Sodium Lauryl Sulphate - More evidence

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Quite a while back, I blogged about my investigation of Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and how, using the scientific method, I worked out that it was the cause of my mouth ulcers and clammy hands. Before that investigation, I assumed that my skin problems were simply built-in, a genetic property of my body. Since then, by keeping away from SLS in toothpaste, soap, washing-up liquid and other cleaning agents, my hands have been generally bone-dry. It is only when I go to other people's houses or cafes/restaurants etc that my hands become damp again, because even tiny amounts of SLS and related chemicals will cause sweating. Unfortunately, serious air pollution also makes them clammy again, which is very hard to avoid in London! I've found that if I drink from paper cups when out in cafes and stick to non SLS products in the home, I've been able to reduce my mouth ulcer problems to near zero. I do feel guilty that I'm using paper cups but anyone who gets regular mouth ulcers will understand why I've lumped for that wasteful approach. Interestingly, different venues seem to use different strengths of cleaning agent. I always choose a paper cup in Caffe Nero nowadays but I'm okay with crockery in John Lewis.

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The reasoning I'm blogging about the subject again, today, is that there is an interesting article on the BBC website discussing the very matter of SLS and mouth ulcers. The article reports on a double-bind study that did not find a strong correlation between mouth ulcers and SLS toothpaste. I have to point out in response that the study did not factor in a very important element; if you have SLS soap in your bathroom, you'll be putting SLS into your mouth in small amounts even while using SLS-free toothpaste. I've found one has to remove all SLS products from the bathroom and kitchen to stop the mouth-ulcers; it's that potent a chemical. Fortunately, the BBC article does conclude by recommending that those with mouth ulcers should try SLS-free toothpaste.

The new BBC article references an earlier article which is also very useful, as that article describes the general effect of industrial detergents on our skin. The explanation supports my conclusion that the skin of my hands went clammy when exposed to SLS and other potent industrial chemicals and pollutants.

I do hope people with mouth ulcers and clammy hands hear about this evidence and try themselves to rid their homes of SLS products; those maladies are no fun to have and they can really ruin your day. Funnily enough, there has been a down-side for me after changing to an SLS-free life. Nowadays, because my hands are generally dry in the home, I have to lick my fingers before holding my guitar plectrum. Because I spent so many years playing guitar with damp hands, I can't get used to playing with dry hands and I have to 'wet them' myself to play properly. Isn't life strange!

Processed red meat - WHO report

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This week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report in which they stated a link between preserved red meats and cancer. The report got a lot of media coverage, including articles in most of the popular UK newspapers. I thought I'd mentioned it here as it links to a few articles I've written in the past about this subject and it might be worth talking about them again.

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Firstly, I do recommend anyone who's interested in this issue to watch the Forks over Knives documentary. It is engaging, thorough, accessible and clear and it shows the strong epidemiological and scientific links between a diet high in animal proteins (such as meat and dairy) and serious health problems. Many people nowadays think that they must consume milk for calcium and meat for protein. In fact, both these key nutritional elements can be found in vegetables. Also, as far as I know, an adult only needs about a golf-ball-sized amount of protein per day to keep him or her healthy, far less than the servings many people see as the minimum to eat. The Forks over Knives documentary (as far as I can remember) talks intelligently about these matters. I reviewed the film in this older blog entry and I heartily recommend it.

Secondly, the problems with preserved meats, discussed in the WHO report, aren't just about the meat itself, or the fat and salt added to it. As the WHO report states, certain organic molecules are created during the high temperature cooking process. In particular, aromatic amines are created. This doesn't sound too scary but I found out, several years ago, that the amines present in preserved meats, such as histamine, cadaverine and putrescence (you can guess why they're called that) can actually alter the mood of a person eating them if that person's digestive system is low on certain key enzymes known as Mono-amine Oxidase Inhibitors or MAO's. If a person is low on these MAO's, the amines in the preserved meats can make that person moody, aggressive, tearful and generally a mess if they eat such meats on a regular basis. To read the full description, check out this earlier blog entry.

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I've also found that animal proteins, meat, dairy and preserved meats are connected to a large range of health issues. For example, a meat-free diet can make your cells younger, a diet heavy in meat changes the bacteria populations in your gut, potentially leading to bowel cancer and a study warning of the health dangers of a diet high in milk.

