Saving the meat, or the predictable future of meat research, PR, and consumption

When popular media relayed WHO’s statements on the carcinogenic nature of processed and cured meat, were you surprised? I was not. I knew the science, and the politics, I just wish everybody knew as well. This is what motivated me to write this article.
About the facts:
The facts come in a bit late, don’t they? And how selective was that still!
There is far more to animal products consumption and disease than the reductionist link between processed/red meats on just cancer. So from the science standpoint, that WHO announcement really did not teach me anything new, it also came to the public, far too late.
The question is: Why? Why isn’t the full extent of best practice widely broadcast loudly to the public as soon as the evidence is strong enough?
Well, the second aspect in which the WHO statement failed to surprise me is politics.
About the politics:
History has a bad habit of repeating itself. There is a major political dimension to such statements. It is not the first time that a major industry faces the economical threat of the truth coming into the public’s hands. This has been well-documented and the patterns are crystal-clear to me. But I want you to see it as well because it helps make wiser and life-saving choices. Today I want to save you thousands of pages of reading and get that clear in this relatively short and well-documented article. That’s the good news of history repeating itself, those who know the patterns can predict things far ahead of time, I’d love everyone to know! So let’s go back in a history similar to that of meat: the history of the cigarette. Let’s see how it helps predict the truth about our past relationship to meat, and more interestingly the future of meat. Let’s travel in the inevitable future and hopefully make it happen faster.

To do so, I will simply share my notes on the chapter “Saving the Cigarette” by Devra Davis in “The Secret History of the War on Cancer“. I highly recommend this book if you want a well-documented account of industry vs. health battles in recent history she has been at the forefront all her life. She focused on stories looking as far as the Nazi times up to now. I will elaborate on the Nazi German bit. We will also see if the pattern of public manipulation and fraud that happened with tobacco can apply to the meat, dairy, and egg industry. It may have already started…So we will pause one example of a communication from the meat industry, and analyze communication strategies in details. Because I love to have a solution to offer when I point to a problem, I’ll leave you with further practical advice of things you can do right now to avoid being taken advantage of any further. Happy ending…

But first, the rather epic story of the cigarette.


Chapter 7 : Saving Cigarettes

From the 1960s, US NCI’s smoker head Kenneth Endicott, and anti-tobacco Ernst Wynder got together to try and devise a safe cigarette. Wynder who had linked tobacco to cancer, also knew, perhaps from Graham’s death, that smokers wouldn’t give up smoking even with the best facts. Since it was going to be harder to get more smokers, the strategy now consisted in keeping the smokers addicted for longer. Filters were introduced but that was not enough. In 1967, $30 million of taxpayers money was spent by NCI to create a safer cigarette, about the same amount in the U.K.
Some cigarettes with filter actually had more nicotine and tar than unfiltered cigarettes, and the cigarettes that were retaining tar was also retaining taste and did not sell. In the efficient filters, it was crocidolite that was used, a filter for radioactive particles, made from a blue kind of asbestos. Less cancer-causing tar, more cancer-causing asbestos.
Because filters removed taste, the idea became to have a filter but one that would allow taste-causing tar to flow through. Then cigarette manufacturers found that by mixing some of the tobacco scraps with tobacco, the tar readings were lower but the smoke was still good.
NCI gathered bright scientists and funded their mission to develop a safer cigarette, even if privately the scientists knew “safe cigarette” is an oxymoron.
1969: Gio Gori became head of the Less Hazardous Cigarette Working Group, who unlike Wynder, had little knowledge and was easily disliked. He particularly lost credibility when he stated that filter cigarettes are safer, when in fact in was thought they’re worse because people smoke deeper and more cigarettes with filtered cigarettes. From 1954 to 1976, so before and after filters, the average smoker went from 22 to 30 cigarettes a day. But to attract public funding for research on a safe cigarette, Gori went against all his more scientifically-versed colleagues to build strong ties elsewhere, and promised that a safe cigarette was around the corner. He successfully had a set of research published, which ultimately made it to the prestigious journal Science. The tobacco sales doubled within two weeks for the brand mentioned in the paper as safe. However Califano, a powerful aide to President Johnson, wanted in 1978 to set up extremely hard preventive and tax rules on tobacco but faced opposition and threats from tobacco defenders saying he disregarded “economic realities” of the tobacco industry. North Carolina, the main producer of tobacco, was a part of Carter’s 1979 reelection growing campaign.
1979: The AMA (American Medical Association) officially recognizes that tobacco causes cancers, 15 years after the Surgeon’s general report. Days after, Gori published articles referring by brand the least hazardous cigarettes, which soon got him fired from government.

