Dr. Oz' arsenic warning: was it too much, or not enough?
When you're beloved by millions, and you call yourself "America's Doctor ™" and then you actually go ahead and trademark that phrase, you've got to figure that sooner or later you're going to get some backlash.
Well...Dr. Oz just got his backlash.
It wasn't all that bad, really -- just a mild smackdown by the FDA and some light mockery from the Associated Press and other media outlets. It's not like he had to pose for an embarrassing mug shot or apologize to Oprah on national TV.
You may have heard a little buzz about this "controversy."
On a recent episode of his afternoon TV show, Dr. Oz warned that several brands of apple juice contain disturbing levels of arsenic.
The FDA quickly put out a statement to refute the warning with two key points: 1) Arsenic in apple juice is organic, which isn't harmful to humans. The inorganic form is poison. 2) FDA testing of apple juice shows much lower levels of total arsenic than Dr. Oz' testing.
In fact, the FDA tested some of the very same juice batches that Dr. Oz tested.
A producer for the Oz show told the AP that Dr. Oz doesn't agree that organic arsenic is as safe as generally believed. Even so, the great Oz himself admitted that he would continue giving apple juice to his kids.
BUT...he added that he's concerned about the cumulative effects of arsenic intake in people who drink apple juice for many years.
THAT point -- the cumulative intake -- is the real controversy here. And I believe it's a HUGE concern behind closed doors at the FDA.
A worrisome game of chicken
Earlier this year I told you about the dirty little secret in chicken feed.
During WWII, the FDA approved the use of Roxarsone -- a chicken feed additive that contains organic arsenic.
Roxarsone was in wide use by the 60s. And then sometime after the TURN OF THE CENTURY someone at the FDA finally got around to asking the question: "Could this stuff be bad for the people we're supposed to be protecting?"
Answer: Uh oh.
The arsenic in Roxarsone is organic. But when the FDA finally got around to mounting a study, they found that chickens fed Roxarsone contained higher amounts of inorganic arsenic compared to chickens that were fed none of the drug.
So when you filter organic arsenic through BILLIONS of chickens, what you have is a society that may have ingested traces of inorganic arsenic, day after day, year after year, for DECADES!
Besides killing parasites, Roxarsone does two things that chicken farmers love: It increases the weight of chickens, and gives the meat a pleasant pink color that looks good in the grocery store.
And it's that "pink" part that's troublesome.
Roxarsone makes chicken meat pink by promoting the growth of tiny blood vessels. I've mentioned this process, called angiogenesis, many times. It's the method that cancer cells use to supply blood that's needed to make tumors grow.
Three years ago, researchers showed that Roxarsone prompted angiogenesis in human cell lines. Which is exactly the result nobody wanted to see because more than two million pounds of Roxarsone are added to U.S. chicken feed each year.
But not this year.
This past June, the FDA announced that Alpharma -- the Pfizer subsidiary that makes Roxarsone -- would no longer sell the product in the U.S. This voluntary action was based on FDA research, so you can be pretty sure that it was one of those kicking and screaming "voluntary" actions.
Of course, it all boils down to this: The FDA knows how dangerous it may be for the U.S. population, which gorges itself daily on tens of thousands of tons of chicken, to be getting constant exposure to trace inorganic arsenic.
So knowing that, does Dr. Oz' fear of our cumulative arsenic intake really deserve an FDA scolding and media mockery?
Maybe the arsenic in apple juice will turn out to be a small concern, but until just recently, nobody was afraid of chickenfeed either.
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About the author
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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