Sep
19
2020

Hair Style Products are Mostly Safe

A recent study concluded that hair style products are mostly safe when it comes to causing cancer. In the past there was some concern that the dyes for hair coloring could cause cancer. In a previous blog I mentioned that hair stylists are at a greater risk for developing bladder cancer.  But in customers who had their hair colored this was more difficult to prove. The new study reviewed by CNN was based on a large cohort of 117,200 female nurses at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

These 30-55-year-old nurses were observed for 36 years. Detailed information about hair coloring was part of the study.

Results of the hair coloring study

Women with light and medium use of hair dyes did not develop non-melanoma skin cancers, hematopoietic cancers or squamous skin cancers. The same was true for bladder cancer, melanoma, estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, progesterone receptor positive breast cancer and hormone receptor positive breast cancer. Furthermore hair coloring did not cause brain cancer, colorectal cancer, kidney cancer and lung cancer. 5% of women who ever used hair dyes did develop basal cell skin cancer; there was a total of 22,560 basal cell cancers that occurred.

The BJM showed that women who colored their hair regularly (termed “cumulative dose”) developed 24%-31% more breast cancer. This breast cancer was estrogen negative breast cancer (31%) and progesterone negative breast cancer (24%). They also developed 24% more ovarian cancers and 17% colorectal cancer than controls who did not dye their hair. Myeloid leukemias were also more common in the heavy use hair coloring group with 29% and follicular lymphomas with 13%. Other forms of leukemia were not more frequent.

Discussion

50% to 80% of women and about 10% of men ages 40 and older are using hair dye regularly in the United States and Europe. The above cited cancer frequencies were based on women with dark hair and a cumulative dose of more than 200 applications of permanent hair dye. Translated into years of application of hair dye this means coloring your hair for 16 to 17 years, if you color your hair once a month. The study is very powerful due to the large number of women examined and the amazingly long time of 36 years of observation.

Heavy use, medium and light use of hair dyes

It is interesting to note that only the heavy use of hair dye resulted in a few significant cancer figures. The light use (1 to 99 times) and medium use (100 to 199 times) of hair dyes did hardly lead to any cancer. There were some exceptions where light use of hair dye led to 34% more bladder cancer and to 67% more follicular lymphomas. These were oddities, because the lighter use of hair dyes led to higher amounts of these cancers than medium and heavy use. This is not what the researchers expected.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma and breast cancer

Hodgkin’s lymphoma was about 3- to 5-fold more common in all hair coloring categories compared to non-use of hair dye. The authors discussed subgroups of women as well. They noticed that black women using permanent hair dye had a higher risk to develop breast cancer than white women who only had a borderline increased risk. Estrogen negative, progesterone negative and hormone negative breast cancer was more likely to be caused by heavy use of hair dyes.

No association between the following cancers and hair dye use

The present study could not find an association between ever using hair dye and the following. The study found no association with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer. In addition there also was no association with  kidney cancer, lung cancer, and brain cancer. But it found a slight increased risk (5%) of basal cell carcinoma.

The study contains no information regarding the specific ingredients in hair dye that are carcinogenic. In the US supervision of permanent hair dyes by the FDA is rather loose. This leaves the manufacturer mostly in charge regarding the composition of the hair dyes. This is different in Europe and in Japan. Here manufacturers removed several carcinogenic substances from hair dyes because of regulations by the local regulatory bodies. This could have a cancer-lowering effect in these countries.

Hair Style Products are Mostly Safe

Hair Style Products are Mostly Safe

Conclusion

This large study from the British Medical Journal, published Sept. 2, 2020 explains the relationship of cancer risk to permanent hair dyes. The study lasted 36 years and involved 117,200 female nurses. More than 96% of the women were Caucasians. This study showed that for most people who use permanent use hair dyes there is no association with most cancers. However, there was an association between a few cancers and the use of hair dyes. These were in 5% basal cell skin cancers. But breast cancer (31% estrogen receptor negative, 24% progesterone receptor negative), ovarian cancer (24%) and 17% colorectal cancer were among these too. There was also an increased risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Effect of screening by FDA regarding carcinogenic substances in hair dyes

All this data was based on the hair dyes used in the US. Supervision of permanent hair dyes by the FDA is rather loose, with the manufacturer being mostly in charge. This is different in Europe and in Japan. Here local regulatory bodies instructed manufacturers to remove several carcinogenic substances from hair dyes. This could have a cancer-lowering effect in these countries.

