. Emphasis is on safety, not efficacy. Demonstration of efficacy can come from theory or even anecdotes. There is probably no great risk in trying this product, which based on known biochemistry may actually work. Read more
Mention the word arsenic and our thoughts immediately turn to poison. But there other interesting connections as well. Arsenic rarely is found in nature in its elemental state, it is found as part of a variety of compounds. One of these, arsenic sulfide, has been known since the fifth century BC. It probably came to people’s attention because of its color. The mineral looks like gold! In all likelihood it was a belief that it did contain gold that led to experimentation with the substance, perhaps in an attempt to extract gold from it. There was no gold to be had but the substance did turn out to be very toxic and became a commonly used tool for professional poisoners.
Early physicians also used small doses of arsenic as a drug to treat a variety of diseases. Arsenic sulfide’s common name is "orpiment," deriving from the Latin root for gold. It also became known as king’s gold or king’s yellow presumably because of numerous attempts to use it to generate gold for kings. This dates back to Aristotle’s belief that metals grew in the ground, a belief that led alchemists to start with impure metals and hasten their conversion to gold by seeding with various substances. The ripening process was thought to be associated with changes in color, just like plants change color as they ripen. Impure metals in the ground were thought to turn into gold over centuries.
Orpiment was an ideal candidate to seed various mixtures because it looked like gold and alchemists believed it was in fact a substance that was on its way to ripening into gold. Read more
"Magical Mystery Cures" with Bob McDonald on "Doc Zone," the excellent CBC program looked at the 'anti-aging" industry. We were treated to a spectacular array of quacks outdoing each other with nonsense piled on nonsense. Bob did an excellent job going to anti-aging trade shows, exposing the various types of snake oil they peddle although he should have been more confrontational with the quacks.
One promoter of Kangen water, dressed in a white lab coat bearing a symbol very similar to the symbol of snakes wrapped around a staff used by the medical profession, had the gall to state that the water cures cancer. His gibberish filled spiel about fractured water clusters was absurd beyond belief. He was matched by the quack who was peddling an "ionic" foot bath, described below, claiming that the rust generated by the hidden electrodes were toxins being removed from the liver, and the clumps of brown guck were pesticide residues being eliminated. Bob did the right thing and showed that the same thing happens without feet being placed in the water, but unfortunately he didn't do it in front of the quack. Would have loved to see the charlatan's face and hear what explanation he would have come up with.
And then there was the woman who had some crystals attached to a laptop and muttered incomprehensible claptrap about quantum physics and had the nerve (or mental deficiency) to refer to Superman's success with crystals. Bob properly castigated the quacks with their lotions, potions and useless electronic gizmos and concluded that the only real anti-aging regimes were exercise, eating right and selecting one's parents properly. He should have added that the charlatans taking advantage of people who lack the scientific knowledge to see through their absurd schemes should be jailed like the thieves that they are.
Let's elaborate on the foot bath scheme mentioned above. The victim of this scheme is told that the special electrically-powered footbath can remove toxins from the body and improve health. And there is proof. As the subject sits with his or her feet in the bath, a rust colored scum forms, supposedly the accumulated toxins being released from the body.Read more
Wood burning stoves are a health hazard. Period. Not debatable. To understand, we first have to examine what combustion is all about. When cellulose and lignin, the major components of wood, burn completely, they produce carbon dioxide, water, heat and light. The heat of combustion also allows oxygen and nitrogen in the air to form various oxides of nitrogen. But combustion is rarely complete. Smoke is a sign of incomplete combustion…and of a health risk. It is actually composed of tiny particles of unburned hydrocarbons which are packed with carcinogens such as the notorious polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Incomplete combustion also signals the formation of carbon monoxide.
Inhalation of carbon monoxide reduces the blood’s ability to supply oxygen to the body. Nitrogen oxides directly impair the respiratory system and also contribute to ozone formation, which causes breathing problems. Ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides are mixed with some of the volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde that are also produced when wood burns.
According to the California Environmental Protection Agency, the particulate matter emitted from wood burning is usually 10 or 2.5 microns in diameter. In order to put this into perspective, a human hair diameter is roughly 60 microns! Due to their miniscule size, these tiny particles can easily lodge in the lungs causing asthmatic attacks, severe bronchitis, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory illnesses.
