unpasteurized milk, imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl urea, fabric dyes, plastic water bottles, dioxin, M bovis, tuberculosis, brucellosis, phthalates, bisphenol A

Major on the Majors

Major on the Majors

© 2008 Wellness Clubs of America.com

“At one of your recent seminars you recommended a cream that you believe helps to prevent skin cancer. I checked the ingredients on the label and was stocked by what I found. The product contains diazolidinyl urea, which breaks down into formaldehyde! You should research products more carefully before you endorse them.”

“I couldn’t help but notice that you drink water from plastic containers. I’m surprised that you don’t know how dangerous that is. The water is filled with cancer-causing chemicals that have leached out of the plastic.”

“I’ve read that wearing clothing that has been dyed with synthetic colors causes cancer, but I’ve never heard you talk about the danger of doing so. Are you aware of the risks of wearing brightly colored fabrics?”

“You should be making people aware of the dangers of drinking pasteurized milk. Raw milk is much better for them.”

The statements are typical of messages I receive periodically. It is natural for health-conscious consumers to be concerned about what they put into or onto their bodies. I myself have written about the importance of doing so. What we put into our bodies and what we put onto our bodies are two of the factors that determine our level of wellness.

While it is important to avoid the use of toxic substances whenever possible, it is also important to keep risks in perspective. Surviving in an inherently toxic environment is not always a simple matter of avoiding all man-made chemicals. At times their avoidance may actually constitute a greater risk than does their use.

We live in an imperfect world. I do not believe that any of us are fully aware of the number of challenges our bodies face on a daily basis. As much as we would like to do so, we cannot avoid all of them; we can, however, support our bodies’ ability to deal successfully with the challenges they present.

It is also important to consider the possibility that modern methods and materials may convey benefits as well as carry risks. The decision to use them or avoid them is not as straightforward as some suggest.

The drinking of raw, unpasteurized milk and the eating of unpasteurized cheese is gaining popularity in some circles. Advocates argue that pasteurization, the process of heating milk to a temperature that kills organisms with which it may have been contaminated, also kills any beneficial bacteria and destroys the enzymes the milk contains. Some suggest that this leads to the development of allergies and arthritis.

While enzymes and beneficial bacteria are required to achieve and maintain good health, it is difficult to argue that unpasteurized milk is a good source from which to obtain them. Widespread milk pasteurization was introduced shortly after the turn of the twentieth century for a good reason: to prevent milk-borne diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis, listeriosis, E-coli enteritis, and typhoid fever.

Cattle carry a strain of tuberculosis called mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis). Requiring pasteurization of all commercially available dairy products in the United States eliminated nearly all cases of M. bovis tuberculosis by the mid-twentieth century. Over the past decade the disease has reemerged, largely due to the importation of unpasteurized cheeses from Mexico.

An analysis of tuberculosis cases in San Diego County from 1994 to 2005 revealed that M. bovis accounted for 45 % of tuberculosis infections in children under the age of 15. More than 90 % of the cases involved Hispanics, many of whom had been born in Baja California where the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products is common. While M. bovis tuberculosis is most common in Hispanic border communities, it is being seen in places as remote as New York City.

Brucellosis is a disease caused by a bacterium that infects cattle, goats, and game animals such as deer and elk. In farming communities it is often referred to as bangs. Other names are Malta fever or undulating fever. An effort to control the disease has been ongoing and in June of this year Texas became the last state in the U.S. to have its dairy herds declared brucellosis free.

The disease typically causes abortion or stillbirth in animals. Symptoms of an initial brucellosis infection in humans include fever that waxes and wanes, sweating, weakness, headache, and body aches. Long-term consequences may include hepatitis, arthritis, anemia, low white blood cell counts, low platelet numbers, meningitis, eye inflammation, and heart inflammation. The current leading source of brucellosis in the United States is unpasteurized goat cheese.

The risk of contracting tuberculosis or brucellosis from milk produced within the United States is currently low, but the risk of disease from bacterial contamination of the milk is not. Perhaps my view of the advantages of milk and cheese pasteurization is rooted in my experience of growing up on a farm.

Milk is extracted from the udders of cows. Udders are not sterile; on the contrary, they are notoriously dirty. Cows are not cats. They do not use a litter box and meticulously bury their feces in the sand. They lie in it. I have personally removed caked on mud and excrement from a great many teats in the milking process. As conscientious as I was I am quite certain that bacteria occasionally escaped by cleansing cloth and found their way into the milk supply.

Milk is an excellent medium for bacteria growth. If contaminated milk is consumed within a few hours of being collected it may not contain enough bacteria to trigger a serious illness, but as time passes bacteria can multiply to the point that disease is likely to occur when the milk is drunk.