There's another problem with foods cooked to a high temperature. They often end up containing significant levels of acrylamides (chemically related to the amines discussed above). Many years ago, a research team in Scandinavia investigated the strange problem of a herd of cows that were showing signs of mental injury. The researchers eventually tracked down the cause of the cows' distress. The cows were drinking from water contaminated by acrylamides leaking from a nearby factory. The researchers followed up on this discovery and discovered that acrylamides can be toxic to the body and brain. Unfortunately, the danger from acrylamides for us doesn't come from living next to a factory. Any food that is browned or turned golden by heating will contain acrylamides. At the high temperates created by roasting and toasting, organic molecules in the food are chemically transformed into acrylamides. Their negative effect on our bodies is multifaceted. As this cancer.gov report states, acrylamides are linked to higher incidents of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and possibly renal cell cancer. In other words, our chips and toast are toxic.

All in all, there's no sense in religiously avoiding everything that might produce acrylamides; a fish and chip supper once a month isn't a death sentence, but the negative effects will accumulate. It's probably a lot like sugar and diabetes. We have to keep the consumption down and make these unhealthy foods a small minority of our diet, or we will eventually suffer the consequences. Greens for breakfast, anyone?

Fever: a magical cancer cure

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This week, I've been reading 'Farmer Buckley's Exploding Trousers and other odd events on the way to scientific discovery'. It's a popular science book from the people at New Scientist magazine and is a series of short stories (each a few pages long) about weird and wonderful and often very important scientific and technological inventions and discoveries. I'm enjoying the book, although reading a long string of disconnected stories can feel a bit laborious sometimes, but there some absolute gems amongst the collection.

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One story really jumped out. On page 21 of the book, the author describes the fascinating story of Dr William Coley, an American doctor living and working in New York in the 1870's. During his work, Dr Coley stumbled upon a fascinating pattern. He treated many patients with tumours. The standard medical treatment for these tumours was to cut them out, but they invariably grew back. Coley found that patients who had tumours, but then suffered an infection that sent them into a high fever, very often were entirely cured of their tumours. For example:

The man's medical records were quite clear. His case was hopeless. In the space of three years, he had had five operations to remove a tumour from his neck. The last was a failure: it was impossible to remove the whole tumour. He would die soon. As if that wasn't bad enough, the poor man then suffered two attacks of erysipelas, a skin infection that produced a lurid red rash and a high fever. But when the fever broke and the man recovered, his tumour had vanished. Seven years later, he was still alive and well. There could be only one explanation: whatever had caused the fever had also destroyed the cancer.

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SLS, mouth ulcers and the scientific method

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Science isn't just something done by clever people in lab coats. The wonderful thing about the scientific method is that it can be done anywhere and by doing it, you can find out if something is really true. You don't have to believe hearsay or nod dumbly when the Big Wig tells you and everyone else what is true and what isn't true because That's What's Been Written. Instead, you can go away and find it out for yourself.

Another great thing about the scientific method is that it is relatively straightforward. Someone starts by having an idea about how an aspect of the world works. This is a person's possible theory or hypothesis (which literally means 'scene running beneath'). It is often the case that this hypothesis will fly in the face of the accepted theory. The person's hypothesis will often include assumptions about how the world works, which are its axioms. To find out if the hypothesis is true, a person will conduct several experiments. He or she designs these experiments to show, through physical events, whether or not the hypothesis is correct. Depending on the results, the person may conduct further experiments to make sure that the physical evidence he or she has gathered is proof that the hypothesis is correct and that there wasn't just a lucky coincidence, which would indicate a possible false correlation. Once false correlations are ruled out by isolating key elements, the hypothesis can be regarded as fact.

I carried out this process recently with a very mundane problem. I kept getting mouth ulcers. Mouth ulcers aren't fun. They're not life-threatening but they can be a real pain. On a regular basis, I'd been getting them since I was eight, or possibly earlier. About ten years ago, after a particularly bad infestation, I chatted about the problem to a colleague. He said with assured confidence that it was because I was eating acidic foods like tomatoes. I nodded in appreciation at this insight but later on, I thought 'my mouth should be perfectly able to eat tomatoes. Evolution would have weeded out such a simple problem'. But without any anything else to go on, I couldn't come up with a different hypothesis.

