The Dose Makes the Poison

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Chemicals are bad, right?
Otherwise why would so many purveyors of all things healthy proudly proclaim their products to be “chemical-free” and why would phrases such as “it’s chock-full of chemicals” be so commonly used to imply something unnatural and therefore inherently dangerous? All too often the use of the word chemicals in the news, in advertising and in common usage has the implication that they are bad. You will always here of “purely organic, non-GMO, 0.000% chemicals among other emotive phrases on food, medicine even cloths. You never hear about chemicals that fight or prevent infection, help crops grow or make our life easier. Small pox for instance has become none of our worries; anaesthetics have made open surgeries as painless as a visit to the park. In lifestyle commentary, chemicals are presented as something that can be avoided, or eliminated using special socks, food, drugs, soaps or diets, and that they cause only harm to health and damage to the environment.
As a result if this controversial language often used concurrently with “chemicals”, a series of myths have emerged. These myths have created a single story or misleading information in that case that I am going to try and debunk in this publication. Here are the five of the worst.

1. You can lead a chemical free life.
Despite the current ongoing wave of confusion by marketing officials claiming their products to be “safe” to the human health and the environment; using the term “chemical-free” is absolute flattery. I am moved to call it plain nonsense. Everything, including the air we breathe, the food we eat and the drinks we drink are all chemicals. It does not matter is if you live off the land, following entirely organic farming practices, eating organic vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner from Monday to Monday or you are a city-dweller consuming just processed food, either way your surroundings and diet consists of nothing but chemicals.

2. Man-made chemicals are dangerous.
Having confirmed and ascertained that there is no way of leading a chemical-free existence and that we are living in a matrix of chemicals both synthetic and natural. The question that still remains is, are natural chemicals better than synthetic ones?
The answer is No. Whether a chemical is man-made or natural tells you precisely nothing about how dangerous it is. For instance, Sodium thiopental, is used in lethal injections which causes quick painful death on the victim but it is about as toxic as amygdalin, which is found in almonds and apple seeds. What makes Sodium thiopental dangerous and amygdalin healthy for human consumption and more so prescribed as a healthy practice?
The answer lies in the quantity that we consume.
I am not disputing the fact that there are many documented cases of man-made chemicals that have been banned due to health concerns. But on the other hand and to tip the balance, chemicals have done far more good than harm. For instance, brominated flame retardants which are no longer used in furniture due to allegations of unpleasant side-effects. However, these worries should be balances against the estimated 1, 150 lives saved because the chemical stopped furniture fires spreading.
We have seen substances that are upheld as terrible cases of chemical pollutants, for instance dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane commonly known as DDT was used as pesticide which had terrible side effects but still the world health organization still supports its use for control of malaria transmitting mosquitoes stating:
“DDT is still needed and used to disease vector control simply because there is no alternative of both efficacy and operational feasibility, especially for high-transmission areas.”

3. Synthetic chemicals cause cancer
I have been reading and watching a lot of news through different media outlets about research showing links between particular chemicals and occurrences of cancer and other diseases. Sometimes the stories even claim that a substance definitely cures it.
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But more often than not there reports only cover part of the scientists’ conclusions. They just mention that an effect on cancer (either positively or negatively) was seen in the presence of a chemical. I call this correlation, but it does not necessarily imply a causal link.
For example a number of diagnosed cases of cancer correlate with sales of organic produce, but no one would seriously suggest that man-made chemicals used on farms somehow protects people from cancer. We hear in adverts of healthy products or clubs claiming that the chemicals we eat everyday predisposes us to cancer, or they can give us organic products that will “clean” our bodies from the chemicals we “pile” in our bodies to save ourselves from cancer.

My point is that basing conclusions on correlation it not useful, unless it is accompanied by other observations such as a plausible mechanism to explain it. Once a correlation is seen, then scientists can start looking for that other supporting information.

4. Chemical exposure is a ticking time-bomb
We constantly hear phrases such as cocktail of chemicals and time-bomb in our daily conversations. I find these terms pretty emotive, although they make very good and catchy news headlines. How comes is it only now that we realize that we are living inside chemicals? We have been permanently living among a cocktail of chemicals ever since our existence.
So why have we suddenly become more aware of all the chemicals in our environment? On the other hand I may attribute this due to the development of amazingly sensitive technologies that allow minute quantities of chemicals to be detected.
We cannot now claim that us living with chemicals is living with a time bomb. If that is the case then we need to get out of these chemicals meaning water, air and everything else we have.

5. We are subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled experiment
I will confidently say this is the most controversial topic in the news nowadays blaming scientists for using people in experimenting their new
I feel very confident to say there is no conspiracy here. The reality is that use, manufacture and disposal of chemicals are strictly regulated and controlled. Each chemical used as food passes through a long complex series of safety tests before it is allowed by the relevant authorities. New drugs go through vigorous tests by different institutions before it can be released for human use.
Chemists in academia and industry have to adhere to these regulations in the process inventing or manufacturing amazing new chemicals to better our lives.

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Fight against Drug Resistance: Drug testing and alternative treatment techniques.

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2nd December, 2014.

I was privileged to attend a prestigious research lecture titled  Critical Lessons in life and Medicine from Africa to the first world delivered by Prof Mervyn Mer from Wits University in South Africa and Professor Jeffrey Lipman from Australia at Wits University in Johannesburg South Africa. I sat in that auditorium surrounded by doctors, academics, medical practitioners, medical students, professors and masters degree holders while I was not even close to acquiring an undergraduate degree I had this feeling that I was in the wrong place. I was lost in some instances when the speakers swarm into the medical jargon or jokes I could not understand.

The central argument of the entire evening was how medical practitioners help bacteria become more resistance to antibiotics. In his talk on drug administration in the ICU department, Professor Jeffrey Lipman from Australia presented data of his forty years of research how under-dosing, treating viral disease with antibiotics and over-dosing has contributed to increase in bacteria resistance which was well evidenced. Furthermore, Professor Mervyn Mer from Wits University explained how poor drug administration and wrong medication has led to increase in cases of TB due to bacterial resistance. All these arguments are very valid and solid, however, throughout the lecture, I could not stop asking myself why can’t these medical practitioners tackle the menace at the root cause. I am not a medical practitioner or anywhere close to that but I think if they can try to fix these two issues below we may be moving closer to eradicating bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Drug Testing
As much a we are proposing and advocating for medical practitioners to give right medication and doses when administering drugs to patients, the method involved in development of the drugs themselves is flawed. Lets look at a simple summary of drug testing process as this is the most crucial part of drug development process. This process happens in different phases testing for absorption and metabolism, effects on organs and tissue, side effects, effectiveness, dosage, relationship with other drugs among others. These phases include:
Phase I
20 – 100
Healthy volunteers take drug for about a month. The flaw here is that if we are putting an antibiotic into a healthy human being who does not need the antibiotic. How will the bacteria not become resistant to the antibiotic?

Phase II

Several hundred Health- impaired patients take the drug with no dosage information. Meaning there are several tests that will be taken with different doses in order to find the correct dosage. To me this is exposing the bacteria to wrong amounts of the antibiotic and therefore increases the chances of the bacteria becoming resistant to the antibiotic. The scale escalates when the drug testing process gets to

Phase III

In this phase hundreds and thousands of health impaired patients are subjected to the drug to determine the effectiveness of the drug in treatment of large populations. It is on this phase that control experiments are done  . We think we are testing and making our we are now exposing the antibiotic to a large number of bacteria.

Lastly but not least is there a possibility of treating patients without necessarily using antibiotics?