Sheehy of British American Tobacco preferred to carry out research on acceptability that smoking is personal and small risk and of the low risk of passive smoking, rather than on accepting that cigarettes are unsafe and designing a safe one.

The debate over tobacco capitalized on the scientists ability to love arguing, while it was clear compounds gave cancers to animals. The tobacco industry’s last science-based efforts was to nail in people mind that studies on rodents don’t apply to humans, although only 300 genes differ.

Sir Bradford Hill despair of the manipulation of public health studies in the debate over the hazards of smoking, and laid down principles to decide whether an exposure gives a specific health condition. By looking at statistics, statistician look for measurable differences between groups and then try to estimate if these differences are statistically relevant or not. To do so, we calculate the odds that the measured difference is accidental, it is the p-value, P can range form 0 to 1. If p=100%, the measured difference means nothing, if p=0,05 (the arguable maximum accepted limit in modern science), there is a 5% chance the results would be random.
For rare events or small numbers, the p-value is not used but confidence intervals instead. A confidence interval of 95% means there is a 5% chance the result would fall out of that range.
Epidemiologists also look at the dose-dependent effect of exposures, even if some people are armed with better resistance than others.

Hill urged to statisticians : “Too often I suspect we waste a great deal of time, we grasp the shadow and lose the substance, we weaken our capacity to interpret data and to take reasonable decisions. (…) All scientific work is incomplete (…) that does not confer us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, or to postpone the action it appears to demand at a given time”.

Hill also know that the problem is not only a statistical one, it is a political one. The Carter administration was filled with the influence of the tobacco industry. Most people were smokers, and the people in key pro-health positions were ordered to not carry out work that somewhat poses a threat to the tobacco industry. PR specialist Bernays had devised a very clever plan for his very rich client and knew how to manipulate public opinion, and use the biases of smoker scientists or people in government to act on the side of the plans for the tobacco industry.

That idea that health is the consequence of lifestyle was not a popular one in the U.S., where people believed bad health was a result of poor morals or bad luck.

But that changed as medical practices changed and statistical work could tell what was worked and what didn’t. That work gave a hard time to the tobacco industry, which would accept the evidence one bit at a time, and delay its acceptance as long as possible.

Judge Gladys Kessler has clear opinions about the ability of democratic societies to rely on expert advice as she found tobacco firms guilty of using zeal  and deception for financial success without regard for the consequences on the public. What information is permitted to get to the marketplace, who decides when to release findings about public health hazards are not determined by scientific inquiry but by the social and economic realities that constrain them.


So there you go, I hope it helped open some eyes on reality of manipulation and deceit through PR campaigns from interested corporations, and their political networks of influence.

Remember here, this is the time line of research from Chapter 3 of the same book) :.

  • 1939: Dr. Franz Müller provided the first irrefutable proof that smoking causes lung cancer. He investigated lung cancers from autopsies to collect information on lifestyle habits and published in 1939 a dissertation in the Journal of The American Medical Association. Shoniger and Schairer confirmed these results, along with effects of asbestos, chromates and dust. British celebrity epidemiologist Richard Doll in comparison published rather late (1950) and without being conclusive on the dangers of Tobacco.
  • 1940: Angel H. Roffo, from Argentina, publishes research showing that lung cancer is caused by tobacco tars, not nicotine.
    German research had begun with Kaiser Wilhelm much before, and from 1942 to 1944, 7 dissertations on tobacco were published by the Scientific Institute for Research into Hazards of Tobacco


  • 1957~59: Surgeon General Leroy E. Burney declared smoking was causing cancer in 1957 and 1959, his last publication was withheld by the AMA officially because there was not enough evidence to decide. It was about avoiding to cause trouble to member of Congress whose votes were much needed on various issues, like the threat of a national health insurance which the AMA feared.
  • 1979: The AMA (American Medical Association) officially recognizes that tobacco causes cancers, 15 years after the Surgeon General’s report.

