Random thoughts on the world's mysteries

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bum steer

We're all worried about possible salmonella and E. coli contamination in our meats. But there's more to worry about: Heavy metals, drugs and pesticides. Did you know that regulators in Mexico are rejecting beef shipments from the U.S.?
Microbial contaminants can be killed by cooking, but chemical residues aren't destroyed by heat. In fact, some of these residues break down into more dangerous substances when heated, according to the FSIS National Residue Program for Cattle, a recent report by the USDA's Office of the Inspector General.
Sick dairy cows are given medications to help them recover, but if it appears an animal will die, it's often sold to a slaughterhouse as quickly as possible, in time to kill it before it dies. That way, "[the dairy farmer] can recoup some of his investment in the animal," according to the report.

In such cases, medications may be consumed along with the meat. Such drugs include Ivermectin (which can act as a neurotoxin in humans), Flunixin (which can damage kidneys), and penicillin (which can cause life-threatening allergic reactions in some people).
Meat from sick dairy cows is likeliest to end up between buns at your local fast food joint. Neurotoxins: Now you can have 'em your way.

Toxic touch-screens?

In recent weeks, the world has become increasingly concerned by the spate of worker suicides at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China. Observers blame the suicide cluster on long hours, meager pay, monotonous work and dehumanizing working conditions.

Press reports of compensation packages for the families may have encouraged more workers to end their lives. The head of Hon Hai, the Tawainese parent firm, formally asked his workers for a written promise not to kill themselves, and for an agreement to forego any compensation for family members. The company chairman later apologized for that rather heartless request.

The Foxconn factory makes parts for Apple, Nokia and other consumer electronic firms. Now iPhone users around the world have a better understanding of the working conditions that make their wonder device possible.

The highly publicized suicides have overshadowed what may be an even more troubling issue: Another factory which manufactures iPhone touch screens may be making its workers ill.
Various news agencies have reported that more than 40 workers at the Wintek Corp. electronics assembly factory in Suzhou were hospitalized in connection with exposure to the chemical n-hexane while working on Apple products. As many as four workers may have died from the exposure, and English Eastday reports up to 100 people have been sickened since last year.

N-hexane is a flammable, fast-drying chemical made from crude oil that was used to clean touch screens in the final stages of the factory's Apple product assembly wing. It is also found in a variety of other industries, including printing, textiles, furniture and shoemaking, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
We all inhale n-hexane in tiny amounts, since the stuff is in gasoline. But studies show that larger amounts may, over time, cause paralysis, muscle weakness and, in extreme cases, death.

The Wintek factory is thought to have illegally used n-hexane instead of alcohol during touch-screen manufacture. As many as 100 workers have succumbed to the ill effects of the substance.

A blog called Supply Chain Asia argues that these scandals call into question the "outsourcing mania" which has enveloped American business over the past decade:
While developing the case for an offshore or outsourced production model, firms traditionally only looked at bottom line cost savings and will have to take a much more mature approach to making these decisions going forward so as to ensure their place and success in the market.

Firms are no longer simply outsourcing their products, they are trusting partners to safeguard their brand and the availability and safety of the product.

Truth in advertising

Sweet, cheap and dangerous

A lot of people believe that the letters HFCS spell danger.

"HFCS" stands for high fructose corn syrup, a form of sugar which helps to extend the shelf life of processed foods. For that reason -- and also because the stuff is so darned cheap (thanks to government corn subsidies) -- you can find HFCS lurking in innumerable products throughout your grocery store.

A number of people also believe that HFCS products simply don't taste like products sweetened with other types of sugar. You may recall the "New Coke" debacle of 1985, which ended when the Coca-Cola company switched back to the old formula. A number of cynics suggested that the reversion to the original was illusory, since the beverage was now made with high fructose corn sugar. Mexicans still make Coca-Cola with sucrose, as in ye olden days -- and they even sell the stuff in the traditional green glass bottles. In blind taste tests, experts found the Mexican variety to be a bit sweeter and "more complex."

