Category Archives: Environmental Toxicology

Nanoparticles and gut effects – generally recognized as safe?

Models for oral uptake of nanoparticles in consumer products

Titanium dioxide nanoparticle ingestion alters nutrient absorption in an in vitro model of the small intestine

Zhongyuan Guo, Nicole J. Martucci, Fabiola Moreno-Olivas, Elad Tako, Gretchen J. Mahler. Titanium dioxide nanoparticle ingestion alters nutrient absorption in an in vitro model of the small intestine. NanoImpact, 2017; 5: 70 DOI: 10.1016/j.impact.2017.01.002

In the study above, researchers took a meal’s worth of titanium oxide nanoparticles — 30 nanometers across — over four hours (acute exposure), or three meal’s worth over five days (chronic exposure) and determined the effect on the gut. Acute exposure caused no harm,  but chronic exposure diminished the absorptive projections on the surface of intestinal cells called microvilli. With fewer microvilli, the intestinal barrier was weakened, metabolism slowed and some nutrients — iron, zinc, and fatty acids, specifically — were more difficult to absorb. Enzyme functions were negatively affected, while inflammation signals increased. It turns out that nanoparticles are everywhere, especially in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. It can enter the digestive system through toothpastes, since Titanium dioxide is used to create abrasion needed for cleaning. The oxide is also used in some chocolate to give it a smooth texture; in donuts to provide color; and in skimmed milks for a brighter, more opaque appearance which makes the milk more palatable. Dunkin Donuts stopped using powdered sugar with titanium dioxide nanoparticles in 2015 in response to pressure from the advocacy group As You Sow.

There is emerging evidence that we have generated strategies to utilise nanoparticles for dietary and physiological benefit evolutionarily.  Thus, nanoparticulate structures are neither inherently toxic nor inherently safe: like all molecules these decisions will rest upon molecular structure, biological environment, degree of exposure and host susceptibility.

Nanoparticues act in a number of wasy internally, especially in the gut lumen, where they are exposed to mucin, proteins, pH changes, and other existing charged particles. There has been described a protein coating of nanoparticle surfaces, referred to as a ‘corona’, this phenomenon has been known for decades and will inevitably happen in the particle’s native environment. In the gastrointestinal tract it is likely that the acidic pH of the stomach, which mainly is maintained even postprandially, and the presence of gastrointestinal enzymes, will serve to denude ingested particles of their surface-adsorbed molecules but then re-adsorption of novel entities will occur in the less acidic small bowel lumen.

There are many exogenous inorganic particles are man-made particles comprising titanium dioxide or silicates/aluminosilicates. Titanium dioxide (designated E171 in Europe) is used for whitening and brightening foods, especially for confectionary, white sauces and dressings, and certain powdered foods.

Titanium dioxide (designated E171 in Europe) is used for whitening and brightening foods, especially for confectionary, white sauces and dressings, and certain powdered foods. It is also used in the pharmaceutical industry as an opacity agent. Titanium dioxide is typically found in gut tissue in the anatase polymorphic form and is a 100-200 nm diameter spherical particle that is resistant to gastrointestinal degradation. Particulate silicates and aluminosilicates (E554, E556 and E559 in Europe) are used in the food industry as anti-caking agents and to allow the flow of powders, and some are present in cheeses, sugars and powdered milks. In the UK, the major five food sources of particulate silicates are salt, drinking powders, chewing gum, instant pot savory snacks and icing sugar.Overall, intake of dietary inorganic microparticles in the UK has been estimated to be about 40 mg/person/day (35 mg for the silicates and 5 mg for titanium dioxide) which equates to a staggering daily exposure of 101214 particles/person.

How are  the partciles taken up in the gut? M-cell-uptake (transcytosis) at the surface of intestinal lymphoid aggregates is the quintessential pathway for gut particle uptake and is very well described, especially for large nanoparticles (20-100 nm) and small microparticles (100-500 nm). Hydrophobic particles appear to be much better taken up than hydrophilic particles,  and  generally, small particles are better taken up than large ones with, perhaps, an optimal size of around 50 nm diameter.

Other sources of nanoparticles (NM) relevant for oral exposure comprise mainly cosmetics (sunscreen, lipsticks, skin creams, toothpaste) and food (packaging, storage life sensors, food additives, juice clarifiers). Whereas NMs in food are intended to be ingested, nanoparticles for instance in cosmetics and ingredients in food packaging may accidently get into the gastrointestinal tract. Major materials used in these products are: silver, and metal oxides of zinc, silica, and titanium. Nanosilver (Ag) is used in food packaging. According to the Woodrow Wilson Nanotechnology Consumer Products Inventory 2011, Ag nanoparticles are the most commonly used new NM in consumer products followed by TiO2, ZnO, platinum (Pt) and silicium oxide NMs ( Although gold NMs are also used in cosmetics, food packaging, beverage and toothpaste their main applications are in the medical field.

