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Is Your Toothpaste Toxic?

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Is Your Toothpaste Toxic?

Popular toothpastes, even many marketed as "natural," contain harmful ingredients including endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents and carcinogens, according to a new report from The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.

Popular toothpastes, even many marketed as "natural," contain harmful ingredients including endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents and carcinogens.Shutterstock

Behind the Dazzling Smile: Toxic Ingredients in Your Toothpaste, describes how the quality of "natural" toothpastes varies significantly between brands and how these personal oral care products commonly include nonessential ingredients that may be harmful. Cornucopia blames regulatory loopholes for allowing the use of endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents and suspected carcinogens in toothpastes.

"The cosmetics industry is no different and may be worse, than leading food companies when it comes to gimmicky ingredients and misleading health claims," asserted lead report author Jerome Rigot, PhD, a policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. "However, we have created a useful web-based scorecard to help discriminating consumers see through marketing hype and make the best decision for their family when buying toothpaste."

Cornucopia spotlights the most problematic ingredients to be avoided, which are common in some of the most popular "natural" and premium brands as well as familiar mass-market brands like Colgate and Crest. These include synthetic preservatives like sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, surfactants like sodium laureth sulfate, which may contain a toxic, cancer-causing contaminant and artificial flavors and colors tied to behavioral problems in children.

The report emphasizes that the mouth's oral mucosa "is one of the most absorbent areas of the body" and raises questions about putting in your mouth potentially toxic contaminants that may pass directly into the bloodstream.

The watchdog shared its study with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The Senators have introduced The Personal Care Products Safety Act that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate the safety of ingredients in everyday personal care items, like deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.

Currently all cosmetics and personal care products like toothpaste remain essentially unregulated, something the FDA readily admits:

"Firms and individuals who market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to make sure their products and ingredients … are safe under labeled and customary conditions for use and that they are properly labeled. Under U.S. law, cosmetics products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go on the market. The one exception is color additives, … which must be approved for their intended use."

Rigot unpacks the impact of this gaping loophole. "It means," he said "that the FDA does not require impurities, including several potential contaminants such as the carcinogens 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide, to be listed as ingredients on the labels of personal care products because these toxic chemicals are produced during manufacturing. Even though technology exists to remove these contaminants (such as vacuum striping) many companies don't use it because regulators do not force them to do so."

The FDA restricts or prohibits just 11 synthetic ingredients in cosmetics. In contrast, the European Union (EU) prohibits more than 1,300 ingredients and restricts an additional 250 ingredients for use in personal care products. As a result, the U.S. lags significantly behind other countries on cosmetics safety, allowing many hazardous chemicals that are banned in Canada, Japan and Europe.

In fact, many toothpastes sold in Europe and other countries by American corporations are created with different, safer formulations for international markets than the same products sold in the U.S., to accommodate stricter cosmetics laws.

"If a company truly cared about the health of its customers, it would formulate its products not according to a given country's regulations, but rather to ensure the safest possible product with the highest quality ingredients regardless of where the products are sold," stated Mark Kastel, senior policy analyst at Cornucopia.

Slick packaging and misleading health claims are among a variety of marketing ploys used to induce customers to purchase oral care products that, in reality, may be detrimental to their health. Furthermore, a majority of "natural" brands—a term used by many companies to portray their products as healthier and safer—don't' include any certified organic ingredients in their formulations.

"How 'natural' is a flavor when it is obtained by concentrating ingredients obtained from pesticide-intensive agriculture?" asked Terry Shistar, PhD, member of Beyond Pesticides' board of directors.

Cornucopia found that a majority of well-known "natural" toothpaste brands, such as Tom's of Maine, Jason, Desert Essence and Kiss My Face, contain carrageenan, a non-nutritive thickening and emulsifying agent extracted from seaweed. "Peer-reviewed published research has established that food-grade carrageenan has the potential to cause intestinal inflammation, diabetes and even cancer," said Linley Dixon, PhD, scientist with Cornucopia.

Cornucopia's scorecard rated Dr. Bronner's line of toothpaste at the top of the "five-brush" category (on a scale of 1-5), finding it to be among the best and safest products available in the market. "In addition to Dr. Bronner's, whose formulation is based on certified organic coconut oil, there are a number of other excellent products that depend primarily on organic ingredients and/or natural clay, that would contribute to oral health without posing unnecessary risks," concluded Rigot.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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