But is cane sugar safer than corn-created fructose? Is there any truth to the argument that the near-ubiquity of HFCS has contributed to the obesity epidemic?

HFCS is produced from corn starch, which is mostly glucose. Toss in some enzymes, add a fungus, and glucose magically transforms into fructose -- the stuff that makes strawberries taste sweet. Today, the average American consumes roughly 38 pounds of HFCS each year, along with another 47 pounds of "natural" sucrose (i.e., table sugar).

Critics have pointed out that, as HFCS consumption has risen, so has obesity. For years, fructose consumption and the fat-factor have tracked with uncanny precision. Correlation, of course, does not mean causation.

The Corn Refiners Association has come out swinging against those who would bad-mouth their product. Here are some excerpts from a 2008 email sent by the association to a critic:
The American Medical Association (AMA) recently concluded that “high fructose corn syrup does not appear to contribute to obesity more than other caloric sweeteners.”
Many studies claim that the body processes high fructose corn syrup differently than other sugars due to the fructose content. Conclusions from these studies cannot be extrapolated to high fructose corn syrup. That is because the studies looked at the effects of fructose independently.

Like sugar, honey and some fruit juices, high fructose corn syrup contains almost equal portions of fructose and glucose. As noted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1996, “the saccharide composition (glucose to fructose ratio) of HFCS is approximately the same as that of honey, invert sugar and the disaccharide sucrose (or table sugar).”
Kathleen J. Melanson, et al. at the University of Rhode Island reviewed the effects of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose on circulating levels of glucose, leptin, insulin and ghrelin in a study group of lean women. The study found “no differences in the metabolic effects” of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose.
No credible research has demonstrated that high fructose corn syrup affects appetite differently than sugar. Research by Pablo Monsivais, et al. at the University of Washington found that beverages sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrup as well as 1% milk all have similar effects on feelings of fullness.
All of which seems quite persuasive.

Nevertheless, in that same year (2008), the American Journal of Physiology published a troubling study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida:
We hypothesized that chronic fructose consumption causes leptin resistance, which subsequently may promote the development of obesity in response to a high-fat diet. Sprague-Dawley rats were fed a fructose-free control or 60% fructose diet for 6 mo and then tested for leptin resistance. Half of the rats in each group were then switched to high-fat diet for 2 wk, while the other half continued on their respective diets. Chronic fructose consumption caused leptin resistance, while serum leptin levels, weight, and adiposity were the same as in control rats that were leptin responsive.
Subsequent exposure of the fructose-mediated, leptin-resistant rats to a high-fat diet led to exacerbated weight gain...
Our data indicate that chronic fructose consumption induces leptin resistance prior to body weight, adiposity, serum leptin, insulin, or glucose increases, and this fructose-induced leptin resistance accelerates high-fat induced obesity.
The problem, then, may not be fructose per se, but fructose in conjunction with highly fatty foods. And that's precisely what you encounter when you walk into most fast food restaurants.

HFCS was developed in the 1970s in order to offset the skyrocketing prices of sucrose. Fructose drastically lowered the cost of sweetener, which the most expensive aspect of soft drink production. Thus, the fructose invasion gave us the "all you can drink" beverage bar now seen in most fast food restaurants.

If you could time-travel back to (say) 1978, and if you visited a nice coffee shop or Mexican restaurant, you might see a shocking item on your tab: "They're charging for that second glass of Coke?" Yep. Such was the common practice. Nowadays, thanks to the miracle of corn, you can slurp the sweet stuff until it comes spraying out of your navel, for no extra fee. Naturally, this "endless gulp" policy increases your overall sugar intake. Who can resist that third king-sized goblet brimming with Dr. Pepper? Hey, they're giving the stuff away.

Even the Corn Refiners Association would have a hard time arguing against the problem of Endless Gulp Syndrome. They've made sweet cheap. Cheap can be dangerous.