Decrease of particle size in the nanoscale has been identified as a main parameter for the increased toxicity of different materials. Polystyrene, for instance, is a very biocompatible polymer used in cell culture. Nanoparticles, however, made from this material are cytotoxic.

Compared to other metal and metal oxide nanoparticles intake of TiO2 by food is relatively high at 5 mg TiO2/person/d .Metal and metal oxide nanoparticles can accumulate in plants  and in animals of the food chain. That is worrisome.

A number of factors effect uptake of particles by the gut. Even in healthy individuals gastrointestinal transit is by far not constant and shows considerable variation through the large intestine . These effects are known to influence oral bioavailability of conventional drugs but are even more important for the effects of NMs because NMs readily adsorb proteins. Mucus represents an efficient acellular barrier. Mucus consists of mucin proteins (highly glycosylated extracellular proteins with characteristic gel-forming properties), antiseptic proteins (lysozyme) and other proteins (lactoferrin), inorganic salts and water. The major functions are the protection and the lubrication of the underlying tissue. The saliva, which is produced by the salivary glands, mainly consists of water (up to 99.5%), inorganic salts, proteins, and mucins. The high molecular weight mucin MG1 can bind to the surface of the epithelium and build the so-called mucus layer, displaying the acellular barrier of the oral cavity The mucus of the following parts, stomach and small and large intestine, is mainly produced by intraepithelial cells, and hickness increases from proximal to distal parts of the small and large intestine . Depending on the method used for the determination, the thickness of the mucus layer shows marked variation..The characteristics facilitating the passage through human mucus are relatively well known: electrostatic repulsion from negatively charged sugar moieties favors the penetration of positively charged hydrophilic molecules; the passage of lipophilic compounds is slow. Viruses, like the Norwalk virus with a size of 38 nm and human papilloma virus with a size of 55 nm diffused in human mucus as rapidly as they do in water These findings suggest that the surface charge plays a crucial role in the transport rates of nanoparticles through a mucus layer

In addition to particle size, dose and duration of the exposure are important for the interpretation of the data. In addition to particle size, dose and duration of the exposure are important. There is  a size-dependent decrease of the uptake from 34% for 50 nm particles to 26% for 100 nm particles , and dose and duration of the exposure are also important for absorption and uptake of NM.

Changes in mucus composition induced by Ag nanoparticles (Jeong et al., 2010), polystyrene particles and diesel exhaust increased mucus permeability and permeation of small molecules by a factor of 5. Thus NM enter more quickly through disease barriers.

The adherence of polystyrene nanoparticles to inflamed colonic mucosa was much higher than to normal mucosa. Inflammation appears to increase uptake and permeation of NMs in vitro and in vivo. Inflammation caused by Yersinia pseudotuberculosis increases the uptake of 100 nm carboxyl polystyrene particles in cell monolayers and in intestinal biopsies. Other factors of absorption include pH and thickness of the mucus layer, the gastrointestinal flora and in gastrointestinal passage time (motility)

Whereas plasma membranes restrict the cellular access for metal ions like silver cations, silver nanoparticles were readily internalized and intracellular silver concentrations were much higher than for silver ions. Studies for uptake and toxicity should, therefore, include AgNO3 for silver nanoparticles (Trojan horse effect) or bulk material.. Absorption may also be altered by a changed metabolization by enterocytes. Polystyrene and silver particles have been shown to inhibit the activity of cytochrome P450 enzymes, of note

To avoid foods rich in titanium oxide nanoparticles you should avoid processed foods, and especially candy. This information may make one question if these NM have any impact on the surge of colitis seen ion the general poplulation? How about autoimmune diseases? How about general inflammation, for if NM damage the intestinal barrier, inflammation results and it’s attendant consequences.

Insane Medicine – Canola Oil – it’s healthy.