Much has been made of the risk of disease from eating spinach or other vegetation contaminated with E-coli, but milk is far more likely to be contaminated with this organism than are fruits or vegetables. E-coli is a bacterium that lives in the intestinal tract of animals. Salmonella, the source of typhoid fever, is also passed in feces. Both are eradicated by the pasteurization process.

Pregnant women should never drink raw milk because they are more susceptible to listeriosis, which can be passed to the unborn baby. Listeria, the cause of the disease, is an organism that is found in soil. Cattle udders lie in the dirt between milkings and can easily pick up listeria organisms, which can then contaminate the milk as it is collected.

Yes, pasteurization of milk can destroy its enzymes, but I personally believe that the avoidance of milk-borne diseases deserves a higher priority than the preservation of milk-contained enzymes. When we drink pasteurized milk or eat pasteurized cheeses we are majoring on the major of disease prevention and not majoring on the minor of obtaining digestive enzymes.

The practice of dying fabric has existed from the beginning of civilization. Natural dyes are limited in their variety and in the depth of their color. Many plant-based dyes tend to wash out or turn brown over time. The best natural dyes are often expensive and difficult to find.

Tyrian purple is an excellent example. Obtained from the secretions of a Mediterranean Sea snail, it was highly valued in ancient Rome. Unlike that of most natural dyes, the color of fabrics in which it was used tended to deepen and become richer over time. It was so rare and so valued that it sold for its weight in silver. Because only the rich could afford material prepared with the dye the color was commonly referred to as royal purple. Dye obtained from a related snail was used to produce the color called Royal Blue.

The clothes dyeing industry began to change in the mid-nineteenth century when scientists began to produce synthetic dyes. For the first time colorful clothing became widely available and affordable. Consumers loved the brighter, color-fast materials and natural dyes became obsolete except for certain hand-crafted applications.

Concerns about synthetic dyes have been raised, however. Some of the chemicals used to produce the vibrant colors include anilinine, dioxin, heavy metals, and formaldehyde.

Anilinine, the basic ingredient of azo dyes, is considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Dioxin is also considered carcinogenogenic. It is believed to disrupt hormone function as well. Chrome, copper, and zinc are classified as carcinogens, as is formaldehyde. (The classification of minerals the body requires for its existence as carcinogens illustrates the level of ludicrousness that now exists in the toxicity debate.)

Critics of synthetic dyes point to studies showing that workers in fabric dyeing facilities are at higher risk of tumors than people in the general population. This is true, but they are working with liquid dyes and inhaling vapors from them. The exposure of an individual wearing a dyed cloth is much lower. When the clothing is colorfast the risk should be nearly non-existent. Chemicals from colors that bleed can theoretically be absorbed when warm moist skin is in contact with them, but washing clothing before it is worn should significantly lower the likelihood of this. The same is true of rashes that may be triggered by dye exposure in sensitive individuals.

Yes, synthetically dyed clothing may expose us to potential carcinogens or irritate our skin in rare instances, but it also serves to brighten our days. Who can deny that their spirit has been uplifted by putting on a colorful piece of clothing? Does not interacting with people who are arrayed in bright colors add to our enjoyment of life? I would rather major on the major emotional boost obtained from living in a world in which color is widely available than major on the minor cancer-causing potential of my wife’s new dress.

I am a huge advocate of drinking purified water. We use a reverse osmosis system to prepare water for drinking, cooking, and watering plants at home and drink bottled water when away from home. In nearly all instances, the bottled water comes from plastic containers. (I once requested water on a plane flight and was given canned water. The metalic taste from the dissolved aluminum made it undrinkable.)

Criticism of plastic water containers involves the possible presence of several chemicals. The most commonly mentioned are dioxin, phthalates, and bisphenol A.

The dioxin criticism is easily dispelled. Dioxins are organic compounds that have been referred to as the most toxic substances made by mankind. Exposure to dioxins can cause a severe form of acne, interfere with reproduction, and cause liver damage and cancer.

It is now known that most of dioxins are not man-made, but are byproducts of natural events such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions. They are also released into the atmosphere by the burning of household trash, which is common throughout the world. Interestingly, dioxins are not found in plastics, including plastic water bottles.

Phthalates are added to plastics to make them more flexible. In the body they disrupt hormone balance. Fortunately, they are not generally found in water bottles in the United States.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in the production of many plastics. Studies have shown that animals exposed to BPA prior to and shortly after birth have stunted brain development. The males exhibit abnormal prostate development and the females altered breast development. Females also appear to enter puberty at an earlier age.

