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What Doesn’t Kill You…

The Scientific Principle That Can Put Your Mind at Ease

August 2023

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Click to reveal bonus content (fun facts and additional insights) within script.

 

Inside your kitchen … there’s poison lurking.

Every day, millions of Americans are unknowingly eating food with toxic ingredients.

Ingredients like pyridoxine, which can cause a loss of muscle control and make it difficult to walk…i

…or phylloquinone, which can cause brain damage in infants…ii

…or cholecalciferol, which is actually used as rat poison.iii

How were these kinds of toxins ever allowed into our food supply?

Well, it’s pretty simple actually.

All those terrifyingly named ingredients … are vitamins.

And, yes, they all can actually be toxic — and yet all this stuff is totally safe to eat.

Which … should leave you with some questions.

[OPENING SEQUENCE]

Let’s be honest: America hasn’t always been the healthiest place. There used to be lead in our gasoline. No one wore sunscreen. Everybody used to smoke.

No, seriously — even camels used to smoke!

(Don’t ask. It was a weird time.)

But these days? Americans are kind of obsessed with our health.

And we’re doing pretty well, especially by historical standards. Between 1960 and 2015, Americans’ life expectancy increased by almost 10 years. iv

Death rates from cancer? They’re falling.v Death rates from strokes? They’re falling.vi Death rates from cardiovascular disease? They’re falling.vii

And yet there’s a weird irony here: At the same time that we’re enjoying longer and healthier lives, we’ve never been more concerned that we’re being poisoned — by … pretty much everything.

The food supply.

The pharmaceutical industry.

Cell phones.

Deodorant.

Chopsticks?

It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is claiming something you use every day is going to kill you. It’s all terrifying — and more than a little confusing.

After all, who can you actually trust? Well, allow us to nominate at least one candidate: this old dead Swiss guy.

This is Paracelsus, a 16th-century doctor who was one of the pioneers of the use of chemistry in medicine.viii And perhaps his most famous contribution to science is a phrase that can help us navigate a lot of these fears: “The dose makes the poison.”

Now, what Paracelsus meant by that is that, while we tend to think of substances as either safe or harmful, almost everything is actually both — depending on how much of it we’re exposed to.

For instance, as health risks go, you’re probably not that worried about black licorice. And if you eat it in normal amounts, you don’t need to be. But in 2020, a Massachusetts man suffered a fatal heart attack after eating at least a bag of the candy every day for a few weeksix — because it contains an ingredient that, at those enormous quantities, causes potassium levels to nosedive.x

There’s also nothing wrong with a little nutmeg. But a lot of nutmeg — two to three tablespoons — can send your heart racing and cause hallucinations xi — which could make Christmas a little weird.

And believe it or not, even water can be toxic at excessive levels. Drink more than your kidneys can excrete, and you’ll be facing a condition called hyponatremia — which, in the most extreme cases, has even led to comas or death.xii

But while the principle of “the dose makes the poison” might make us more cautious about things we otherwise regard as harmless … it also ought to calm our nerves about some of the things that freak everyone out.

Take pesticides, for example. In 2018, 79 percent of Americans told pollsters they believed there was at least some health risk from pesticide exposure through fruits and vegetables.xiii That’s one reason that so many people buy organic food, despite the fact that it can cost over 50 percent more.xiv

Which would probably make them disappointed to learn that, contrary to popular belief, organics use pesticides too.xv

But here’s the good news: It doesn’t matter. Because pesticides can be dangerous at high levels, but … those are not the levels in your grocery store. Not even close.

The EPA sets limits on how much pesticide residue can be on produce — and sets them well below the level at which they pose any danger.xvi And in 2021, over 99 percent of the country’s produce came in under even those limits — and in fact, nearly a quarter of them had no pesticide residues at all.xvii

Food isn’t the only issue where dosage really matters. Today, around half of Americans still think nuclear power is unsafe,xviii usually because of concerns about radiation.

Again, you can understand the concern: Radiation is dangerous at high levels of exposure. But what’s a high level?

Radiation is measured in units called millirems. The maximum amount of exposure people who work in the nuclear industry are allowed to have is about 5,000 millirems a year — a level so safe that science can’t detect any difference in their likelihood to develop cancer.xix

The amount that people near Three Mile Island, the site of the only nuclear accident in American history, were exposed to? About one millirem,xx which is why there were no health effects.

The amount you get from living near a nuclear power plant? About 0.01 millirem a year.xxi To put that in perspective, you get about 29 millirems a year from the radiation naturally occurring in your own body.xxii

Americans are right to be vigilant about their health but panicking without getting the facts — can actually have the opposite effect.