Even if we discount the hidden dangers of low prices, HFCS may pose a health risk. A 2010 study conducted by Princeton University researchers found increased body fat and trigyceride levels in rats fed HFCS, as opposed to rats fed table sugar.
In summary, rats maintained on a diet rich in HFCS for 6 or 7 months show abnormal weight gain, increased circulating TG and augmented fat deposition. All of these factors indicate obesity. Thus, over-consumption of HFCS could very well be a major factor in the “obesity epidemic,” which correlates with the upsurge in the use of HFCS.
Of course, the corn industry was quick to disagree with this conclusion. Cynics may sneeringly remind us that the tobacco industry denied that cigarettes cause cancer.

Is Samsung safe?

Nearly everyone has at least one electronic device produced by Samsung. Now some are wondering if those products are safe -- or if they were created under safe conditions.

This video brings us a rather shocking interview with Yu-mi Hwang, a Korean worker in a Samsung semiconductor factory. Not long after this footage was shot, she died of leukemia at the age of 22:
"I often got bruises and threw up everything I ate, and was constantly exhausted and nauseous. So a freind took me to thehospital, where they told I had some problem with my blood. So they told me to go to another, bigger hospital. So I went there and was diagnosed with Leukemia...
The company considered this an individual tragedy, but Yu-mi's father did some investigating and found that his daughter's fellow employees had similar problems. A young woman working alongside Yu-mi also contracted leukemia. A startling number of workers in the same section of the factory developed unusual melanomas.

As the wife of one worker explains (later in the above-cited video):
I was very healthy, but it was hard to bear int he workplace, even for me. Female workers suffered menstrual irregularity, miscarriage and infertility...Even I experienced a miscarriage. Even if they could have a baby, the children have congenital diseases.
A similar cancer cluster broke out at another Samsung factory. Nevertheless, the company continues to proclaim all of these diseases to be coincidental.

Recently, a internal Samsung document -- an "environmental handbook" -- was leaked. This handbook appears to confirm that toxic substances at Samsung factories pose a threat to workers:
According to the analysis, a total of six carcinogenic materials were used in the semiconductor plant, namely trichloroethylene, thinner, sensitizing solution, dimethylacetamide, arsine (AsH3) and sulfuric acid (H2SO4).

Trichloroethylene, which was used in the washing and etching process, can cause diseases such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, renal cancer and breast cancer. Choi said, “Trichloroethylene is a substance that Samsung currently claims not to use.” Dimethylacetamide, also used in the washing and etching process, is carcinogenic and causes sterility, spontaneous abortion and respiratory organ impairment.
This handbook was classified top secret; distribution outside the company was prohibited.

Would increased governmental regulation of Samsung be tantamount to interference with the free market?

Libertarian ideologists should note that Samsung -- originally a food exporter -- became an electronics giant only with the help of the Korean government. (Many famous Asian brands have similar histories, as detailed in Ha-Joon Chang's masterful Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism.) Had this company been subjected to pure market forces, it would not have prospered and probably would not have survived. It hardly seems fair for Samsung, a company which relied on governmental support, to resist governmental inquiries into its health and safety practices.

Alas, the Korean government seems to have decided that the problem lies not with Smsung, but with company's critics.
Instead of conducting a proper investigation of the occupational nature of the deaths and adopting adequate prevention measures, the Korean government supported Samsung and joined its efforts to silence the growing evidence of a cancer cluster among electronics manufacturing workers at Samsung in Korea who have been exposed to toxic chemicals. On 2nd April there was a funeral ceremony for Park Ji-yeon, followed by a press conference at Samsung headquarters in Seoul to demand accountability from Samsung. The press conference was broken up by the police who then arrested seven of the activists who then shouted to Samsung “You are responsible for the death of Ji-Yeon Park.” They were released 2 days later without charges.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How to poison your pet

Do you know what goes into your pet's food? Do you want to know?

Read the ingredients. If you see the words "meat and meat by-products," there's a good chance that the meat came from a rendering plant. Rendering is a largely unregulated industry. Lots of critters end up at the rendering plant -- zoo animals, road kill, and animals "put down" by veterinarians.

Yes, it really is a dog-eat-dog world.

