Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

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Rant time. No, this isn't fitness related, but it is health related and something that hear all the time.

Chances are, you have probably heard someone use the phrase, "That is full of chemicals." Who knows, you may have even heard the phrase yourself. The notion that things with lots of stuff in it can be bad, icky and dangerous is oftentimes greatly exaggerated.

Sure, I can understand where this phobia comes from, because it makes sense. When someone uses the word chemical, most people automatically get images in their brains about toxins, poisons, and dangerous things. Turns out, however, humans have become pretty damn smart when it comes to using chemistry to adjust and use the world around us to formulate products that are optimal for human use.

There have been many guesses as to where this whole chemophobia movement started, but regardless of where it started, it is certainly gaining momentum and in my opinion, causing more harm than good.

As a society, there seems to be a great lack of faith and trust when it comes to companies and the potential hazards that can be caused by the synthetic chemicals that are used today for products that we use and consume. I don't disagree with the fact that there should be some oversight into what companies should and shouldn't do when it comes to what you end up eating, but this automatic reaction to these marketing buzzwords like "All Natural" and the assumption that they are somehow better for us is a bit misleading.

I am big fan of James Kennedy's website. James is a chemistry teacher from Australia who has essentially the exact same thoughts as myself when it comes to the latest trend of chemophobia. From an article of his: 

The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead and is the reason why infants should never eat honey. A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human. Natural chemicals can be beneficial, neutral or harmful depending on the dosage and on how they are used, just like synthetic chemicals. Whether a chemical is ‘natural’ should never be a factor when assessing its safety.

In fact, he has even made clever posters, breaking down all of the "all-natural" ingredients in some of our most beloved foods (on right). This is something that I always get a kick out of because if somebody was to say to me, "I don't like eating foods with so many chemicals in them!" When I ask them to clarify what it is they mean, it is usually followed up with, "Look at all of the ingredients, you can't even pronounce half of these things!"

I would love for someone to not only pronounce all of the ingredients in an all-natural banana, but to also explain to me the purpose of every single one of them.

Yes, I know, that's not what you mean, right? What you mean is the processed foods you find in the grocery store like the pre-made meals in the frozen foods section.

Sure, I will give you the benefit of the doubt that whole, natural foods in the most basic form possible tend to be the healthiest. Processed and packaged foods tend to have many of the vitamins and nutrients stripped from them during the preparation process, but just because something has a lot of ingredients in it and is not quite as healthy as more wholesome sources does not necessarily mean that is therefore dangerous and unhealthy for consumption.

Many countries, especially here in Canada, have pretty damn good food and drug scientists combing over the latest research and figuring out what is safe for consumption, what isn't, and in what amounts. What has caused this sudden lack of faith in this system? People seem to put more faith into listening to "Mary's Organic Blog" rather than listening to their own government with scientists with far more knowledge on the subject.

Since we're going down this path, let's talk about natural remedies. Many turn to all-natural remedies or avoid medications all together with the fear of them having too many synthesized chemicals in them. You want to know something? We have a phrase for homeopathic remedies that work - we call it medicine. Active ingredients that can be found in nature to cure an illness or aid in healing tends to be far too weak to ever work, so we use research to determine the best way to intensify the effectiveness of natural compounds to not only make them more potent, but to deliver them to the required areas of our bodies in the safest and most effective way possible.

What is quite funny and sadly ironic is that most individuals who practice a lifestyle of "all-natural" products and remedies utilize homeopathic remedies that are essentially water. Products with active ingredients that are so heavily diluted, they don't actually do anything at all. And those same individuals will avoid supposed chemical-laden products because of the dangerous chemicals in them, not realizing that dangerous-sounding chemicals that are put in products are present to make the product more effective but are in such minuscule amounts, that they would never actually harm you anyways.

Take formaldehyde, for example - a naturally-ocurring chemical in the human body, might I add, at 2 parts per million (2ppm). Yes, it is toxic in large amounts, but our bodies deal with it naturally. Anyways, formaldehyde used to be used in Johnson and Johnson's skin care products, that was until it scared some uninformed people. Although you would have to take 40 million baths per day to pose any sort of threat, people are scared of that chemical name, so Johnson and Johnson had to take it out.

Of course the big one for some people is the presence of formaldehyde (and other scary names which I will get to) in vaccines. Believe it or not, vaccines have 80 micrograms of formaldehyde in them. That may sound shocking, until you find out that all-natural pears have 12,000 micrograms of formaldehyde in them...

Mercury? Yup, it used to be found in some vaccines. Any vaccine used for children since 2001 is void of it by the way. It is called thimerosal, or ethyl mercury. The form of mercury that is oftentimes considered dangerous, the one that can be found in fish is called methyl mercury. That is like comparing ethanol (ethyl alcohol), or the booze you drink with methanol (methyl alcohol), the stuff you better not be drinking. Methanol will kill you with very small amounts. Ethanol, although dangerous if consumed over the long-term (alcohol kills 2.5 million people worldwide every year) or in large amounts, is mostly safe to consume.

Oh, and by the way, the argument that mercury in vaccines causes autism lost most of its primary argument since autism rates have actually increased even after ethyl mercury was removed from children's vaccines.

What else...oh yeah, anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms).

Probably along the same lines as chemophobia, there seems to be this tremendous fear in the genetic modification of foods. Why? Not really sure, especially since we as humans have been "naturally" doing it for 10,000 years. I suppose it sounds scary, especially for the uninformed. Some evil scientist is sitting in a lab somewhere modifying the genetic makeup of corn to insert some cancer-causing gene in there - sarcasm, of course.

The truth of the matter is, the human population continues to grow and we need to come up with a way to feed that many people. Now, more than ever, we are having to find ways to grow food in areas that are less than optimal and create crop yields greater than ever. We are losing that wiggle-room that allows some product to be lost due to weather or pests. There can't be any dress-rehearsals, everything must work essentially every time. That's where GMOs come in. Genes can be manipulated to make a product more hearty to withstand things that it otherwise wouldn't be able to overcome.

Want some more irony? The people that want all-natural, non-GMO, pesticide-free foods don't even realize that one of the driving factors behind genetically modified organisms is to try and alleviate the need for pesticides. Pests exist, period. We have to come up with a safe and effective way to grow foods naturally without the use of too many pesticides. GMO allows for that.

If a farmer planted some corn, half of which spoiled and half grew big and strong, I would bet you all of the money to my name that that farmer would then seed from the corn that grew well. It worked, so it will probably work again. That is the most basic form of genetic modification. If we have scientists in a lab figuring out how to be 10 steps ahead of that very same process, why don't we take advantage of that? I guess because of our fear of what we don't understand...

Anyways, that's enough for now. Until next time!