Canola oil
Canola oil

canola oils

  • Canola oil is a healthy oil useful for cooking. It is made from the crushed seeds of the canola plant (rapeseed). It has less saturated fat than other vegetable oils: Canola has 7% saturated fat, sunflower oil is 12% saturated fat, while corn oil is 13 % and olive oil is 15% saturated fat!!
  • Canola oil has more omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, alpha linoleic acid (ALA) than all other vegetable oils except flaxseed oil. ALA cannot be made by the body, and ALA has been found to decrease blood pressure, decrease inflammation and cholesterol as well. Studies have shown that switching out fats for the same amount of canola oil can decrease the incidence of heart disease!
  • Canola oil has a high smoke point. It has a smooth texture with a light flavor. As a cooking oil, it is useful in grilling and stir-frying. It can be added as a salad dressing, sauce, or marinade. It can be used to replace margarine in recipes as well.
  • Canola oil is mad from GMO plants that are low in erucic acid (causes heart damage). The plants producing canola oil have been modified to have lower concentrations of erucic acid than do wild cultivars. It is the erucic acid content that has some people worried. It turns out that the amount in canola oil is negligible. It is clear that canola oil reduces LDL and cholesterol levels in the body. That is a good thing!
  • Canola oil has 61%monounsaturated fat (equal to olive  oil) and 32% polyunsaturated fat. It also contains phytosterols (beta-sitosterol), which function to decrease cholesterol. Vitamin E and K are present in canola oil as well.
  • A high ALA diet reduces the threat of myocardial infarction (heart attack) – it turns out that canola oil is high in ALA.
  • Canola oil can be used in place of butter, as well as in shortening for use in cooking, baking, sauteing, as well as in salad dressing.
  • One other concern in canola oil is the process of producing it. Hexan is used to extract the oil from the crushed seeds. This is also used to extract oil from soybeans, nuts, and olives. Most soy products and ingredients in meat analogs have hexane processing. Hexane is a neurotoxin and it is unclear if trace residues are a health hazard. However, tests on canola oil have not shown detectable amounts of hexane. The FDA does not monitor hexane levels in food and does not require food manufacturers to test for it. Hexane extraction is banned in organic products. If the food is processed by an expellor press or cold press, then the oil is physically pressed out. Of note, whole soybeans (edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt) are hexane free.


Insane Medicine – Arsenic in our Rice

Insane Medicine - Arsenic is in our food supply and has associated dangers!
Insane Medicine – Arsenic is in our food supply and has associated dangers!

arsenic arsenic dangers

  • Arsenic is a naturally occurring element and is present in many minerals and ores in the earth’s crust. It comes in inorganic and organic forms, as well as a gas (Arsine gas). Trivalent arsenic is the form that is most toxic. Arsenobetaine and Arsenocholine are arsenic compounds found in fish and crustaceans. They are thought to have minimal toxicity even though they are abundant in seafood.
  • Natural Arsenic can leach into water from rocks and from volcanic sources. High levels of toxic inorganic arsenic can be found in some seaweed (Hiziki).
  • Arsenic is used in many applications such as pesticides in use outside of the U.S., semiconductors (Gallium arsenide), smelting, decorative glass making, chromium-copper-arsenate treated wood, and others. Arsenic can be found in moonshine, tainted well water, and chicken feed.
  • Arsenicals were used in the past to treat syphilis, trypanosomiasis ( a parasite), and various skin conditions. It is still used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia today!
  • What does arsenic do to your body? It can increase your risk of certain cancers. It also is associated with peripheral neuropathies, skin changes, liver disease, and peripheral vascular disease.
  • Well water in some locales can have high levels of Arsenic in the United States. Elsewhere, such as West Bengal, India, high arsenic levels in the water supply resulted in skin changes, liver disease, and movement problems for thousands of people. The upper limit of exposure in the US to Arsenic is 10 parts per billion (ppb). Generally our water supply has 2 ppb.
  • Chromate copper arsenate (CCA), ammoniacal copper arsenate (ACA), and ammoniacal copper zinc arsenate (ACZA) in treated wood has been associated with Arsenic toxicity. Decks and play areas with arsenic-containing compounds still exist in the US even though Arsenic-treated play sets were banned in 2003. There are still a lot of decks and picnic tables that have CCA in it.  The wood material with Arsenic in it can rub off on your skin, increasing the cancer risk of lung and bladder-type cancers.  For older wood with arsenicals in them, seal them or change them to untreated wood. Wash your hands after touching such items.  Handling of Arsenic-treated wood is found in this link:
  • Arsenic compounds can easily be absorbed in the gut and through inhalation.  The skin, when chronically exposed, can absorb arsenic as well. The major organs affected are the gastrointestinal tract, skin, bone marrow,  peripheral nervous system, and kidneys. Exposure on the long term is associated with cancers of the skin, nose, lung, liver, kidney, bladder, and prostate.
  • Acute toxic effects from ingestions or air exposures results in abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting starting minutes to hours after exposure. Dehydration results. Eventually nervous system changes can occur with coma and possibly cardiac arrhythmias and death.
  • Many plants, especially rice, have Arsenic in them, either from fertilizer used or pesticides applied. Rice, in particular, is a higher risk food that can have arsenic in it at high levels. Arsenic frequently dissolves in the water that is used to grow rice. The rice picks up the arsenic and concentrates it. The germ of the grain has higher levels of arsenic, so Brown rice has very high levels of arsenic relative to white rice.
  • Organic baby rice cereal and rice breakfasts may have high levels of inorganic , toxic arsenic.
  • Organic Brown Rice Syrup, a substitute for high fructose corn syrup, has high arsenic levels in it. It is frequently  added to toddler formulas, cereal bars, and high energy bars! Avoid foods with this in it.
  • The link that follows is a consumer reports study for arsenic in rice products;
  • There is no FDA limit on how much arsenic can be in our food, and only the amount that is in the water is monitored and controlled and is set at 10 ppb.
  • The following link discusses arsenic findings in baby formula:  The bottom line is that organic brown rice syrup  sweeteners (OBRS), when used in formula, give 20 TIMES the amount of arsenic tan basic rice formulas.   Also, another Arsenic link: OBRS may be a major pathway to arsenic exposure for some people!  It is present in cereal and health bars in toxic, high levels.
  • Apple and grape juice also have arsenic present at concentrations of up to 23 ppb.  Minimize juice to a half a cup per day.
  • What to do about Arsenic:
  1. Have your water tested  for Arsenic and Lead levels, especially if you drink well water.
  2. Minimize apple and grape juices.
  3. Avoid products with OBRS.
  4. Follow new guidelines for older pressure treated wood, remove them if possible, but otherwise seal them every year and wash hands frequently when you touch them.
  5. Eat a balanced diet. Eat less rice, and consider other grains such as quinoa, amaranth, farro, oatmeal, barly, couscous, and bulgus wheat.
  6. Use non-rice baby formulas, such as oatmeal. Avoid powdered cereals which have 95 ppb of Arsenic in it.
  7. Avoid rice milk as an alternative to dairy for babies since it has elevated levels of arsenic (17-70 ppb) in it.
  8. When you do eat rice, wash it thoroughly and cook it in large volumes of water that get drained off.
  9. Eat organic poultry (including turkey) as the feed in ‘non-organic’ turkey has elevated Arsenic that gets passed to you, the consumer. The chicken dung then passes this Arsenic to the environment, for example, the Chesapeakes River. <– WHO poison centers < toxic Arsenic effects.  Environmental Working Group thesis on removing Arsenic from children’s diet.  < Turkey’s with Arsenic