Cooking indoors on a wood burning smoke is particularly dangerous. However, some studies have suggested that HEPA (high efficiency particulate arresting) filters may be a viable option for reducing particle concentrations in homes. But HEPA filters cannot filter out volatile organic compounds.Read more
Remember when it wasn’t hard to determine if someone had been into the pistachio bowl? They’d be caught red-handed! That’s because until artificially coloured foods became a pariah, pistachio nuts, which are actually not nuts but the seeds of a fruit, often used to be coloured red. Exactly why that was the case is a matter of some controversy.
Some suggest that when pistachios were first imported into North America back in the 1930s, mostly from Iran, the shells tended to be blemished as a result of hand-picking. Since Americans didn’t care for blemished food, the pistachios were dyed red.
Others suggest that the red colour was added to distinguish the newly introduced nuts from other varieties to attract attention. Another possibility is that in Iran, traditionally, the nuts were soaked in brine and then roasted in the sun which resulted in a pinkish coloured shell — and importers added red dye to achieve a uniform product.
The fact is that nobody really knows how the tradition started, or indeed what dye was used, although some accounts make reference to a “vegetable dye,” probably beet juice. With concerns being raised about food additives, red pistachios have mostly disappeared, although a few companies still produce them for consumers mired in nostalgia. The vast majority of pistachios sold in North America now come from California, and instead of attracting consumers with colour, producers hope to attract them with science. The hook is a possible benefit in the prevention of heart disease — and believe it or not, help with erectile dysfunction.
Nuts are low in saturated fats, high in monounsaturates and are rich in antioxidants, so it comes as no great surprise that epidemiological studies have demonstrated a link between increased nut consumption and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Pistachios have a chemical profile similar to nuts and have therefore been studied in terms of reducing cardiovascular risk. In one small study, subjects were asked to consume either 40 grams, 80 grams or no pistachios daily. The pistachio consumers lowered their LDL cholesterol (the “bad guy”), but interestingly, there was no difference between the 40 or 80 gram consumers. So one pistachio snack seems to be enough; more is not better.
But does this extra consumption not lead to weight gain? Apparently not. A study in China examined the pistachio effect in some 90 subjects diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Although there are some variations in the definition of metabolic syndrome, it basically means a high waist circumference combined with any two of elevated triglycerides, reduced HDL cholesterol (the “good guy”), raised blood pressure, raised fasting glucose, or previously diagnosed Type 2 diabetes. In the Chinese study, subjects consumed either no pistachios, or 42 grams or 70 grams for 12 weeks. There were no changes in body-mass index or waist-to-hip ratio. Curiously, there was also a slight improvement in triglyceride levels in the 42-gram group but not the others.Pistachios have also been the subject of a study by Dr. James Painter of Eastern Illinois University who coined the term “pistachio principle,” referring to an effect by which the body is fooled into eating less by using visual cues. Read more
It’s hard for us here in North America to believe that gold is killing hundreds of children in Nigeria. Well, it isn’t exactly the gold that is killing them, it is the lead oxide and lead carbonate in the dust that is stirred up in the search for tiny gold nuggets. There is no modern machinery here, the miners work with shovels and hammers. They bring rocks home and pound them into dust in the quest for bits of gold that may allow for an improved life. The lead-laden dust settles on everything, including clothing and food. Water becomes contaminated as it is used to rinse away the dust. Not only has the Gold Rush increased the mortality rate in Nigeria dramatically, killing more than 400 children, it is also responsible for the rising incidence of mental deficiency, developmental difficulties and damaged organs.
Blood samples from children reveal levels of lead dozens of times higher than the international accepted threshold. Even if there were to be a drastic reduction in household lead dust, contamination of the water supply remains. Doctors working for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have treated some 2,000 of the estimated 4,000 contaminated children with drugs that bind lead (chelation therapy) but this is futile if there is no effort to clean up of the contaminated villages. The Nigerian government is under immense pressure to fund and participate in a “cleanup” of one of the worst cases of lead poisoning in history. Read more
William Beaumont was an army doctor stationed at Fort Mackinac in Michigan in 1822 when an accident occurred that allowed him to make the first systematic study of the process of digestion. Alexis St. Pierre, a young French Canadian army porter was wounded in the stomach when a musket accidentally discharged. He was brought to Beaumont who was unable to close the wound. The man developed an infection for which, according to accepted practice at the time, he was bled by Beaumont. In spite of this useless treatment he survived and became a living laboratory. After about eighteen months the hole partially healed, becoming more like a valve through which the stomach contents could be sampled. And sample Beaumont did, for about nine years!