Feb
20
2016

The Quagmire Of Artificial Sweeteners

You probably heard bad things about many artificial sweeteners; we could call it the quagmire of artificial sweeteners.  If you did, you are not alone. The history of artificial sweeteners is full of surprises and power struggles. On Jan.18, 2016 CNN reviewed the most common sweeteners.

Here is a brief review of the most common sweeteners.

Saccharine 

This sweetener’s history goes back to 1879 when the Russian chemist Constantin Fahlberg first noted experimenting with coal tar compounds that one of the end products, benzoic sulfanide tasted sweet. In fact it was between 200 and 700 times sweeter than granulated sugar! But there were political struggles that accompanied this sweetener throughout the years. There were rumours that in rats saccharine could cause bladder cancer. The health authorities became concerned. This led to Congress passing the Pure Food and Drug Act in June of 1906, to protect the public from “adulterated or misbranded or poisonous or deleterious foods, drugs or medicines.”

FDA investigation of saccharine

This was the precursor of the FDA that would examine all of the medical evidence and consider the pros and cons of sweeteners as well. President Roosevelt took saccharine for weight control to replace sugar. In 1908 Roosevelt felt he had to stop the actions of overzealous Dr. Harvey Wiley, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chemical division who was of the opinion that saccharine should be taken off the market. Dr. Wiley did not give up his fight and finally the FDA decided to ban saccharine in processed foods, but to continue to allow private sales of saccharine.

Cyclamate

This sweetener was detected in 1937. It was marketed first to help control diabetes better. Because of the reduction in sugar consumption it allowed diabetic patients to cut the amount of insulin required to control diabetes. Cyclamate did have a bitter aftertaste, so it was mixed with saccharine at a ratio of 10 parts of cyclamate to 1 part of saccharine and “Sweet ‘N Low” was created. In 1958 the FDA gave cyclamate the GRAS designation: “generally recognized as safe”. The good fortunes of cyclamate did not last long: in 1969 damaging animal experiments showed that cyclamate/saccharine had caused chromosomal breaks in sperm of rats. Another study from 1970 showed bladder tumors in rats. Other studies showed lung, stomach and reproductive tumors in animal experiments with cyclamates/saccharine.

FDA concern about cyclamate

The FDA wanted to shut down the sale of the Sweet N’ Low sweetener, but public pressure and the food processing industry forced the issue to be brought up in front of Congress. The compromise was to use a warning label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” In the year 2000 and beyond a series of animal experiments and data from Denmark, Britain, Canada and the United States on humans showed there were no signs of bladder cancer from exposure to Sweet N’ Low. In 2000 Congress removed the warning labels.

Aspartame

A chemist detected aspartame in 1965. His name was James M. Schlatter and he was looking for anti-ulcer drugs. He noticed the intensely sweet flavor of aspartame when he licked his fingers. This led to the newest sweetener by 1973. We know it by the trade names Equal, NutraSweet or Sugar Twin. This sweetener consists of the two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. The body can normally metabolize aspartame, but people with phenylketonuria cannot take it.  People with certain rare liver disorders or pregnant women can not take aspartame either. It causes high levels of phenylalanine in their blood, because those individuals cannot metabolize it properly. Any food made with aspartame has to put that restriction on the label, a requirement by the FDA.

Suspicion of brain tumors

In 1996 W. Olney and his associates presented research that implied that Aspartame would have caused brain tumors in rats. But later these experiments were disproven and new studies from children with brain tumors showed “little biological or experimental evidence that aspartame is likely to act as a human brain carcinogen.”

Sucralose

Insecticide researchers detected sucralose in 1976. They were looking for new types of insecticides. They found that chlorinated sugar worked as an insecticide. One of the researchers tasted the chemical and to his surprise he noted how sweet it was. If you Google “Splenda and insecticide”, you have a hard time finding references regarding the history of sucralose, but 20 years ago I found detailed descriptions with explanations as I summarized here.  Sucralose is about 600-times sweeter than table sugar. Here is one of the few references that explains that insecticide researchers discovered sucralose.

