Tox in the News

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Welcome To The Poison Garden: Medicine’s Medieval Roots…

A recent NPR article tells the story of the Duchess of Northumberland’s (aka Jane Percy) “Poison Garden.” This special garden was started in 2005 as part of the 12-acre, elaborate garden on the grounds of her family’s home, Alnwick Castle, in northeast England. Apothecary gardens were a traditional part of English villages and castles for centuries. Many of England’s cities and towns have apothecary (“druggist’s”) gardens – historical plots containing plants turned into treatments centuries ago by doctors, herbalists, religious folks and shamans. Most such gardens exist today to teach visitors about the history of medicine, according to the NPR story.

As the story explains, plants evolved poisonous properties to keep from being eaten, according to Dr. Henry Oakeley, who has studied the medicinal effects of plants as a Garden Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians. Some of those same chemicals that began as plant protection, he says, are now used to help people – by killing cancer cells, say, or quieting an overactive muscle or a painful nerve cell. Yet, there can be a fine line between curing and killing. Remember, “the dose makes the poison!” Read more about this issue in TEF’s Tox Topic entitled, “Venomous or Poisonous – Animals, Plants, Mushrooms, and More” on this site.

Read more of the NPR story by following the link below.

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Mystery solved! An illness in children that baffled public health officials in India for many years was determined to be caused by the toxicity of natural products in lychee fruit consumed by malnourished children.

The New York Times reported on the important discovery from a study which was published in the journal, Lancet Global Health. Scientists from India and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta collaborated to solve the mystery and warn consumers of the risk. Numbers of cases have dropped dramatically in response. Another example of “natural” not necessarily being “safe,” and pre-existing individual factors coupled with exposure to natural toxins resulting in variability in responses to the poison. Read more in the link below.

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Eat a healthy diet (lots of fruits and veggies!) as an informed consumer and remember…. The Dose Makes the Poison!

A recent article in the Washington Post addresses the issue of the effect of “lists” of “good” and “bad” things in your food basket and shows that such lists have an influence on consumers but not always to their benefit. It makes the point that is in keeping with basic toxicology principles that the mere presence of a “toxic” chemical does not necessarily mean that it presents a risk or that the food containing that chemical is “bad” for you. So, while it is always good to know the benefits and the risks of foods in our diet, avoiding foods on lists based on hazards, or potential for harm, will not mean that you are making the best decisions for your health or that paying more for “organic” will make those foods better for you. See the linked Washington Post article below for more information.

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The President has signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act into law with strong support but some concerns from the toxicology community.

The President signed the bill to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) after 40 years. The compromise bill was the subject of much debate over the last five years and was the subject of a Task Force of the Society of Toxicology who worked to assure that strong scientific principles were embodied in the final language. While widely praised as a significant improvement over the current law, issues remained for some constituencies.  See the link below for further information.

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Graphic Cigarette Warnings Deter Smokers

A study described in The Science Times on June 14, 2016 provides the first hard evidence that graphic warnings aid in smoking control.  Despite arguments to the contrary by the tobacco industry, a randomized controlled trial, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal Medicine, has provided evidence that pictorial warnings were more effective for both sexes and across races, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels.  See the linked Science Times article for more information.

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Questions and answers on the new study linking cell phones and cancer in rats

A preliminary study from the National Institute’s of Health (NIH) National Toxicology Program (NTP), released on May 27, 2016, found that radiation from cellphones appears to have increased the risks that male rats developed tumors in their brains and hearts.  But there are many caveats and some experts are debunking the study.  See the linked New York Times article and video for further information.

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