Sunday, October 14, 2007

Is Aluminum Cookware Bad for You?

I have a question about aluminum. I know the health risk aluminum can create for the body if one takes in too much as well as it's link to Alzheimers disease. I know that aluminum cookware, cans, and that antiperspirant can pose health risks. My question is about aluminum "cookware". I've heard cooking acidic foods in aluminum cookware can cause the aluminum to leach out of the pan so I've avoided them. However, I've found a high quality cast aluminum manual juicer by Ra Chand and I'm wondering if this all aluminum juicer will pose a significant risk to my health. Do you think the risk to my health will be high if I use it daily to squeeze oranges and other citrus fruits-especially because of their acidity? Could they cause enough leaching of aluminum for it to be a health risk? Or does the aluminum have to be exposed for a relative time period to the citrus for leaching to occur. What would you recommend?

Aluminum, a soft metal, is found nearly everywhere in the environment. Most exposures to aluminum occur through ingestion or eating and drinking, with daily intakes generally low, averaging between 30-50 mg. For the typical person, drinking water, medicines and other pharmaceuticals (such as antacids and antiperspirants) are the biggest contributors to aluminum exposures; however, aluminum cookware is also a potential source. As you note, aluminum exposures have raised some health concerns due to the effects of aluminum on the human nervous system and the much discussed (but inconclusive) linkages between aluminum exposures and Alzheimer's disease.

Aluminum exposures from cookware, of which more than half is made of aluminum, is not well studied, but is thought to be a relatively minor source of aluminum exposures. Exposures to aluminum through food can occur when aluminum leaches or otherwise dissolves from the cookware into the food. Leaching is most likely when the foods being cooked or stored are highly basic (like baking soda) or highly acidic (like tomato sauce, lemon juice, oranges, or vinegar). For example, tomato sauce has been shown to contain 3-6 mg aluminum (per 100 g serving) after cooking in aluminum pans, which translates into about one-tenth of the typical daily intake. This leaching of aluminum with acidic foods does not happen with aluminum cookware that is anodized, or electro-chemically processed to seal the aluminum in the cookware. Clemson University Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center tested different cookware types, and found anodized aluminum cookware to be safe. Regardless, it would probably be wise to store tomato sauce and other acidic foods in something other than an aluminum pot.

As for the juicer that you mention, I did a quick and non-exhaustive check of various websites, none of which said that the juicer is made of anodized aluminum. One site did say that it was made of acid-resistant aluminum and chrome, suggesting that the aluminum is somehow sealed and that leaching of aluminum will not occur during the juicing process. An easy way to check for this is to look at the juicer and see whether the aluminum becomes pitted or pock-marked after several uses. Since leaching takes time and juicing is a relatively quick process, this pitting would not occur immediately but would rather occur over time. As a result, you should probably continue to check your juicer for pitting over time.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Are Tattoo Inks Toxic?

I've been wanting to get myself a tattoo for a few weeks, but I've heard that tattoo inks can be toxic. Where/How can I find a tattoo artist who uses "safe" inks?

The safety of tattoo inks or pigments have recently been the subject of some attention, possibly the result of a lawsuit brought by the American Environmental Safety Institute (AESI) against Huck Spaulding Enterprises, Inc., Superior Tattoo Equipment Co., and other tattoo ink sellers in the U.S. As a result of this lawsuit, the companies must place a warning for their California customers on their tattoo ink labels, catalogs and Internet sites that reads "inks contain many heavy metals, including lead, arsenic and others" and that the ingredients have been linked to cancer and birth defects. These adverse effects have been shown for exposures that occur over long time periods to these and other heavy metals, although not explicitly from these metals in tattoos. Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the authority to regulate tattoo pigments, tattoo pigments have not yet been approved by FDA for injection into the skin, as is done when a tattoo is made.

