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Author Topic: Can food additives cause cancer?  (Read 6209 times)

Offline thedoc

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Can food additives cause cancer?
« on: 06/11/2012 17:36:44 »
I canít help but wonder if cancers start and spread because our food is so complicated.  Take a bottle of vegetable oil, it says on the bottle 100% vegetable oil. But if you look at the label on the back, there's anti-foaming agent and then about 4 other ingredients.  Or a vegetable stock cube, which sounds quite innocent, but then when you read the ingredients, there's about 40 ingredients in it!

Asked by Kathleen, Lowestoft


                                        Visit the webpage for the podcast in which this question is answered.

 

« Last Edit: 06/11/2012 17:36:44 by _system »


 

Offline thedoc

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Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #1 on: 06/11/2012 17:36:44 »
We answered this question on the show...

Chris -   Thatís a very good question and first of all, letís consider the question of what chemicals are in things because chemicals are in everything and itís worth bearing in mind that oxygen, a gas that we rely on to keep us alive actually also gives us cancer because when you breathe in oxygen, it can turn into a reactive form of oxygen in the body and that reactive form of oxygen can damage your DNA, and that in turn can lead to changes that make cells grow the way they shouldnít, and so, they can potentially become cancerous.
Everything that we actually depend on for our life is a chemical and lots of the things that we eat are complex chemicals mixed together.  So just because there are lots of things in things doesnít necessarily mean that they're bad.
But your point is well-made in the sense that we have to be very sure about what weíre eating and it is possible that many of the trappings of modern life, convenient foods, and also a poor choice of diet could definitely affect our health.  I think probably the best thing to bear in mind is, what do the epidemiological studies - in other words, the studies of lots of members of the population who are eating a lot of different things - what do they show?  And one very big study which is being done in our region by a group called EPIC who were looking at the east of England and they're asking, ďWhat age do people get diseases at and die at, and what risk factors have they got?Ē
They found that if people didnít smoke, that they drank only in moderation, they took a bit of exercise, and this is the critical thing Ė they ate their 5-a-day fruit and vegetables, they could add up to 14 years onto the lifespan of the average individual.  So in other words, what you put into your mouth does make a terribly big difference to your health outcome and fresh fruit and vegetables, not putting deleterious things like cigarettes in your mouth, and also, eating a healthy diet overall, and not too much alcohol (so donít make life boring, but donít go over the top), thatís probably the best way and the best secret to have a healthy life.
« Last Edit: 06/11/2012 17:36:44 by _system »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #2 on: 09/04/2014 08:16:43 »
There are many diseases that seem to be increasing in frequency, although there are many possible biases including greater fractions of the individuals with the condition being diagnosed, and perhaps some false positives. 

However, the last century has brought some huge changes to humanity.

One thing to keep in mind that not all food additives are the same. 

For example, you might see the ingredients:
Folic Acid (a vitamin)
Ascorbic Acid (Vitimin C)
Citric Acid (common simple acid often found in fruit).
Acetic Acid (Vinegar)
Dextrose (a simple sugar).
mono & diglycerides (about 2/3 of an oil.  Triglicerides are a natural organic oil).

Anyway, some of these may be lab created, some may be refined from a natural source, but your body would treat them like any other food. 

I do wonder a bit about all of the food colorings that are fairly ubiquitous, aren't really "necessary", and are often very large and complex molecules that may not be metabolized by the body.

There have been questions about the safety of lab created Racemic mixtures when one often finds predominantly a single enantiomer in nature.  For example hydrogenated oils may contain a racemic mixture not found in nature.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #3 on: 09/04/2014 21:57:21 »
"Take a bottle of vegetable oil, it says on the bottle 100% vegetable oil. "
And then analyse that oil and find that it is made of dozens of different chemicals. Most of the minor ingredients will never have been tested for toxicity (unlike the additives).

I never did understand why some people think "natural is good: artificial is bad".
Are they not aware that death is natural?
Humanity has put a stupid amount of research into making poisonous things- but the most toxic chemicals known are not man-made. They are natural ones like Botulinum toxin.
 

Offline cheryl j

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #4 on: 10/04/2014 05:00:20 »
Here's something weird I read the other day - the artificial fat Olestra was found to speed up the removal of toxins such as PCBs from the body.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140409143946.htm
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #5 on: 10/04/2014 07:17:44 »
Here's something weird I read the other day - the artificial fat Olestra was found to speed up the removal of toxins such as PCBs from the body.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140409143946.htm
Thanks Cheryl,

It isn't surprising that a non-absorbable fat would help remove fat soluble contaminants.  8% removal over a year sounds like it is a very slow process.

However, I wonder if there would be benefits of prescribing Olestra for cirrhosis.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #6 on: 10/04/2014 19:23:58 »
It also removes other thing- notably the fat-soluble vitamins.
(There are also other side effects that people probably wouldn't want.)

Incidentally, some additives are used to prevent bacterial and fungal damage to the food.
Some of the fungi and bacteria that are inhibited by those additives would produce very toxic materials- among them carcinogens like aflatoxin and Fumonisin.