The euthanized animals come to the rendering plant in little green plastic bags. There, they are pushed into a stainless steel pit with a giant grinder at the bottom. Everything is tossed in: The deceased family pet, his collar, his dog tag, the flea collar, the green plastic wrapper, and the styrofoam that encased the plastic. It all gets ground to tiny bits, then cooked for an hour. The results are demoisturized into a powder and offered for sale as pet food ingredients.

If the main ingredient in any one batch of goop is fish, then the whole batch is labeled "fish." If the main ingredient is cow, the result is labeled "beef." Yes, the product will be called "beef" even though the rendering plant meat contains dead dogs.
If we were to bulldoze into the pit, say 25% of lamb parts, mix with 20% beef, 20% chicken, say 15% dogs or cats, and say a mixture of 20% of various road kill animal carcasses, we can say that the dominant ingredient of this run is lamb. (For this example we will ignore the % of plastic, metal, Styrofoam, insecticide, etc. - all too small to affect the labeling process).

As long as the rendering plant does not misrepresent the % of protein or fat or calcium, etc, they are legitimately entitled to sell the run to your favorite pet food manufacturer as "lamb".
Now think for a moment: How does the vet put down dogs and cats? Sodium pentobarbital. Rendering does not kill the drug. It stays in the food cycle. Which brings us to the really chilling aspect of our tale: Meat from the rendering plant is also fed to chickens and cattle, which are fed to -- us.

Hey, it's all part of the circle of life.

"Premium" pet food labels often insist that their meats are human-quality. Yet even the pricier dog foods may not be safe.
Mycotoxins, potentially deadly fungal toxins that multiply in moldy grains, have been found in pet foods in recent years. In 1995, Nature's Recipe recalled tons of their dog food after dogs became ill from eating it. The food was found to contain vomitoxin, a mycotoxin.
Nutro is a well-respected pet food manufacturer -- and their product isn't cheap. We're not talking about the kind of kibble that costs ten bucks for a 20 pound bag. Yet last year, the Pet Food Safety Alliance found a problem:
Zinc levels came back 2100 parts per million (ppm), about 38 times the daily recommended dose of 175 mg. per day of zinc, an essential trace element for plants and animals in small quantities. The European Union sets a level of 250 ppm in animal foods.

Dr. Stephen Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and senior vice-president of Animal Health for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) tells Consumer Affairs, “That zinc level jumps off the page. It is awfully high and does concern us. It’s certainly gotten our attention.”

PFPSA founder, Don Earl, believes this is a deadly level of zinc. “I consider it highly unlikely that any cat exposed to this food would survive much over a week.”
What to do?

One answer is to make your own food. If the above data doesn't persuade you, consider the price factor.

It's hard to find a premium dog or cat food that costs less than a dollar a pound. Even the most respected manufacturers will use labeling tricks to give the impression that chicken, lamb or some other meat is the primary ingredient, even though such is usually not the case. (One trick is to list separately different types of rice, or different components of rice; if toted up cumulatively, the grain would be the primary ingredient.) Some expensive brands will nevertheless use corn, the most common ingredient of the lowest-grade pet foods. We're not talking about human-grade corn: Pets get a corn slurry made from cobs and husks and other parts inedible to humans. This slurry is not good for dogs and cats.

(Cats are carnivores and have no business eating corn.)

Now consider the cost of human-grade meats. Shop around: I've found ground turkey (a terrific ingredient for pet food) on sale for as little as one dollar per pound. Jack mackerel goes for a similar price. Canned mackerel may not be pleasant to cook up in a stew, but your dog will love it, and the fish oil is very healthy.

You can extend the meat or fish by cooking it with rice or oatmeal in a (roughly) 50/50 meat-to-grain ratio. You may want to toss in some veggies. For example, if you don't like to eat broccoli stalks, chop them up fine and stir them in with the ground turkey.

Don't give your dog lots of grease, skin, gristle or ultra-fatty meat. In other words, don't fill your pooch's bowl with the bits of stewing beef that you find unchewable. A small amount of fat is okay, but too much can cause pacreatitis.