Insane medicine – Carrageenan – a frequently used additive with potential risk.

Carrageenan are polysacharrides created from edible seaweeds, used in food for gelling, thickening, and stabilizing.
Carrageenan are polysacharrides created from edible seaweeds, used in food for gelling, thickening, and stabilizing.


  • Carrageenans are polysacharrides created from edible seaweeds and used in food products where they provide gelling, thickening, and stabilizing effects. It has multiple uses.
  • There have been  concerns that it can cause inflammatory gut conditions, such as ulcerative colitis or colon cancer.There is no formal evidence that this occurs.
  • It is considered to be GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Certainly there is no reason to add this to your diet, but certainly avoid it if possible. Either was, it still has not been shown to be unsafe.

Insane Medicine – Bad food additives

There are a variety of food additives that are hard, if not impossible to avoid, that are placed into our processed food. They fall under the category of GRAS (“Generally recognized as safe”), where there is no review given by the FDA for use in human consumption. This broken system has bad potential to make you sick. Here are some of the problem additives, which is in no way exhaustive in it’s scope at this time:

  1. Potassium Bromate:
    Insane Medicine: Potassium bromate additive
    Insane Medicine: Potassium bromate additive – used to help dough rise in baking.

    It is possibly carcinogenic to humans, and it is banned un the U.K. It is placed in dough and is usually destroyed during baking, but if too much is added or the dough is under-cooked, some residue may be left over. It also is used in Malt barley production.

  2. Nitrates/Nitrite:
    Insane Medicine - Salami and hams are treated with nitrates and preservatives to have a long shelf life.
    Insane Medicine – Salami and hams are treated with nitrates and preservatives to have a long shelf life.

    Nitrates are used to preserve the texture and coloring of salami and hams, however, nitrates are associated with an increase risk of stomach cancer. Bacon, salami, hot dogs, and sausages all have nitrates added and react  with amines on the proteins of the meats to form nitrosamines. This is carcinogenic to humans.

  3. Propyl Paraben:
    Propyl paraben is an endocrine disruptor added to tortillas.
    Propyl paraben is an endocrine disruptor added to tortillas.