He confirmed that the gastric juices were acidic, a property previously noted by the famous Flemish physician J.B. van Helmont in the 1600s. He also showed, as van Helmont had done before, that acidity was not enough for digestion because putting food into a straight acid solution did not lead to its breakdown. There must be some other substance secreted by the stomach which was critically important, he maintained! Soon after Beaumont’s investigations laid the foundation, this critical substance was isolated and identified as the enzyme pepsin. Beaumont also showed that juice removed from the stomach and placed in a glass jar could digest food the same as in the stomach. There was no “vital force” the human body possessed that was required for digestion as some had maintained.Read more
Odour is big business. Both producing it and eliminating it. While perfume and toiletry companies battle to churn out novel fragrances to entertain our olfactory receptors, the huge odour control industry strives to protect us from the assault of nasty scents. This is actually a greater challenge. In the perfume trade you can get away with some inventive advertising and fanciful claims, but when it comes to eliminating odours, well, it isn’t hard to tell if a product works or not.
Bad smells are not rare. Pet urine, garbage, manure, sewage, mildew, sweat and the toilet bowl all waft undesirable fragrances into the air. How do you get rid of them? There are several options. The odour can be masked by a more powerful one, which is essentially what floral scented air fresheners do. Or the smelly molecules can be removed from the air. Air purifiers pass the air through activated carbon filters which can bind smelly compounds. Zeolites (aluminosilicate minerals) have an amazing ability of adsorbing molecules to their surface and are available in various formats.
Chemical reactions can also be used. Fish odour on the hands is due to chemicals called amines. But if reacted with citric acid in lemon juice, they form salts that do not become airborne. Washing hands with lemon juice therefore eliminates fishy aromas. Many undesirable smells, such as that of spoiled food, are due to organic acids, and can be neutralized by baking soda. Fragrant molecules in the air can also be destroyed by means of a chemical reaction. Ozone generators produce ozone gas which can destroy smelly compounds in the air. The smell of smoke after a fire yields to ozone. Certain enzymes produced by bacteria can also chew up foul compounds. Most pet odour eliminators are bacterial concoctions.
Molecules can also be removed from the air by interacting with other volatile substances in such a way that the resulting complex is no longer volatile. Cyclodextrin, the active ingredient in products like Febreze, is a large molecule made of glucose units joined in a ring. Malodorous compounds are entrapped in the ring, and the cyclodextrin-smelly molecule complex, because of the extra mass, now settles out of the air. Some essential oils from plants can also interact with volatile compounds in this fashion and many smell “neutralizers” are based on this principle.
But there is more to essential oils. Some can bind to receptors in our nose without triggering any action, and in the process block other molecules from interacting with the receptor. Sort of like the wrong key fitting a lock without being able to unlock it, but preventing the right key from being inserted. There has been a great deal of research trying to find specific essential oils to block specific smells, with some success. Unfortunately the information is proprietary and companies will not reveal exactly what oils they use, but the results can be effective in controlling bad smells emanating from pig manure, landfills and sewage treatment plants.
Sometimes odour control products and perfumes can work hand in hand. The Harvey Prince Company, a New York based perfume manufacturer, claims to have come up with just such a happy union in “Ageless Fantasy,” a perfume having the “smell of youth.” I bet you sniff a scam coming up. But maybe not. At least, not a total scam. The whole idea is based on the notion that as we age our body chemistry changes, and we produce novel compounds.
Japanese researcher, Shinichiro Haze analyzed the scents emanating from shirts worn for three days by subjects ranging in age from 26 to 75. One particular compound stood out. 2-Nonenal, with an odour described as greasy, grassy, “old book,” or “old person” was more prominent in the elderly. Subsequent research revealed that it was the product of bacterial action on vaccenic and palmitoleic acids, both of which are found in sweat and increase with age.Read more