Thursday, June 25, 2009

Not all antioxidents are good for you

I though that when a food label said that antioxidant had been added that this would be helpful to my body, as I was increasing my antioxidant intake. We all know that antioxidants are good for you.

Turns out I was very naive.

At one level addition of antioxidants is good, because the product would go off without them. It make sense to better to have fresh oil, than rancid oil, fresh juice than brown juice. So when I purchase something that hasn't gone off it would be better for me.

However in reading an issue of Journal of Food Engineering (Volume 2 pg 26) they look at processing waste citrus pulp from a orange juice factory. To help it stay stable, that is keep it nice orange color, antioxidants were added. So far so good.

Well it turns out that they antioxidants that were used were some chemical made in some factory. It was the Tenox range, which is made by the Eastman chemical company. They do a range of antioxidants for various food manufacturing.

Now we are about to drill a bit deeper into this subject. Firstly do not let big chemical name scare you, remember water's chemical name is dihydrogen monoxide.

The Tenox range is made up of various formulations of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). These are known as food additives E320 and E321 respectively. Now it gets a bit scary, how about this quote:
Excessive consumption of E321 is thought to cause liver damage and migraines. E321 has also been shown to cause cell division. The EU has now restricted use of E321 to reduce the amount of this chemical in food and drink products
Or this quote from wikipedia
In the 1970s, Benjamin Feingold, a San Francisco MD who established the "Feingold Diet" claimed that BHT could produce hyperactivity in some children. In addition, some controversy surrounds the link of BHT to cancer risk, some studies showing the potential to increase and some showing a decrease in risk. Some food industries have voluntarily eliminated this additive from their products, and since the 1970s it has been steadily replaced with the less studied BHA.
You will be very pleased to now that both E320 and E321 are approved for use in NZ.

Know I will not go on about the nastiness of food additives. There is much controversy over whether they are safe or not. ....

But what I find extremely disturbing is the lack of research into BHA. PubMed is thee database for medical things. A search for "cancer" you get 2 278 482 articles, or for "Vitamin C" turns up only 42 391 articles, panadol gives over 13 000 studies, so you get the picture that this is one huge database. So searching for BHA give a paltry 1 414 and BHT gives only slightly more at 2 556. It gets even worse, a search for either BHA + safety or BHT + safety only gives an astonishingly low 34 articles.

Now reading throught the titles and selecting the ones that are relevent we get down to 13 articles. That is right of the millions of papers in this data base only a handful of papers picked up. Now I should point out that any reseracher worth their salt could take this number of 13 papers and increase it to say 50-100 papers, after all this is what a researcher is paid for.

However I am horrified that we are making decisions about what we feed our children based upon such pittiful evidence.

I find it very disturbing, that these food additives have not been well studied, and they are in a large range of our foods.

Secondly I feel very violated and misled that what I through was good for me as an antioxidant may in fact be reducing the level of wellness in my body. In fact it is highly likely that it is a bad thing. I loath thinking something is good, then finding out that it is not.

PS Tenox is also the name for a very potent drug drug which has a powerful hypnotic effect, so much so that it has been used as a truth serum! It is not the same thing as the antioxidant

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