In 2008, the oldest dog in the U.K. -- a labrador mix named Bella -- died at the age of 29. Her diet: "shredded chicken, fish, boiled liver and best tinned stewing steak, mackerel and sardines."

Notice the absence of store-bought kibble on that list.

Are microwave ovens safe?

The magnetron -- a device which produces microwaves -- was developed during World War II for use in radar systems. One of the engineers was Percy Spencer, who worked for Raytheon. Toward the closing days of the war, Spencer noticed that an active radar set had melted a chocolate bar in his pocket. Shortly afterward, he created the first batch of microwaved popcorn.

During the war, there were many third-hand anecdotes (usually derided) about servicemen at radar stations using the radar sets to cook food. Quite a few web sites allege that the Nazis experimented with a device called the radiomissor, an alleged transportable microwave oven designed to feed troops in the field. Was Spencer's "chocolate bar" tale concocted to hide the fact that Raytheon -- a company looking for a good post-war consumer product -- stole the idea for the microwave oven from captured German documents? It's an intriguing theory, but it has one huge problem: All of the web sites which discuss the radiomissor suffer from a strange refusal to cite evidence. I've read any number of books about World War II and the Third Reich; none of them mention such a device.

After the war, Raytheon marketed the "Radarange." The first version cost roughly $5000 and were nearly six feet tall. These early devices used radar-quality magnetrons, which made them much more powerful than the tabletop models in use today. Roughly two decades passed before the company realized that consumers didn't need such extreme levels of power.

The microwave oven did not catch on until the late 1960s, when relatively inexpensive countertop models came out. Today, nearly 90 percent of American homes have these heating devices. Most people use them for reheating, defrosting, or cooking packaged foods.

Despite the ubiquity of Spencer's creation, many people still regard it warily. The microwave oven has, over the years, given rise to any number of rumors and scare-stories. Most of them have little basis in fact.

A number of internet sites will tell you that Russia banned microwave ovens in 1976 -- and yet these web authors always offer this claim without footnotes and without any hyperlink to a reliable source. The Wikipedia discussion here offers convincing details about the types of microwave ovens produced in Russia during the 1980s -- including model numbers and the names of the factories where the product was manufactured.

(If the former Soviet Union really had banned microwave ovens in 1976, Western propagandists would have discussed the matter endlessly in the 1980s and late 1970s. They didn't. Similarly, Soviet propagandists would have scored the U.S. for promoting a dangerous device. They didn't.)

This video examines some of the more bizarre claims about microwave oven dangers. In this case, many of the more extreme claims were traced to a bizarre religious cultist lacking any knowledge of science.

This skeptical website counters the claims made in one of those all-too-familiar viral emails (a common method of spreading fear-stories). The email, titled "Ten Reasons to Throw Out Your Microwave Oven," makes the following claims:
1. Continually eating food processed from a microwave oven causes long term — permanent — brain damage by "shorting out" electrical impulses in the brain, de-polarizing or de-magnetizing the brain tissue.

2. The human body cannot metabolize the unknown byproducts created in microwaved food.

3. Male and female hormone production is shut down and/or altered by continually eating microwaved foods.

4. The effects of microwaved food by-products are permanent within the human body.

5. Minerals, vitamins, and nutrients of all microwaved food is reduced or altered so that the human body gets little or no benefit, or the human body absorbs altered compounds that cannot be broken down.

6. The minerals in vegetables are altered into cancerous free radicals when cooked in microwave ovens.

7. Microwaved foods cause stomach and intestinal cancer tumors. This may explain the rapidly increased rate of colon cancer in America.

8. The prolonged eating of microwaved foods causes cancerous cells to increase in human blood.

9. Continual ingestion of microwaved food causes immune system deficiencies through lymph gland and blood serum alterations.

10. Eating microwaved food causes loss of memory, concentration, emotional instability, and a decrease of intelligence.
None of these claims are true. The author of the chain letter cites not single piece of scientific research. Apparently, this viral email stems from the same religious cult mentioned above.

The Snopes rumor-control web site tested the bizarre claim that microwaved water will kill plants. The assertion is a provable lie. (Prove it yourself by conducting your own experiment.)