Insecticide experiment with sucralose

I have repeated the insecticide experiment myself in Hawaii where small ants are ubiquitous. Out of curiosity I took a package of Splenda from a coffee shop and sprinkled the contents in the path of ants. In the beginning the ants were reluctant to eat it, but after a short time they came and took it in. They slowed down, and finally they were all dead. A few hours later I found only dead ants in the area where I sprinkled Splenda earlier. Their bodies were only half their original size or less. Proof enough for me that Splenda came from insecticide research and was not safe for human consumption! In the meantime Dr. Axe in the above references lists the side effects in humans: “Migraines, agitation, numbness, dizziness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, stomach and intestinal cramps and bladder problems.”

Marketing of sucralose

In the Splenda marketing scheme they decided to first introduce Splenda gradually into diabetic foods as a sweetener, then later sell it to the public at large. Don’t fall for it. It was a side product of insecticide research, and insecticides have the undesirable quality of being xenoestrogens, which block estrogen receptors in women. As a result estrogen can no longer access the body cells, including the heart. The final consequence for a woman is a higher risk for cardio-vascular disease. This can cause heart attacks, strokes and cancer. In men estrogen-blocking xenoestrogens can cause breast growth and erectile dysfunction. Taken everything together Splenda seems to be too risky for its sweetness.

Other sweeteners

Researchers have not stopped looking for newer, better sweeteners. There is a number of sugar alcohols with less calories than sugar such as erythritol. Another common sugar alcohol is xylitol, which is in use in chewing gum. The advantage is that these are natural sweet alcohols that exist in nature. Xylitol originated from birch wood and was touted to help tooth decay when you use chewing gum containing it. Karl Clauss and Harald Jensen in Frankfurt, Germany detected another sweetener, acesulfame potassium, also known by the names acesulfame K, Ace-K, or ACK in 1967 when they experimented with various chemicals. This is known under the brand name “Sweet One”, but is often disguised in processed foods together with other artificial sweeteners to mimic the taste of sugar.

Stevia

Stevia has been in use for over 400 years, particularly in South America. It grows like a small bushy herb with leaves that can be taken to sweeten foods.  With modern, reliable extracting procedures (Sephadex column) it is possible to separate the bitter component of stevia and discard it leaving stevia behind without any bitter aftertaste. In Japan stevia has been occupying 40% of the sweetener market. Compare that to Europe and North America where there is a lot of competition with the above-mentioned sweeteners, mainly because of clever marketing techniques. The FDA gave  stevia GRAS status in 2008.

The Quagmire Of Artificial Sweeteners

The Quagmire Of Artificial Sweeteners

Conclusion

The history of artificial sweeteners has constant intricate connections with political intrigues. There also has been influence peddling of companies, hoping to make profits from the sale of their products. Unfortunately powerful advertising slogans were in use like “naturally made from sugar”. This is a meaningless rhetoric, as three chlorine atoms in a sugar molecule distort the biological properties of sugar entirely. Nobody tells me that an insecticide made from sugar that kills ants can be healthy.

Stevia is safe as a sweetener

With stevia on the other hand we have a substance with experience on humans for over 400 years. There have been no adverse effects with stevia. The FDA cleared stevia in 2008 as GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”). The problem in our society seems that we tend to blindly trust companies. These want to sell us chemical products as “harmless”, when in fact they often are not. I have decided for myself that I follow the Japanese lead in favor of stevia, with nothing else mixed in to replace sugar. Eating sugar is not a healthy option. It starts with tooth decay, but the evidence is also there for more sinister problems. Researchers documented that sugar also causes heart attacks, strokes and even cancer. So, if we want a sweet taste, the healthy alternative to sugar is stevia.

Mar
01
2014

Smoking Remains A Health Hazard

Recently new statistics came out that show that 48.8 million people in the US (19% of the population) still smoke. 22 % of the population are male, 17% female. Smoking is responsible for 20% of all deaths in the US (1 in 5 deaths). It is interesting to note that in the older age group (above the age of 65) only 8% are smoking, but 22 % of the 25 to 44 year old group is smoking. Among the American population Native Americans have the highest percentage of smokers (32% are smokers). 10% of Americans of Asian descend smoke. Blacks, Whites and Hispanics are placed in between them and the American Indians. Finally, people who can least afford it (who are below the poverty level) have the highest percentage of smokers (29% smoke) while 18% of people above the poverty level smoke. Education seems to have a protective effects when it comes to smoking: of the least educated group of people 45% are smokers while only 5% with postgraduate education smoke.

