The Food and Drug Administration has just loudly re-endorsed perhaps the oldest truth in science—that the dose makes the poison. Paracelsus, the father of toxicology, told us 500 years ago, “All substances are poison. There is none which is not a poison. The right dose makes the difference between a poison and a remedy.”
Even sunlight and water are poisons at high doses.
The FDA has just commented on a new study which found no health impact from low doses of bisphenol-A. BPA is a plasticizer often found at low doses in things like foods, children’s milk bottles, and toys. Activists responded by sending out waves of demands to parents that this useful chemical be banned from the shelves.
The FDA said, “The study reported no effects of BPA at any dose except at the very highest levels, and is consistent with the FDA’s current position that BPA is safe at the very low amounts that occur in some foods.” Moreover, the FDA says BPA’s “low dose” safety range is huge: from 2.5 to 2700 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day!
There’s NO case on record where low doses of a toxic substance are more dangerous than high doses. That is important in a human world where thousands of different chemicals play parts in our food, water, medicines, and technologies. The activists, however, like making us fearful of chemicals—apparently with the goal of undermining our faith in the capitalist system that keeps finding new uses for chemicals.
Take obesity. Activists have attacked aspartame and other non-caloric sweeteners in the midst of a First World obesity epidemic. Sugar substitutes should therefore be a no-brainer. We struggle with obesity because we no longer do hard physical work, we eat big meals and high-calorie snacks, and we spend long hours watching TV and texting. The nay-sayers, however, don’t want a cheap, acceptable substitute for the 16-ounce Coke. Ergo, they attack aspartame as “dangerous.” And, good people believe them. Just last week, a conscientious young mother warned my Rotary meeting about the potential evils of aspartame.
Farm chemicals have also been accused in the “low dose” campaigns. Atrazine, our most widely used farm chemical, turns up during the spring flush in the drinking water of some Midwest cities. This makes it a target for activists and even the EPA itself, which would like credit for another regulatory scalp. However, a person would have to drink thousands of gallons of “contaminated” water per day to exceed the EPA’s own safety level.
Recently, the New Yorker lauded a Berkeley biologist, Lester Hayes, for claiming that low doses of atrazine cause sexual changes in frogs even though high doses have shown no impact. The real joker in the deck: Hayes has never revealed his testing regime, and no other researcher has been able to duplicate the low-dose impacts.
This is the opposite of science.
Europe has adopted the Precautionary Principle that says nothing should be allowed unless it has been proven never to cause harm to anyone or anything, ever. They will severely hamper their lifestyles if they proceed down this road. I take rat poison every day to prevent a recurrence of a small stroke I suffered five years ago. My warfarin, originally developed to make rats bleed to death internally, is now used in low doses to help millions of humans lead longer, healthier lives. The pills cost less than a penny a day.
Another common example: Poisonous iodine, first added to our salt in 1924 to prevent goiter, has all but eliminated the condition that was prevalent across wide areas of the U.S. Almost a hundred years later, the fear of goiter never crosses our mind as we daily add a bit of salt and health to our food.
The truth remains: The right dose makes the difference between a poison and a remedy.