That is until last year, when I was chatting to friend. She remarked that she bought SLS-free soap for her young son because he'd had eczema problems since he was a baby. That got me thinking. 'My mouth ulcers are a skin problem of a kind. Could they be the result of my mouth being sensitive to SLS?' That idea became my hypothesis.

My next step was to investigate SLS. Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (or Laureth Sulphate or SLES if it's the 'ethyl' version) is a foaming agent. If you add a small amount of SLS to a product it makes the product foam up in an attractive manner as soon as you add water. Because of this, SLS is added to soaps, washing-up liquids and toothpaste, among others. It's in a lot of products. I noticed that it was in toothpaste. I checked my popular brand toothpaste; yep, it was an ingredient. My hypothesis that SLS was giving me mouth ulcers was still possible.

My next step was to perform an experiment; I stopped using my SLS toothpaste. I looked for an alternative brand, free of that ingredient. After a bit of effort, I found one in the local health food shop. I began using that toothpaste exclusively. After several weeks, I realised that I had not had a single mouth ulcer. It looked as if I had proved my hypothesis.

But then I thought: 'perhaps there is another ingredient in the toothpaste I was using previously that is really the cause of my mouth ulcers?' If that was true, then I would have had a false correlation. To test this possibility, I put some soap, containing SLS, on my fingers and then rubbed my fingers around the inside of my mouth. This way, I was isolating SLS from the other toothpaste ingredients. Twenty-four hours later, I had two painful, sensitive mouth ulcers. This experiment gave me the confidence to decide that SLS was the culprit. [There was still the possibility that some other ingredient was the actual culprit but I wasn't going to buy a hundred products and deliberately give myself mouth ulcers for two months. No way!]

Flushed with success (but not inflamed), I wondered about another skin problem I've had most of my life; clammy hands. Did SLS cause that too? That was a trickier challenge because we generally touch more chemical products with our hands than we put inside our mouths. To test this hypothesis, I had to get rid of SLS soaps (which includes pretty much all liquid soaps) and SLS washing up liquids, since I hand-washed my dishes. Eventually, I found an SLS free washing-up liquid made by 'earth friendly products'. Three weeks after switching to those products, I found that in my home at least, my hands were dry as a bone with almost no outbreaks of clamminess.

One day soon after, I popped around to chat to a neighbour. He handed me a mug for my tea, fresh from his kitchen draining-board and as I grasped it, my right hand broke out in a sweat. It was that fast! Not only that, but there couldn't have been much more than a tiny residue of SLS on the mug. Such a large reaction to such a small residue seems to indicate that my hands are hyper-sensitive to the chemical in a similar way to someone with an acute allergy. It was a fascinating reminder of how fast my hands would become clammy again if I let cheaper, SLS-based products back into my daily life.

Since that time, my mouth has been completely ulcer-free and my hands have been almost entirely bone-dry at home. Success!

p.s. If you've found this article interesting, you might want to read my article about Mono-Amine Oxidase, Preserved Meat and a child's Problem Behaviour.

The dangers of milk

In previous blogs, I've talked about the increasing evidence that diets high in animal protein - meat and dairy - are bad for our health. The most interesting example, I think, was the excellent health documentary Forks over Knives, but there is also evidence specifically about diet changes, gut flora and bowel cancer, as well as the news that meat-free diets can make your cells younger.

A new article out this week adds to that corpus of knowledge. The article appeared in this week's New Scientist magazine and reports on a recent health study of tens of thousands of people in Sweden. The study ran for over 20 years and focussed on milk consumption by adults. It found that:

'the more milk people drank, the more likely they were to die or experience a bone fracture during the study period.'


The study also found that women who reported that they drank three-or-more glasses of milk a day had almost double the risk of dying during the study period as those who reported only drinking one.

This evidence flies in the face of the traditional view of milk; that it's a healthy food and that it helps our bones because it contains calcium. Clearly, this view needs a very strong review. As far as I can remember, the forks over knives documentary gives an explanation that fits the Swedish study very well. Forks over Knives explains that milk does contain calcium but our bodies can't absorb that calcium because we don't have the appropriate enzymes (not surprisingly, as we're not calves). After digestion, the proteins and other elements in milk can create an acid environment in our blood. Our body has to rectify that acid-alkaline balance by drawing calcium from our bones. The bizarre net result is that drinking milk causes us to lose calcium from our bones, not gain it.