Effects of cigarette smoke on the body

As this link shows the concoction of various ingredients in the smoke of cigarettes causes various parts of the body to react differently to these chemicals. Here is a rundown of diseases caused by smoking cigarettes.

1. Lung cancer: This is the most common cause of death in women who smoke, more common now than breast cancer. 90% of lung cancers in women are due to smoking. The same was true in males, but as a group they now smoke less than in the past.

2. Other cancers:  cervical cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder, esophageal, stomach, laryngeal, oral, and throat cancers are all caused by smoking. Recently acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow has been added to the list of smoking related cancers.

3. Abdominal aortic aneurysm: As cigarette smoke destroys elastic tissue, it is no wonder that the loss of support of the wall of the aortic artery leads to the development of large pouches, which eventually rupture with a high mortality rate due to massive blood loss.

4. Infections of lungs and gums: Smokers are prone to infections of the lungs (pneumonia) and of the gums (periodontitis).

5. Chronic lung diseases: emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma.

6. Cataracts: lack of perfusion of the lens leads to premature cataract formation.

7. Coronary heart disease: hardening of the coronary arteries, which leads to heart attacks, is very common in smokers.

8. Reproduction: reduced fertility in mothers, premature rupture of membranes with prematurely born babies; low birth weight; all this leads to higher infant mortality. Sudden infant death syndrome is found more frequently in children of smoking moms (Ref. 1).

9. Intermittent claudication: after decades of smoking the larger arteries in the legs are hardening and not enough oxygen reaches the muscles to walk causing intermittent pausing to recover from the muscle aches. If it is feasible a cardiovascular surgeon may be able to do a bypass surgery to rescue the legs, often though this is not feasible and the patients lower legs or an entire lower limb may have to be amputated.

10. Others: osteoporosis is more common in smokers; poor eye sight develops due to age-related macular degeneration that sets in earlier and due to tobacco amblyopia, a toxic effect from tobacco on the optic nerve; hypothyroidism is aggravated by smoking and menopause occurs earlier.

Smoking Remains A Health Hazard

Smoking Remains A Health Hazard

What happens in the lung tissue in smokers?

Ref. 1 gives a detailed rundown of the changes in the lung tissue as a result of exposure to cigarette smoke. The various components of cigarette smoke lead to an activation of special white blood cells, called monocytes that after stimulation turn into tissue macrophages. In addition neutrophils (regular white blood cells) also get stimulated. Between them they produce cytokines and chemokines and the neutrophils secrete elastase that digests elastic tissue in the lungs. Breakdown products of the elastic tissue serve as a powerful stimulus to the immune system to mount an autoimmune response. After some time of being exposed to cigarette smoke the immune system considers part of the lining of the lungs as foreign and cytotoxic lymphocytes attack the lining of the air sacs (alveoli). Lung specialists consider chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD or emphysema) to be an autoimmune disease (Ref.1).

The sad part is that when this condition has progressed far enough, even quitting smoking may be too late to stop the autoimmune disease by itself as the body has been sensitized and the immune system is convinced that the altered lung tissue should be attacked. Add to this that carcinogenic substances and toxins in cigarette smoke damage the DNA of all cells and the energy producing mitochondria, and the stage is set for the combination of chronic inflammation and the release of free radicals to cause all of the diseases mentioned above.

Quit smoking still important

It is extremely important to quit as soon as possible to avoid the full-fledged sensitization of the immune system against ones own lung tissue. Studies have shown that 36% of survivors of heart attacks will successfully quit, 21% of healthy men with a known risk of cardiovascular disease will quit when asked to do so and 8% of pregnant women will quit. When a physician examines a patient in the office and asks a smoker to quit smoking 2% of these smokers will respond and still not smoke 1 year after this doctor’s visit. This may not sound like much, but it is an encouraging effect. Perhaps the most important fact is what I mentioned in the beginning of this blog: the least educated group of people smoked the most (45%) while the most educated people smoked the least (5% of people with a postgraduate education). My hope is that the Internet and other educational media will contribute to education to convince people how important prevention is.

Pharmacological assistance to quit smoking

Nicotine replacement therapy can involve any of 2- and 4-mg nicotine polacrilex gum, transdermal nicotine patches, nicotine nasal spray, the nicotine inhaler or nicotine lozenges. Discuss with your doctor what may be best in your case. Typically one of these products is used for 3 to 6 months.