Heavy metals are used to give tattoo pigments their permanent color. The specific ingredients that are used in the pigments differ by color and by brand, but may include not only lead and arsenic, but also antimony, beryllium, chromium, cobalt, and nickel -- metals that have also been linked to bad outcomes in people. The amount of these metals in a tattoo may be substantial. For example, AESI states that the ink used for an index card sized (3” by 5”) tattoo contains 1.23 micrograms of lead, which is more than double the amount permitted per day under California’s Proposition 65.

Certain tattoo colors may present greater health risks than others. For example, green and blue pigments produced from copper salts (Copper Pthalocyanine) are thought to be safe, as they are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in contact lenses, surgical implants, and infant furniture paint. Similarly, black pigments made from carbon black or india ink, white pigments made from zinc or titanium white, purple pigments made from dioxazine/carbazole, and brown pigments made from iron oxides are thought to be have minimal (if any) health risks. Of the colors, red pigments, especially those that contain cadmium, iron oxides or mercury (cinnabar), are generally the most worrisome. Mercury in tattoo pigments, for example, has caused allergic reactions and scarring in people and has sensitized people to mercury from other sources, such as fish or dental fillings.

In light of these and other concerns, it makes sense to think twice about getting a tattoo. At a minimum, you should find out the ingredients of any tattoo pigments that will make up your new tattoo. This information may be hard to find, since the ingredients of tattoo pigments are considered to be proprietary and thus are usually not listed or otherwise revealed. Some tattoo artists, however, do mix their own tattoo pigments, in which case they should be able to tell you the ingredients. I would suggest going to only those artists that can give you this information.

Microwave Popcorn and the Kernel of Truth

For the past several years, I have been eating a bag of microwave popcorn almost every day. I just read that this can damage my lungs. Is this true? Should I be worried?

Microwave popcorn has been around for more than 50 years, since the invention of microwave ovens. Microwave popcorn is relatively easy to make at home using popcorn, a brown bag, some staples (yes, staples!) and other ingredients, such as salt and butter. More commonly, people make popcorn in their microwave using ready-made microwave popcorn packages, many of which contain additional chemical ingredients. The chemicals that are used to give microwave popcorn its buttery flavor are the reason why microwave popcorn has been in the news recently.

In particular, scientific studies have linked diacetyl and other chemicals that give the popcorn its buttery flavor to lung damage in people that work in microwave popcorn factories. A study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), for example, showed that microwave popcorn workers were continually exposed to high levels of these buttery chemicals and that these high levels were related to a serious and permanent type of lung disease, often called "popcorn lung". These risks were shown in workers exposed every now and then to very high levels of butter-flavoring chemicals and also in workers continually exposed to lower (but still higher than normal) chemical levels. Similar findings have also been shown in other scientific studies of people and animals, providing important, supporting evidence that inhaling large amounts of butter-flavoring chemicals is dangerous to your health. These dangers to workers are well-accepted, as evidenced by the fact that just this week, the the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 2693, the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act.

Whether there are similar risks for the general microwave popcorn-eating public, has not been studied, but any potential risks should be limited to those eating popcorn with artificial butter flavoring. Even for these people, risks are thought to be low, since people preparing pre-packaged microwave popcorn at home are exposed to lower chemical levels and for much shorter time periods than the workers. Recently, however, health concerns were raised for people who eat a lot of pre-packaged microwave popcorn. In July 2007, a pulmonary doctor from Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center notified the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of a patient who ate butter-flavored microwave popcorn several times a day for years and who now has a disease similar to "popcorn lung". As a result of this letter, FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are looking into the possible dangers of preparing pre-packaged microwave popcorn at home. Regardless of what they find, many makers of pre-packaged microwave popcorn have plans to stop adding diacetyl to their popcorn.

Until this time, there are several things that you can do to reduce any risks and/or your worry over pre-packaged microwave popcorn. Clearly, the most foolproof solution is to make microwave popcorn that does not contain artificial butter or to stick to homemade microwave or stove top popcorn. If you do prepare butter-flavored microwave popcorn, you can limit your exposures to the buttery chemicals by venting your microwave oven to the outside, opening nearby windows when you microwave the popcorn, letting the popcorn cool before you open the bag, and opening the popcorn bag outside.