Opposition to nuclear power has actually led to us getting power from dirtier sources, like coal.xxiii And research has found that consumers who are worried about pesticides on their food … just tend to buy fewer fruits and vegetables — which is way worse for their health than exposure to miniscule amounts of pesticides.xxiv

Luckily, we already have a good rule of thumb. If you remember only one thing, let it be this: The dose makes the poison.

And if you can remember a second thing: Go easy on the nutmeg.

Source(s)

  1. "Vitamin B-6"  Mayo Clinic 
  2. "Vitamin K" (Kory Imbrescia and Zbigniew Moszczynski) — National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  3. Rodent Control Pesticide Safety Review  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
  4. "Living Longer: Historical and Projected Life Expectancy in the United States, 1960 to 2060" (Lauren Medina, Shannon Sabo, and Jonathan Vespa U.S. Census Bureau
  5. Death Rate From Cancer, 1990-2019 — Our World in Data 
  6. Death Rate From Stroke, 1990-2019 — Our World in Data 
  7. Death Rate From Cardiovascular Disease, 1990-2019 — Our World in Data 
  8. "Paracelsus, the Man Who Brought Chemistry to Medicine" (Steven A. Edwards) — American Association for the Advancement of Science
  9. "A Man Died After Eating a Bag of Black Licorice Every Day" (Maria Cramer) — New York Times
  10. "Case 30-2020: A 54-Year-Old Man With Sudden Cardiac Arrest" (Elazer R. Edelman, et al.) — New England Journal of Medicine
  11. "Nov 23, 2020: Nutmeg, a Potentially Uninvited Holiday Guest?" (Nena Bowman) — Vanderbilt University Medical Center
  12. "Hyponatremia Caused by Excessive Intake of Water as a Form of Child Abuse" (MA Joo and EY Kim) — Annals of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism
  13. "Public Perspectives on Food Risks" (Cary Funk, Brian Kennedy, and Meg Hefferon) — Pew Research Center
  14. "Only Eat Organic? You’re Paying Too Much, and It’s Not Worth It, Author Says" (Robert Paarlberg) — Harvard Gazette
  15. "What a Nutritionist Wants You To Know About Pesticides and Produce" (Samantha Cassetty) — NBC News
  16. How Are Pesticide Residues Regulated? — U.S. Department of Agriculture
  17. Pesticide Data Program — U.S. Department of Agriculture
  18. "40 Years After Three Mile Island, Americans Split on Nuclear Power" (R.J. Reinhart) — Gallup
  19. Radiation in Perspective — U.S. Department of Energy
  20. 5 Facts To Know About Three Mile Island  U.S. Department of Energy
  21. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Radiation Protection — U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
  22. Radiation Sources and Doses — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  23. The Safest Energy Sources Are Also the Cleanest — Our World in Data
  24. "Low-Income Shoppers and Fruit and Vegetables: What Do They Think?" (Yancui Huang, Indika Edirisinghe, and Britt M. Burton-Freeman) — Nutrition Today

Shownotes

Sound | Artlist: "The Walking" Adrián Berenguer, "Mad Crows - Captain Qubz Remix - Instrumental Version" Captain Qubz, Ian Post // Premium Beat: "Are You Fine?" Arthur Basov, "Mischeivous Melody" Jack Pierce, "Hustle and Flow" Julian Bell, "Groovin" Life is an Epic Film, "Rock The Game" Crescent Music // Splice SFX Library // Artlist SFX Library // Pixabay SFX Library 