Containers that contain BPA have a “7” recycling code on the bottom. Most plastic water bottles are made from type “1” plastic. The greatest BPA risk to date was in reusable plastic baby bottles. Even they were relatively safe if used for beverages at room temperature, but when milk was heated in them BPA could be released into the milk in amounts comparable to that shown to cause harm in the animal studies.

Because of the risk of releasing chemicals from the plastic it is wise to avoid using plastic wrap or plastic containers when heating foods or beverages. Freezing, however, slows rather than accelerates the release of chemicals into the water. It is not true that it is dangerous to freeze water in plastic bottles, as a popular E-mail message suggests.

When it comes to drinking bottled water I prefer to major on the major factors of avoiding known water contaminants and remaining well-hydrated. I do not major on the minor possibility of ingesting a chemical that has leached from the container.

So what about the presence of imidazolidinyl or diazolidinyl urea in skin care products? Clearly, the compounds are toxic. They are produced by combining allantoin, a nitrogen-containing compound, with formaldehyde. The potential for breakdown and release of formaldehyde over time exists.

Doing an Internet search for “diazolidinyl urea dangers” and reading the available information is frightening. We learn that diazolindinyl urea is established as a cause of contact dermatitis (skin inflammation) according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It contains formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical. It is toxic when inhaled. It is a strong irritant.

The material safety data sheet reads:



SYMPTOMS OF INHALATION: If misted, will cause irritation of mucous membranes, nose, eyes, and throat. Coughing, difficulty in breathing.

SYMPTOMS OF SKIN CONTACT: Contact causes smarting and burning sensations, inflammation, burns, painful blisters. Profound damage to tissue.

Surely such a dangerous substance should be banned, not placed into skin care products. No one who is aware of its characteristics would ever seriously consider using any products containing diazolidinyl urea.

The warnings of the diazolidinyl urea material data sheet are remarkably familiar to those of another chemical:


“WARNING: Hazardous to humans and domestic animals. Causes substantial but temporary eye injury. Do not get in eyes or on clothing. Harmful if swallowed. May irritate skin. For prolonged use, wear gloves.”

The second chemical is chlorine, which is added to most municipal water supplies in the United States and is therefore found within the water most people use regularly for food preparation, beverages, and bathing. The point is not that chlorinated water is totally safe, but that the warnings regarding straight chlorine use do not apply. I know that individuals can be sensitive to the amount of chlorine in tap water, but I also know that epidemics of water-borne diseases would occur frequently if the water was untreated. I do not avoid washing my hands in chlorinated water prior to eating nor do I refuse to drink tap water if that is all that is available at a particular time. The advantages of removing germs from my hands before eating and avoiding dehydration far outweigh the disadvantage of chlorine exposure in those instances.

Manufacturers use urea compounds for specific reasons. Due to their ability to dissolve readily in water, they can be incorporated into almost all water-based cosmetics, toiletries, and cold mix formulations. They are therefore present in a wide range of liquid and powder products such as baby lotion, skin cream, sunscreens, shampoos, eyeliners, blush, perfumes, deodorants, hair dyes, shaving cream, and face masks.

The substances are very effective in preventing bacterial growth in the products. This is a concern during the product’s shelf life, but it is a greater concern once it has been opened and has begun to be used. Many containers become contaminated by bacteria from the fingers of the user. These could multiply and trigger infections with subsequent applications were it not for the presence of an antimicrobial substance in the product.

The primary risk of skin care preservatives is that of contact dermatitis, a reactive skin rash. The risk of the urea compounds causing this is quite remote. The largest study conducted looked at 5,167 individuals with a history of contact dermatitis, meaning that they were prone to skin reactions. In this group of skin sensitive individuals the incidence of reactivity to imidazolidinyl urea was less than 1%.

In another study 200 individuals were exposed to a 10 % solution of imidazolidinyl urea three times a week for five weeks. This concentration is 30 to 100 % higher than that typically found in skin formulations. No reactions were seen. 189 people in another study group were challenged with patch testing, a technique in which a substance is applied to the skin for an extended period of time. Patches were applied for 48 hours and the challenge was repeated eleven times. No reaction was observed in any of the study participants. No animal study has shown a carcinogenic effect.

When it comes to skin health I prefer to major on providing nutrients to my skin to slow the aging process and reverse pre-cancerous changes. I want to major on avoiding the risk of developing impetigo, a bacterial skin infection. I do not wish to major on the minor risk of a experiencing a reversible reaction to a preservative.

As long as we live in an imperfect world we will be faced with imperfect solutions to the challenges we face. There will be trade-offs. When faced with decisions that affect your health I recommend that you major on the majors rather than majoring on the minors. You will be glad you did.

© 2008 Wellness Clubs of America.com

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