Natural v manmade chemicals

Natural v manmade chemicals

Q: What do apples, pears, potatoes and zucchini have in common? A: They all contain toxins.

Whether a chemical is made by nature or man, it tells us nothing about its toxicity.

Chemicals are everywhere. In the air we breathe, in the water we drink, in the pills, we pop. Even the most self-sufficient humans can’t avoid consuming or coming in contact with chemicals.

Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that natural chemicals are harmless, whereas artificial ones can damage your health or the environment.

Yet, the fruit and vegetables in the picture* above tell another story.

Apple seeds contain amygdalin – 0.6/kg of seeds

Pears contain formaldehyde – 0.06/kg

Potatoes contain solanin – 0.2g/kg (higher in green potatoes)

Zucchinis have cucurbitacin E – variable amounts but higher in bitter zucchinis

These fruits and vegetables contain toxic chemicals to humans; however, they include such minute quantities that they don’t cause harmful effects. Conversely, other “natural” chemicals are lethal to humans even in tiny doses – think cyanide, think arsenic. Many artificial compounds are harmless to humans unless ingested at very high doses.

The take-home message is: the dose makes the poison – regardless of whether the compound is natural or artificial.


Modern living

“It is worth noting that, although it’s popular to complain about ‘all those synthetic chemicals’, this contrasts with increasing demand for them in and around the home, e.g. oral contraceptives, mouthwash and decorating materials, and for gadgets which are manufactured using them, like mobile phones, computers and CDs.

Prof Andrew Cockburn

Toxicologist, University of Newcastle, UK

Fast facts about chemicals

  • Claims that proclaim products are “chemical free” are untrue. There are no alternatives to chemicals, just choices about which chemicals to use and how they are made.
  • Whether chemicals are manufactured by people, copied from nature, or extracted directly from nature, tells us nothing about how safe they are.
  • There are many misconceptions about chemicals being ‘linked’ to diseases. In reality, chemicals that show up in tests tell us that a chemical was present when an effect occurred rather than showing that the chemical caused the impact.
  • Antibiotics are prepared using artificial chemicals and save more lives than any other medical intervention.

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