Snopes also disproved the commonly-heard assertion that microwaving plastic food containers will release dangerous toxins. Actually, any form of heat -- not just microwave heating -- increases the possibility of releasing chemicals from plastic materials. That doesn't mean that you are necessarily in danger is you use a plastic spoon to stir chili, since certain types of plastics are designed for cookware.

Other fear-mongers claim that microwaved food carries dangerous "riolytic compounds" -- a silly assertion. Radiolysis occurs under ionizing radiation; microwaves are a form of non-ionizing radiation, as are sound waves and visible light. Conventional ovens also use non-ionizing radiation. So does your fireplace.

Ionizing radiation removes electrons from atoms; the freed electrons are called ions. X-rays and gamma rays are examples of ionizing radiation.

Microwave urban legends have been around since the microwave oven first became popular, back in the days of Vietnam and Haight-Ashbury. But these claims have yet to give rise to a lawsuit. We live in a society where (as Geraldine Ferraro once pointed out) you can sue someone over a ham sandwich. If firm scientific evidence existed linking microwaved food to brain damage, someone probably would have brought the matter to court by this point.

Some websites claim that the American microwave industry has successfully covered up the dangers -- and that this cover-up has, by some miracle, extended to every country in the world. We are even supposed to believe that American corporate pressure kept the dangers unpublished and un-discussed by the scientific establishment in every nation of the former Soviet bloc. A ludicrous proposition.

Consumer Reports magazine, run by the well-respected Consumers Union, operates outside of corporate pressure. Techs hired by Consumer Union found that "microwave-cooked food may retain vitamins and minerals better than stove-top-cooked food because the microwave zaps food quickly and without much water."

Scare stories aside, are there any legitimate reasons to be concerned about microwave ovens?

The more reasonable arguments against these devices involve the possibility of oven radiation leakage. Microwaves can zap your body organs -- say, your eyeballs -- the same way they heat food. At one time, there was a great deal of controversy about whether radar operators were particularly susceptible to cataracts. The consensus now is that avionic radars have caused eye damage. In 1990, a police officer named Gary Poynter published research indicating that police radar exposure might cause cancer -- a claim disputed by subsequent researchers and the FDA.

Conceivably, a microwave oven with poor shielding, placed at eye level, might -- over a long period of time -- cause cataracts. The age of the device is a key factor:
Manufacturers must adhere to strict guidelines in microwave production to ensure that they have a tight seal and do not emit dangerous levels of radiation. However, many homes contain older microwave ovens that may not perform to current standards.

Research conducted by microwave repair servicemen indicates that over 50% of microwaves which are at least two years old leak around 10% higher radiation levels than what is recommended by the FDA. The good news is that by doing a slight readjustment, the problem can be solved. If you do have a microwave that more than two years old, have it serviced to see whether it is safe to use.
There have been controversial studies indicating that other forms of non-ionizing radiation (such as the electromagnetic fields created by power lines) may have deleterious health effects. But if you eat a microwaved hot dog, you aren't any likelier to get brain cancer than if you eat a boiled hot dog.

Of course, the boiled wiener will probably taste better.

It's the hip new addiction!

Gambling? Drugs? Caffeine? Video games? Porn? Those addictions are, like, so 45 seconds ago. The hippest new addiction is tanning.

The compulsion to cook yourself even has a fancy name: Tanorexia. Tanning has much in common with other dangerous habits -- the hooked feel guilty about being hooked, they worry about being able to start the day without a fix, and they hide the problem from the unsympathetic.

Tanning addiction has a physiological basis: UV light increases endorphin release, which most people find pleasurable. The compulsion may also relate to Body Dysmorphic Disorder -- a psychological malady which causes one to become obsessively critical of one's physique. If you're tanorexic, you may see a ghostly pale image in the mirror, no matter how dark you actually are.