So, the additives can stop you getting cancer.

 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #7 on: 11/04/2014 00:24:25 »
Incidentally, some additives are used to prevent bacterial and fungal damage to the food.
...
So, the additives can stop you getting cancer.
Canning can generally kill most micro-organisms. 
Eating "fresh" food, or freshly cooked food can also eliminate the organisms. 

Toxin buildup in packaged food, of course, is a problem, and Staph Toxin or Botox may not be rendered safe by ordinary cooking, and may need extended cooking at high temperatures to eliminate.

One of the things that has happened in the last century or so is a year-around supply of good food including fresh fruits and vegetables.  However, that may have come at the price of increased dependence on preservatives added to the food.

Do we truly need all of the artificial colorants?  While it is probably safe, do I really need bug-guts added to my strawberry smoothies to get that smoothie experience?
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #8 on: 12/04/2014 00:00:00 »
"Canning can generally kill most micro-organisms.  "
Unless it doesn't.
"While commercially canned goods are required to undergo a "botulinum cook" in a pressure cooker at 121 įC (250 įF) for 3 minutes, and so rarely cause botulism, there have been notable exceptions such as the 1978 Alaskan salmon outbreak and the 2007 Castleberry's Food Company outbreak."
from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botulism


"Eating "fresh" food, or freshly cooked food can also eliminate the organisms.  "
Or it may not. In particular cooking doesn't reliably destroy some of the carcinogens.

The interesting point here is why did the OP think that the manufacturers would deliberately add carcinogenic chemicals to food?

Feel free to replace the bug-guts with an artificial colour (or, indeed, none).
 

Offline evan_au

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #9 on: 12/04/2014 02:10:20 »
Another major advance is freezing and cold storage.

This allows fresh fruit and vegetables to be stored safely with minimal degradation, so they can be eaten all-year round.
This form of storage avoids the vitamin loss of high-temperature canning processes, and the addition of a lot of preservatives.
The freezing process would break cell walls, but cooking does this too.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #10 on: 12/04/2014 02:11:08 »
Feel free to replace the bug-guts with an artificial colour (or, indeed, none).
No doubt the coffee shop selling the bug guts had selected them because it was a natural product, although it is a good point that not all natural products are actually healthy. 

I was out and about a bit today and decided to pick up a quart of ice cream.  I know the epitome of health food.  Anyway, I came up with a choice between blackberry and strawberry.  The strawberry had a nice pink color, the blackberry was as white as vanilla.  I chose the strawberry. 

I'm not sure...  it looked like the blackberry didn't have any blackberries in it.  Perhaps it was homeopathic blackberry....  anything I cook with blackberries has a rich purple color.    So, I suppose color does make a little difference, especially if one is skimping on the actual raw ingredients.
 

Offline JP

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #11 on: 12/04/2014 02:34:22 »
The interesting point here is why did the OP think that the manufacturers would deliberately add carcinogenic chemicals to food?

They already do.  I'm drinking a beer right now, and alcohol can cause cancer.

But more seriously, let's not insinuate that the OP was pushing conspiracy theories.  She asked if the volume of additives in food could lead to increased cancer rates.  As far as I'm concerned, Chris has the right take on this.  If things are so safe that it takes large-scale epidemiological studies to show risk, then you're better off focusing on the major things you can do to improve your health--eat more fruits and veggies, exercise, drink in moderation and don't smoke.

(Though in support of the OP, trans fats are a recent example of a mostly manufactured ingredient that was added for cost savings and which has been shown to cause harm.)
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #12 on: 12/04/2014 19:36:32 »
Beer is a drug, rather than a food. People don't often add significant amounts of alcohol to food- other than as a drug.
But that's hardly the point.
The OP said "I canít help but wonder if cancers start and spread because our food is so complicated."
Well, food was always complicated: there are lots of components in, for example, vegetable oil.
So there's no sensible way that complexity per se has anything to do with cancer.
And for the answer to the title question
"Can food additives cause cancer?" to be anything other than "not as far as we know"
would require a conspiracy.
« Last Edit: 12/04/2014 19:38:22 by Bored chemist »
 

Offline JP

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #13 on: 12/04/2014 20:31:57 »
And for the answer to the title question
"Can food additives cause cancer?" to be anything other than "not as far as we know"
would require a conspiracy.

Which is what Chris basically said in post 2 without insinuating that the OP was promoting conspiracy theories.  :)
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #14 on: 12/04/2014 21:41:37 »
Beer is a drug, rather than a food. People don't often add significant amounts of alcohol to food- other than as a drug.
You can add wine to your spaghetti sauce, but there have been questions about how much is left after cooking.

It is also often added as a flavoring to chocolate and cakes. 

However, one would also note that alcohol in moderation is not considered to have net adverse health effects, and some studies have suggested a mild beneficial effect. 

