Lions and Tigers and Propylene Glycol, Oh My! The Toxins Gambit

Here’s a truism that is lost on all too many alt-med or “public health” advocates: “The dose makes the poison”. I would feel somewhat remiss at this point to not remind you people that “truism” is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a common statement that is obviously true”, and wikipedia goes a step further in implying that it’s so obvious that it need only be brought up as a rhetorical device.

So, with that in mind…


How terrified should that statement make you? How upset should you be about this? Worried, maybe? After all, arsenic is a deadly poison!  “But wait,” I hear the sane among you say, “I’ve been eating chicken my whole life, and so far I haven’t started foaming at the mouth!” Well-put, astute reader! In fact, this “scandal” which blew up had to do with Chickens being fed a drug containing a form of arsenic. The FDA did an investigation on this drug, and the money graph can be seen on page 18 of this PDF. It is perhaps worth noting that while the chickens fed with Roxarsone had a significantly higher level of arsenic, the values were still well within safe ranges. Again, the dose makes the poison, and it doesn’t matter that there’s a larger amount of arsenic in the chicken if “larger” means “still orders of magnitude smaller than what is considered safe”.


Or how about with vaccines? Remember hearing about how vaccines contained formaldehyde? Formaldehyde! They use that shit for embalming! It’s toxic, yo!

…Except that, as it turns out, a vaccine contains less formaldehyde than a single pear. A lot less.

The dose makes the poison. THE DOSE MAKES THE POISON. Why is this so hard to get?

Toxicology is a field of research that people need to spend more time understanding. The basics really aren’t that hard. Hell, that basic truism, that the dose makes the poison, is from the 1500s. And yet people still don’t get it! Whenever someone like Mike Adams tries to warn me about heavy metal contamination, but doesn’t give me an actual number, I just roll my eyes and think, “Yeah, whatever, lead exists in nature in quantities higher than what you found, asshole”. Because so many people don’t get it – or worse, assume that because they understand “the dose makes the poison” that the person they’re getting their information does too (and thus wouldn’t be screeching about it unless there was actually something to be worried about) – there’s this whole cottage industry of colossal fucking morons which has popped up to start screeching about problems which even the simplest understanding of toxicology could tell you is bogus. And why not? Scaring people is easy clickbait, after all. I have no doubt that if I ran an alt-med site doing basically nothing but inventing fake health scares out of whole cloth, I could be doing much better than I am now.

Congratulations, author of this cartoon! You’re a dishonest shithead who needs to get an education. And polio.

But it gets even worse. Alternative Health advocates (the alternative to health is not “more health”, by the way) often go a step further. It’s not enough for them to say “X is poisonous, Y contains X, therefore Y will kill you”, as if eating chicken with 28 parts per billion arsenic is in any way comparable to, you know, actually ingesting a significant amount of arsenic. They often go a step further, as in this phenomenally stupid article by FoodBabe about all the dangerous things in Beer (who, given her credentials, propensity to research, and apparent background knowledge has about as much business blogging about health and food safety as a quadriplegic has representing the USA in the hurdles event in the Summer Olympics). That step is simply listing something scary-sounding, and acting as though that in and of itself should scare you. Or that it has some association with something toxic. For example, Dihidrogen Monoxide is found in most beer. It’s also found in antifreeze. BE AFRAID. What, you think that’s dumb? Well take a fucking look at the article!

  • Propylene Glycol (an ingredient found in anti-freeze)

I wish I was kidding! Meanwhile, if FoodBabe had spent even 5 fucking seconds looking up how dangerous PG actually is, she might have come upon this page by the FDA, where it says that it starts being toxic at about 6g/kg body mass – an astoundingly large amount – and that it is therefore generally considered as safe. Or how about this:

  • Calcium Disodium EDTA (made from formaldehyde, sodium cayanide[sic], and Ethylenediamine)

Oh my god, it’s made from formaldehyde, cyanide, and some other weird chemical that I bet none of her readers bothered to look up (Ethylenediamine is a basic chemical synthesis building block that is incredibly widely used)! And it’s got a scary-sounding name! In reality, though, EDTA is a harmless preservative used everywhere. No, seriously, it is all over the place. Foodbabe has no idea what she’s talking about – if she did, she wouldn’t have listed this, or Propylene Glycol, or Castoreum (seriously, dude, it sounds gross, but its first documented use was in the writings of Pliny, a Roman historian).


Indeed, the whole list is full of shit, to the point where it’s basically a perfect demonstration of how these alternative health advocates try to scare you. They list things that are non-toxic as if they were. They list things which exist in such trace amounts so as to be completely harmless as though they were in dangerous concentrations. They try to imply things are toxic or dangerous based on their origin, or their relation to other compounds (the classic example being Thimerosal – no, it’s not actually Mercury, it’s a compound containing one Mercury atom – you might as well act like bread, which is made up primarily of carbon, is just like eating coal). What they don’t generally do is provide any actual toxicology data, or if they do, they spin it so hard it falls over and vomits. Whenever someone tries to spin you a story about how popular consumer good X apparently is dangerous, don’t just buy it. Take the time to actually look and ensure that the ingredients are legitimately dangerous. Because 99.9% of the time, it’s bullshit. In the words of Maureen Ogle:

I’m saying use some common sense. If someone with a profit motive comes along and says “BEAVER ANAL GLANDS,” it’s a 100% safe bet that a) the substance is being misrepresented; and b) if it’s there at all, it’s likely to be perfectly safe because if it weren’t, I assure you that someone other than a scientifically ignorant, profit-driven snake oil saleswoman found it first.

The saddest part about this for me is how easy, if you get fooled by crap like this, it is to make the logical leap to “wow, the FDA really isn’t after our best interests”. After all, if they allow arsenic in our food supply… It’s so easy, if you convince someone that your toxins gambit is legitimate, for them to draw the logical conclusion – “The FDA is in the pocket of private interests and is not to be trusted! After all, why else would they not stop us from eating this stuff?” Please, for the love of god, don’t fall for this crap. Or if you are entirely committed to being duped, then be duped by this fake claim: “Studies have shown that reading NaturalNews and FoodBabe give you eyeball AIDS”. Because at least that claim will help you avoid the worst of this stuff.

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