Bupropion is an antidepressant with a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor affinity. Bupropion is useful to help with the withdrawal from nicotine addiction, which occurs in depressed or non-depressed people. It strictly has to do with the stimulation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor.  Typically the dose is 150 mg of a sustained released bupropion tablet per day for 7 days prior to stopping smoking, then at 300 mg (two 150-mg sustained-release doses) per day for the next 6 to 12 weeks. 44% quit at 7 weeks versus 19% of controls. A newer nicotine partial receptor stimulator, varenicline, has been compared to bupropion. It was slightly more effective in helping people to get off cigarettes. Varenicline is started at a dose of 0.5 mg per day for 3 days, then 0.5 mg twice daily for 4 days, followed by a maintenance dose of 1 mg twice daily. If nausea is a problem, lower doses can be used. Varenicline has been approved for a 3-month period with an option of a second 3-month period, if relapse occurs. Discuss with your doctor what is best for you.

According to Ref. 1 a combination therapy of bupropion and nicotine patch was more effective than either one alone.

Will power, hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy to quit smoking has been popular, but is not as effective as it is often claimed. Will power, measured by the “placebo” response is quite effective given the fact that nicotine is very addictive and yet 19% in the placebo group were able to quit on their own. According to Ref. 1 varenicline treatment for 12 weeks produced abstinence for 9 to 52 weeks and was compared to bupropion and placebo. The abstinence rates were 23%, 15%, and 10% for varenicline, bupropion, and placebo. This means that will power was still 2/3 as effective as bupropion and 43% as effective as varenicline. Don’t underestimate will power!

Conclusion

The best scenario is to never start smoking. The second best is to quit as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the third scenario of continuing to smoke is still very prevalent worldwide. I have seen the damage done first hand in practicing medicine, which motivated me to never smoke. But I am aware of the difficulties of quitting because of the highly addictive nature of cigarette smoking. Where is the support from governments on this? The problem is that the government benefits from taxation of cigarettes. Nevertheless it is laudable that there are government sites through the CDC to help you quit smoking.

At the end we are all responsible for our own health. If you are presently smoking, psych yourself up for the day that you will quit. Quitting means that you are deciding actively to live longer. Studies have shown that it takes often several attempts before you eventually quit successfully.More information on some of the topics mentioned:

1. Lung cancer and other cancers: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/overview/epidemiology-cancer-origin-reason-cancer/

2. Heart attack: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/heart-attack-myocardial-infarction-or-mi/

3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd/

Reference

1. Mason: Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 5th ed.© 2010 Saunders

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

May
01
2008

Cancer Risk Higher For Hairstylists or Barbers

A report coming from the International Agency for Research on Cancer which was recently published in the Lancet Oncology reported that working as a hairstylist or barber does have occupational hazards. A small but consistent risk for bladder cancer was noted in male hairdressers and barbers. As there were no reliable data on duration and periods of exposure the data are considered to be limited evidence of a cancer risk. Some carcinogenic substances have been present in modern hair dyes.

These particular colorants were discontinued in the 1970’s after positive cancer tests in mice and rats were seen. The researchers also examined the personal use of hair dyes, but could not show an adequate evidence that hair dyes would be cancerogenic. As a result they also could not definitely judge that the dyes carried a cancer risk.

Other chemicals that like hair dyes belong into the group of aromatic amines were assessed by the researchers.

Ortho-toluidine which is used in the production of dyes, pigments and rubber chemicals is now classified as a carcinogenic substance to humans, as is the chemical called MOCA , which stands for 4,4-methylene bis (2-chloroaniline) and is used as a curing substance in the plastics industry.

Cancer Risk Higher For Hairstylists or Barbers

Cancer Risk Higher For Hairstylists or Barbers

The consumer needs to be aware that the cosmetics industry that produces shampoos  and hair conditioners and companies that produce hair dye for home use often use parabens and other mildly carcinogenic substances as a preservative that will be additive to the cancer producing effect of the hair dyes used in saloons.

More information on carcinogens: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/overview/epidemiology-cancer-origin-reason-cancer/

Reference: The Lancet Oncology – Volume 9, Issue 4 (April 2008)

Last edited November 3, 2014