This theory is not mentioned in the New Scientist article. It reports that the scientists at Uppsala University could not state a definite causal connection to explain the results of their study. They felt the most likely explanation was that drinking milk was causing inflammation.

Whichever it is, the facts speak for themselves. Don't believe anyone who says that drinking milk is good for your bones.

Animal protein in diet

In recent posts, I've been talking about evidence that diets high in animal protein can give rise to a much higher risk of cancer. The scientific evidence for this has been shown in several paper for many years, but it was the excellent documentary 'Forks over Knives' that drew my attention to the issue, along with many other people. Since then, there have been more articles in the mainstream press about meat, diet and cancer, including the fascinating report that a meat-free diet can make your cells younger.

This post is about an article in today's Guardian newspaper that reinforces the idea put forward in those previous articles. The guardian article states that a US study of six-thousand people, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), concluded that:

High levels of dietary animal protein in people under 65 years of age was linked to a fourfold increase in their risk of death from cancer or diabetes, and almost double the risk of dying from any cause over an 18-year period.


This conclusion matches the scientific evidence quoted in the Forks over Knives documentary that a diet that contains more than 5% animal proteins significantly increases the risk of cancer. According to that scientific research, reverting to a diet low in animal protein can reverse the problems caused by the high-animal-protein exposure; the damage can be undone.

I'm hoping very much that Britain's heart disease and cancer charities respond to this mounting evidence and push forward campaigns to encourage people to reduce their animal protein consumption. As the NHANES study reported, a high animal protein diet can be as dangerous to a person's health as smoking.

Diet changes, gut flora and bowel cancer

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A few months ago, I wrote a blog article about the excellent Forks over Knives documentary. The documentary made a fascinating and convincing case for the connection between major illnesses and a diet high in animal proteins. As a follow-on from that entry, I thought I’d mention a new article in this week’s New Scientist magazine. It reports on some very interesting new research. To quote:

Switching to a diet based exclusively on animals or plants triggers rapid changes to the microbes that rule your gut. This knowledge could help fine-tune diets to improve health, as well as reduce the risk of illnesses like inflammatory bowel disease.

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Meat-free diet can make your cells younger

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This is a follow-on article from my earlier blog post this month about the ‘Forks over Knives’ documentary, a film that I’d strongly recommend people seeing, as it puts forward a fascinating health case for following a diet low in animal proteins.

The New Scientist magazine last week reported on a study by the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California to see if diet and lifestyle could reduce or revert cell-ageing in 10 men in their early sixties with prostate cancer. They were ‘asked to follow a strict healthy-living regime rather than take a course of drugs. They ate a meat-free diet, did exercise and yoga daily and went to weekly group therapies. After five years, the telomeres on a type of white blood cell were 10% longer on average in these men. In contrast, 25 men with the same condition who kept to their usual lifestyles saw the telomeres on these cells shrink by an average of 3% over the same period.’ Read More...

Low MAO and bad behaviour

A while back, a friend of mine told me that her ten-year-old son was having behavioural problems at school. He’d become increasingly irritable, moody, tearful and sensitive, culminating in a fight with a class-mate. It was a worrying development, particularly since he was usually a friendly, relaxed, cheerful kid.

At their house, while thinking on the problem, I noticed that my friend was giving her son more ice-cream than before. I pointed it out to her and she said that since her son’s infant food allergies were gone, he was enjoying the ability to eat dairy. I asked what he’d been eating on the day he’d had the fight. She said they’d had garlic sausage for lunch.

I wondered if these foodstuffs could be connected to a child’s bad behaviour, particularly a child that might have a history of food intolerance. After a bit of investigation, I came up with a possible problem and put this article together for her:


GOOD AND BAD AMINES


We humans are good at eating and digesting a wide range of food. We’re
omnivores, from omni meaning ‘all’ and vorare meaning ‘devour’, as in ‘voracious’. Our bodies though need to be careful what they let into our bloodstreams. If certain food molecules get into our bloodstreams, they can cause problems all over our bodies and, in particular, in our brains.

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