Footage | Cardiff University Library Special Collections and Archives: Petrus Apianus // CNN // Fox 8 // The New York Times // Harvard School of Public Health // Stanford Research Into the Impacts of Tobacco Advertising // Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Division // Mayo Clinic // National Institute of Health // The U.S. Food and Drug Administration // The Center for Disease Control and Prevention // U.S. Department of Agriculture // U.S. Environmental Protection Agency // The American Yawp: Jacob Riis // The British Museum: Efigies Aureoli Theophrasti ab Hohenheim // The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Jean-Baptiste Greuze // The Louvre: Quentin Metsys // Wellcome Collection: Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim // Google Earth // TikTok: Loveleelife6, Souleyhealth, Drmarandaherring, Thebenazadi, Evolved.truth, Officialloadedlos2, Supremefocus722, Gingerbratz // YouTube: EvilFoodSupply, Monogram Appliances, DoctorOz, ABC11, CNN, TLC UK // Getty: Barbara Alper / Contributor, Robert Alexander / Contributor, Bettmann / Contributor, FPG / Staff, Gilles Mingasson / Contributor, Blank Archives / Contributor, Viviane Moos / Contributor, LaylaBird, Pacific Press / Contributor, Edmund Eckstein / Contributor, Emmanuel Dunand / Contributor, Asbe, MileA, Apisit Suwannaka, Apcuk, Issad, Ipuwadol, Kbwills, PCH-Vector, Irina Gavrashenko, Issarawat Tattong, Mensent Photography, Kieran Stone, 4x6, Antonio_Diaz, Homeworks255, Lebazele, Burke/Triolo Productions, Glowimages, Coprid, Joan Vicent Cantó Roig, Allevinatis, Sciepro / Science Photo Library, Sebastian Kaulitzki / Science Photo Library, Xacto, DonNichols, Science Photo Library, Gremlin, Ljupco, Joe Raedle / Staff, Elijah Nouvelage / Contributor, DBenitostock, Neumann & Rodtmann, AaronAmat, Tetra Images, Dmitry Larichev, Maryna Terletska, Milkare // Adobe Stock: Oksix, Jcg_oida, Marcin Jucha, Markus Mainka, Salih, Victor Moussa, Kenishirotie, Africa Studio, Touchr, Celso Pupo, Pixel-Shot, Barks, Martin Rettenberger, Sommai, Carballo, Dionisvera, Kitsananan Kuna, Valery121283, Asier, Danai, ImagesMy, Krakenimages.com, Piman Khrutmuang, Rob Byron // Storyblocks: Berkerdag, BlackWhiteBirds, William_Wilson, Thopter // Unsplash: Saif71.com, Laura Chouette, Bobby Donald, Karina Carvalho, Lukás Lehotský, Mick Haupt, Matthew Jungling, Linus Mimietz, Önder Örtel, Sam 🐷, Sergei Wing, Todd Kent, CDC, Ales Krivec, Mike Benna, Rendy Novantino, Billy Huynh, Bastian Pudill, Wladislaw Sokolowskij, Aaron Burden, Markus Spiske, Jonathan Taylor // Pexels: Mali Maeder, Tirachard Kumtanom, George Dolgikh, Amanda Linn, Tim Mossholder, DLKR // Vecteezy: Michael Külbel, Irina Kvyatkovskaya, Ekaterina Pakhomova, Serhii Borodin // Donald Trung Quoc Don // Felix König // Fuse809 // Guillaume de la Perrière // ICUnurses // Madboy74 // Mrcomputerwiz // Nameer56 // Notional Target // TimVickers // Roger469 // Welleschik // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION. 

Sources

  1. Mayo Clinic
     "Vitamin B-6"  
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
    "Vitamin K" (Kory Imbrescia and Zbigniew Moszczynski)
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
    Rodent Control Pesticide Safety Review
  4. U.S. Census Bureau
    "Living Longer: Historical and Projected Life Expectancy in the United States, 1960 to 2060" (Lauren Medina, Shannon Sabo, and Jonathan Vespa
  5. Our World in Data
    Death Rate From Cancer, 1990-2019 
  6. Our World in Data
    Death Rate From Stroke, 1990-2019
  7. Our World in Data
    Death Rate From Cardiovascular Disease, 1990-2019
  8. American Association for the Advancement of Science 
    "Paracelsus, the Man Who Brought Chemistry to Medicine" (Steven A. Edwards)
  9. New York Times
    "A Man Died After Eating a Bag of Black Licorice Every Day" (Maria Cramer)
  10. New England Journal of Medicine 
    "Case 30-2020: A 54-Year-Old Man With Sudden Cardiac Arrest" (Elazer R. Edelman, et al.)
  11. Vanderbilt University Medical Center 
    "Nov 23, 2020: Nutmeg, a Potentially Uninvited Holiday Guest?" (Nena Bowman)
  12. Annals of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism 
    "Hyponatremia Caused by Excessive Intake of Water as a Form of Child Abuse" (MA Joo and EY Kim)
  13. Pew Research Center 
    "Public Perspectives on Food Risks" (Cary Funk, Brian Kennedy, and Meg Hefferon)
  14. Harvard Gazette 
    "Only Eat Organic? You’re Paying Too Much, and It’s Not Worth It, Author Says" (Robert Paarlberg)
  15. NBC News 
    "What a Nutritionist Wants You To Know About Pesticides and Produce" (Samantha Cassetty)
  16. U.S. Department of Agriculture 
    How Are Pesticide Residues Regulated?
  17. U.S. Department of Agriculture 
    Pesticide Data Program
  18. Gallup  
    "40 Years After Three Mile Island, Americans Split on Nuclear Power" (R.J. Reinhart)
  19. U.S. Department of Energy
    Radiation in Perspective
  20. U.S. Department of Energy 
    5 Facts To Know About Three Mile Island 
  21. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Radiation Protection 
  22. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
    Radiation Sources and Doses 
  23. Our World in Data 
    The Safest Energy Sources Are Also the Cleanest
  24. Nutrition Today
    "Low-Income Shoppers and Fruit and Vegetables: What Do They Think?" (Yancui Huang, Indika Edirisinghe, and Britt M. Burton-Freeman)

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