    Acting as a weak estrogen, this compound decreases sperm counts and testosterone levels in humans. It is used in tortillas and muffins as a preservative. The substance can also be found in beverages, dairy products, meat and vegetables which can be contaminated.

  4. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA):
    BHA and BHT
    BHA and BHT

    Used as a preservative, for example in chips and preserved meat, BHA is an endocrine disruptor, affecting thyroid hormone and testosterone. It decreases growth in rats and has carcinogenic effects. It is GRAS per the FDA – “generally recognized as safe.”

  5. Butylated Hydroxytoluene: Also used as a preservative in food, this substance is an endocrine disruptor and may cause developmental and behavioral changes as does BHA. Motor skills nad coordination may be impaired by exposure to this preservative. It may cause cancer in lab animals.
  6. Propyl gallate: is used to preserve items that have soluble fats such as sausage.
    Insane medicine - Propyl Gallate - preservative in foods
    Insane medicine – Propyl Gallate – preservative in foods

    This substance is a preservative that may disrupt the endocrine system and in lab rats, has carcinogenic effect.  Propyl gallate is used to protect oils and fats in products from oxidation. It is used in foods, cosmetics, hair products, adhesives, and lubricants.

  7. Natural flavors? What are they – no one really knows. There may be flavor mixtures that have natural or artificial emulsifiers, solvents and preservatives that are not disclosed. These ‘natural flavors’ may contain synthetic compounds in them such as propylene glycol or BHA, or may be derived from genetically engineered products.
  8. Diacetyl: Used in popcorn flavoring, but it’s production has been associated with irreversible lung toxicity.
  9. Theobromine:
    Theobromine is an additive found in chocolate and bread, cereals, and sports drinks.
    Theobromine is an additive found in chocolate and bread, cereals, and sports drinks.

    Theobromine is an alkaloid found in chocolate that is used as a caffeine-type stimulant as it has caffeine-type effects on the body. This agent has endocrine and reproductive side effects and may be carcinogenic in large quantities. It is found in naturally occurring cocoa, tea plants, kola nuts,  and guarana berries.

How do you avoid these additives? The Environmental Working Group has a scoring system on items that may have these or other bad additives:  <EWG scoring system for additives.  < additives food scoring system.  < Top 10 additives that have bad effects.  < Database for generally recognized as safe.


Insane Medicine – Protecting your brain – the blood brain barrier

  • The brain is protected by the blood-brain barrier (BBB) which is composed of densely packed cells in the blood vessels that prevent entry of most substances into the brain. It does allow oxygen and nutrients, along with hormones to enter from the blood supply, but it blocks most other agents and bacteria. The BBB also removes brain waste matter such as beta-amyloid proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Breakdown of the BBB can result in catastrophic brain injury or death. It has been found that a number of factors can increase such a failure of the BBB. The first is sleep deprivation. In such cases, the BBB is weakened,allowing passage of drugs and chemicals that generally cannot enter the brain and results in brain damage.
  • High blood pressure, traumatic brain injury, obesity, viral infections, and inflammation also weaken the BBB. Again, a failed BBB results in brain damage slowly over time, especially by the accumulation of beta- amyloid, which leads to Alzheimer’s disease.

Preventing BBB failure:

  • Eat a diet high in Thiamine (Vitamin B-1) : pork, whole grains, sunflower seeds, kale, beans, and peas have a lot of Vitamin B-1.
  • Exercise regularly
  • Prevent brain injury: wear a helmet
  • Reduce cholesterol levels. High levels disrupt the BBB.
  • Consume caffeinated drinks, which block disruptions in the BBB.
  • Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep.
  • Lose weight, avoid obesity.
  • Avoid chemicals – some of which are toxic, such as polychlorinated biphenyls and the drug ecstasy, all of which disrupt the BBB.

Insane Medicine – Bisphenol A is a danger that is found in Plastic containers: Basic information

Insane Medicine - bisphenol A
Insane Medicine – bisphenol A (BPA)- causes prostate changes and behavioral changes.
  • BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Medical devices and even cash register receipts have the toxin in it. It can leach into food in plastic containers, especially when they are heated or washed with harsh detergents.
  • It can affect behavior and also the prostate and reproductive system.
  • Some BPA-free items still have estrogen-like chemicals in them because they use Bisphenol-S (BPS). You need to find BPA and BPS- free cups or use stainless steel.
  • Avoid food containers, dishes, and cups with “PC” on them, which is polycarbonate, or have recycling label #7 on them. They will have BPA and BPS in them.
  • Choose glass, ceramic, and stainless steel.

Your guide to BPA and avoiding it is below: <–cotton and BPA safe carrier bags