By now, everyone should know that excessive tanning can cause skin cancer. People who get into the habit of using tanning beds before the age of 30 vastly increase their chances of contracting melanomas. The 2006 Miss Maryland, Brittany Lietz Cicala, has had dozens of surgeries to remove cancerous moles -- and these surgeries have left serious scars. Some in Congress now hope to pass a "Tanning Bed Cancer Control Act" which would provide consumer safety warnings and regulate the amount of ultraviolet exposure.

Thus, the problem: How do health professionals talk people into breaking the tan habit?

You would think that tan-addicts might be frightened off by the prospect of skin cancer. But that's not the case: In a study of female college students, young women seemed oddly unaffected by any arguments based on cancer prevention. They cared much more about looks:
"Providing young patients who tan with information on the damaging effects of tanning on their appearance is effective even if they are addicted to tanning or using it to ameliorate depression symptoms," the researchers observed.

Regarding why an appearance-focused intervention would moderate behavior among individuals with motives other than their appearance, the researchers suggested that those who have pathologic motives for tanning also perceived an improvement in their appearance.
Why does motive matter, you ask? The important thing (you may think) is to get addicts to break the habit, not to fret about whether they've broken it for the right reasons.

But tan-addiction, like all other forms of addiction, appeals to a certain personality type, which is why compulsive tanners also have a tendency to become compulsive substance abusers. Telling young women that tanning can make skin leathery and unattractive may be an effective way to entice them to change their ways, but it also perpetuates insecurities about appearance.

In other words, the "tanning ruins your looks" argument does a good job of steering people away from a very unhealthy habit. But it does not address the underlying emotional and behavioral issues.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Red Bull****

We've all seen the cute commercials with the memorable tag line: "Red Bull gives you wings!" But did you know that the famed energy drink Red Bull -- the most popular energy drink in the world -- has been banned by Denmark and France?

Red Bull is produced in Thailand; the company was founded by Chaleo Yoovidhya (who is Thai) and Dietrich Mateschitz (an Austrian). An increasing number of people view their product with suspicion. A widely-distributed email includes these frightening allegations:
FRANCE and DENMARK have just prohibited it as a cocktail of death, due to its vitamin components mixed with GLUCURONOLACTONE', a highly dangerous chemical, which was developed by the United States Department of Defense during the sixties to stimulate the moral of the troops based in VIETNAM, which acted like a hallucinogenic drug that calmed the stress of the war.

But their effects in the organism were so devastating, that it was discontinued, because of the high index of cases of migraines, cerebral tumors and diseases of the liver that was evident in the soldiers who consumed it.
Alas, these allegations contain a lot of Red Bullcrap.

Glucuronolactone was not a Vietnam-era experimental drug; it is a natural chemical produced when the liver metabolizes glucose. The stuff's in your body right now -- all over your body, especially in and around your connective tissues.

Neither the Snopes site, nor Wikipedia, nor this humble site has been able to find any reliable citation proving the link either to Vietnam or to the creation of cerebral tumors. The Vietnam reference may have been inspired by the film Jacob's Ladder or the X-Files episode "Sleepless."

Some versions of the scare-mail rumor make reference to "An article in this months edition of the British Medical Journal." No such article exists.

It is true that Red Bull contains a lot of glucuronolactone -- some 250 times more than the normal amount of intake. Is it safe? I don't know. Nobody knows just what the stuff does.
So little research has been done on glucuronolactone (and most of it 50 years ago) that almost all information about it is mere rumor. Users generally believe it fights fatigue and increases well-being, but that could turn out to be bull, too.
So why did France ban the stuff? Because Red Bull contains more caffeine than French law permits. Same story in Denmark.

About Me

I'm a Democrat. That means my goal is to enslave humanity beneath the spike-heel boot of Bolshevism. We, the elite, the few, shall one day rule the planet. Until then, we gather in secret, sacrificing goats, devouring newborns, studying the ancient Goetic rites, and luring unsuspecting youths into the evil and mysterious worship of the Mighty Satan. Soon, soon, all humanity shall tremble at the supernatural power of our Dark Lord, and the puling, putrid, pious partisans of the pretender from Palestine (who died because he was weak and stupid) shall be consigned to the ovens and used to feed our dogs.