This is in fact often a criticism of some of the lab studies.  In order to tease out very rare events, drugs or chemicals are often given to rats and mice in massive doses to observe for mutations.  This, of course assumes that rats and mice are representative of humans which may not always be the case.  Nonetheless the doses being used in foods are much lower than what generally has been demonstrated not to be mutagenic in animals.

That is for the chemicals that have been tested.  Many older chemicals and drugs fall under GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe), and may not have had the same rigorous testing that new chemicals, drugs, and extracts might go through.

There is a controversial theory about radiation called radiation hormesis in which low doses of radiation may in fact have a protective effect, at least with respect to population statistics. 

I thought I had heard of a similar beneficial effect from low dose exposure to chemicals as with organic chemists, but I'm not finding that research.

Ahh, here is a huge epidemiological study of cancer by occupation.  The summary pages for malignant neoplasms are on page 121&122/153. 

Lab assistants seem to be ok, but Chemical Process Workers fare a little worse than average.  Farmers and Gardeners fare better than average. 

Interesting, the Farmers and Gardeners also fare well for both melanoma, and non-melanoma skin cancers, with the exception of non-melanoma skin cancers in female gardeners that is slightly above average, but doesn't meet 95% statistical significance.

So, what are the farmers doing better than everyone else?  Food?  Location?
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #15 on: 13/04/2014 09:56:26 »
"So, what are the farmers doing better than everyone else?  Food?  Location?"
My best guess is exercise.
 

Offline WilliamPang

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #16 on: 09/06/2014 06:44:43 »
Yes,It may be.Because some Additives like boric acid work as a toxic and it may be harmful for us.This is the only reason this additives ban after second world war.So we have to always choose additives very carefully.
 

Offline Quantum Inquisitor

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #17 on: 10/06/2014 02:42:57 »
I never did understand why some people think "natural is good: artificial is bad".
Are they not aware that death is natural? ... the most toxic chemicals known are not man-made. They are natural ones like Botulinum toxin.

For the record, I personally believe that "natural" is superior to "artificial," as a general rule of thumb. Nature is the great healer, and they are
the best healers who understand and conform to her laws. Once I awakened to the Law of Nature, and its amazing healing power, I could never
quite understand why anyone, in full possession of their "natural" mind, would choose artificial (processed) foods over natural (whole) foods; or
even artificial vitamins, for that matter, over natural vitamins. Maybe I'm missing something, but in my opinion, peak health (and happiness) is
only achieved by fully harmonizing our way of life with natural law. Built into the idea of harmony, however, is the principle of balance; so when
we speak of harmony we actually mean "balance and harmony," holistically speaking (of course), in all aspects of life; and not just one's diet.
The law of nature is the very law of life itself! Natural poisons have their place in the natural order of life and healing art(s); and a skilled healer
is able to use many of them to advance the art of natural healing.







« Last Edit: 10/06/2014 02:56:04 by Quantum Inquisitor »
 

Offline Quantum Inquisitor

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #18 on: 10/06/2014 07:46:06 »
Are they not aware that death is natural?


Once I awakened to the Law of Nature, and its amazing healing power, I could never quite understand why anyone,
in full possession of their "natural" mind, would choose artificial (processed) foods over natural (whole) foods; or
even artificial vitamins, for that matter, over natural vitamins.

Perhaps the more correct and commonly used term for "artificial" vitamins is "synthetic" vitamins.

Also, I neglected to point out that not all death is necessarily "natural." It must meet certain criteria
for it to qualify as a "natural" death.
 

Offline Bored chemist

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #19 on: 11/06/2014 20:21:18 »
I never did understand why some people think "natural is good: artificial is bad".
Are they not aware that death is natural? ... the most toxic chemicals known are not man-made. They are natural ones like Botulinum toxin.

For the record, I personally believe that "natural" is superior to "artificial," as a general rule of thumb. Nature is the great healer, and they are
the best healers who understand and conform to her laws. Once I awakened to the Law of Nature, and its amazing healing power, I could never
quite understand why anyone, in full possession of their "natural" mind, would choose artificial (processed) foods over natural (whole) foods; or
even artificial vitamins, for that matter, over natural vitamins. Maybe I'm missing something, but in my opinion, peak health (and happiness) is
only achieved by fully harmonizing our way of life with natural law. Built into the idea of harmony, however, is the principle of balance; so when
we speak of harmony we actually mean "balance and harmony," holistically speaking (of course), in all aspects of life; and not just one's diet.
The law of nature is the very law of life itself! Natural poisons have their place in the natural order of life and healing art(s); and a skilled healer
is able to use many of them to advance the art of natural healing.

Well, I never understood it, and I still don't because you have not explained it.
You have simply stated an opinion that ""natural" is superior to "artificial," as a general rule of thumb. "
Now that's fair enough- you are entitled to any opinion you want.
But the problem is that this is a science web site so you are expected to provide evidence, and you have not.

Here's a simple question: if you have a life threatening infection, do you trust to natural healing, or to antibiotics?

 

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Re: Can food additives cause cancer?
« Reply #19 on: 11/06/2014 20:21:18 »

 

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