The Yerba maté industry responds

The other day, I received an email from the VP of Operations of Guayaki Yerba Maté in response to my earlier post about the drink and its links to cancer. Since my post sparked a lot of discussion, I thought I’d share his note. He said:
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Category: Chemicals, Food | Tagged , , , , | 44 Comments

How to avoid those *other* kitchen dangers

The New York Times ran a story on Saturday on budget-conscious food safety tips—inspired, of course, by the ongoing egg scare. I agree with most of the suggestions, such as washing produce thoroughly and not keeping leftovers for too long—something I’m prone to doing, because it’s just so hard to throw out chicken curry!—but the article focused entirely on microbial risks, ignoring a handful of potentially dangerous chemical exposures that can lurk in the kitchen. Here are five suggestions of my own—things I have recently adopted in my home—that I believe help minimize these environmental health risks.
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Category: Chemicals, Food | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

When heart drugs cloud the brain

This month I have an article in Scientific American MIND about the controversial link between statin drugs and memory loss. Hundreds of statins users have registered cognitive complaints with Medwatch, the FDA’s adverse drug reaction database. But drug companies don’t yet recognize memory loss as a side effect, and to be fair, at first consideration, it seems like a strange association—why in the world would a heart medication affect your brain?

Dig a little deeper, though, and it makes a lot of sense. A study published in the Archives of Neurology in 2002 reported that after taking high-doses (80mg) of the statin Zocor for 24 weeks, subjects had half as much circulating brain-derived cholesterol as they did before they started taking the drugs. A good 70 percent of the brain is comprised of cholesterol; it makes up the myelin sheaths that surround nerves, allowing them to transmit electrical impulses quickly. It is also required for the production of new synapses, or connections between neurons, an as a result is likely to play a crucial role in memory formation and brain plasticity.

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Category: Drugs | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The hottest new health drink—that might give you cancer

Oh, em, gee: there’s a new health drink in town, and everybody’s drinking it. Alicia Silverstone, Matt Dillon—I’ve even heard Madonna can’t live without it. It’s called Yerba maté, and it’s this totally amazing tea drink that, like, comes from South America or something. It doesn’t taste so great, but it’s supposed to cure cancer and stuff. Seriously!

OK—before you jump on the celebrity bandwagon, consider this: Not only is there no good evidence that Yerba maté cures cancer, there’s some evidence that it might actually cause it, as I explained briefly in Glamour’s July issue. The drink is a hot or cold tea made from the leaves of the herb Ilex paraguariensis, and it has been drunk by South Americans for centuries. But in 1991, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that hot Yerba maté was “probably carcinogenic for humans,” based on findings from a number of case-controlled studies that suggest that South Americans who drink a lot of it are more likely than non-drinkers to have oral, esophageal, lung, kidney and bladder cancer.
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Category: Food | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

A close look at the plastics industry’s spin on BPA

One thing I’m very concerned about these days is bisphenol A, or BPA, the chemical that has become famous for turning up uninvited in plastics, tinned food cans, shopping receipts, and—surprise!—us. A whopping 95 percent of Americans have traces of this plastic building block in their bodies, according to the CDC in Atlanta.

BPA mimics the hormone estrogen, binding to its receptors and activating biochemical cascades that impact the brain, bone, liver, and heart as well as cancer risk, fertility, and obesity. Hormones like estrogen aren’t just responsible for reproduction; they are the messengers the body uses to communicate about pretty much everything.  And they are incredibly potent, having “evolved to act as powerful amplifiers,” according to a 2005 commentary published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Low levels of BPA have been shown to increase the risk for infertility, organ and nervous system problems, cancer, and obesity in animals, and a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who have high levels of BPA in their urine are more likely than others to suffer from heart disease and diabetes. (A 2010 study in PLoS One has confirmed the heart disease findings.)

Still, an informational website maintained by the American Chemistry Council, the trade group that represents the plastics industry, maintains that “there is no basis for human health concerns from exposure to BPA.” Dig a little deeper, and I find that most of the industry’s claims about BPA’s safety are spurious. Here are five industry arguments that just don’t stand up to scrutiny—for reasons, I’m sure, they would prefer you didn’t know.

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Category: Chemicals | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Welcome to Body Politic!

Greetings, all! I am thrilled to be unveiling Body Politic here on PLoS Blogs and am honored to share this platform with some truly amazing scientists and journalists. I hope to start some thought-provoking discussions and learn as much, if not more, from you as I hope you’ll learn from me.

Most of you don’t know me, so let me tell you a bit about myself. I am a freelance science and health journalist and write for magazines including Scientific American, Nature Medicine, Slate, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Glamour, Redbook, and O: The Oprah magazine. Although my audience varies widely—Nature Medicine and Glamour don’t share many of the same readers, except perhaps me—I find that the topics I most love to write about are relevant and important for everyone. The question that gets me up every morning is this: are the things we put into our bodies each day safe and appropriately regulated?

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Category: Announcement | 1 Comment