Let’s see this in pictures.



  • Notice how the sales doubled during the austrich-policy time
  • 40 years of silence: 80 years of good sales aggravated damage. It took 40 years for official recognition, and about 40 more to get back to where we started, the levels of 1940.

How did that translate into lung cancer death?

Picture 191

Epidemiologically, few things in cancer correlate as predictably as smoking and lung cancer.

So…how many people died unnecessarily and prematurely, only out deceit and denial?

Quick and dirty estimation:
We will focus on the US only since this is US data.
We will assume symmetrical bell curves, and even simplify them as triangle shapes.
The average population will be 200 Million all across, which is grossly inaccurate but sufficient to guesstimate.

Women’s death rate will be about 1/3 of the male’s rate when relevant

Two scenarios:
1) In a perfect world where best evidence goes immediately into practice and tobacco sales go down in 1940 (who cared then?):

  • 20 years of delay between cigarette sales pattern and death curves
  • Best evidence available in 1940 => hypothetical peak of death of lung cancer in 1960 at 45 per 10^5
  • Death curve: Beginning to hypothetical end of curve death reached in 1960+30 = 1990.
  • Total 60 years to peak then down. Max at 45 per 10^5. 200 M people gives 60 • 45/100,000 • 200,000,000 = 5.4 million males => roughly 6 million people (women barely smoked then)

2) In the real world, where it takes gigantic efforts for best evidence to make it out:

  • Same calculation, but with 1930-2050 as a base, and a lung cancer death rate peak at 90 per 10^5 gives 120 • 90/100,000 • 200,000,000 = 21.6 million men => 28 million people

In the US alone, due to the delay in application of best evidence regarding smoking, a total of ~22 million people have been killed by smoking, through lung cancer alone, all of them preventable (among other way to be sick or die of smoking).

A genocide?



If you read further through Devra Davis’s book A Secret History of the War on Cancer, you will find that a lot of unorthodox things happened after the Germans lost, among a few:

  • Science, knowledge and technology was stolen form the Germans, in fields that have little to do with war or safety, but a lot to do with money and financial gains
  • Some German scientists were bought and cleared from their charges by U.S. firms
  • Science done by Germans under Nazi times was recycled, re-appropriated and not fairly cited.
  • Knowledge about the toxicity of certain chemicals and foods had been thoroughly documented in Germany at that time and is part of the knowledge that was stolen but intentionally secretly kept by corporations among the Allies.
  • Germans under the Nazi times (perhaps for the wrong reasons) were increasingly adopting very healthy lifestyles. They advocated a vegetarian lifestyle and a particular hatred for smoking was developed for many reasons, far before the effect on cancer was scientifically proven beyond doubt.

Inevitably, you are left to wonder: If so many things have been gladly stolen from the Germans, why were some valuable things like toxicology knowledge and a culture of optimal health not taken as well?

As the book The Nazi War on Cancer puts it:


1939: Germany sets up a Bureau Against the Dangers of Alcohol and Tobacco. Workers missing too many days of work due to smoking related illness are forced to rehab, and fertile women are advised to have vegetarian diets and are banned from buying cigarettes.

Extreme, forceful techniques, no doubt. But the point is serious health advocacy was in place in 1939. Why did the Allies wait for so long to start taking effective action at all on Health Advocacy on the leading causes of illness and death?




The pattern of delaying the application of best practice has happened over and over again. It is predominantly a matter of politics, and financial interests, more rarely matters of public acceptance. To cite a few the history of iodine deficiency, proactive cancer prevention (though fasting, supplementation and chemo-prevention) cancer treatment, toxicity of glyphosate, of leaded gasoline, toxicity and uselessness of statins etc…the list is virtually endless. That’s just in medicine, I am not even touching the history of science!
So, it is hard to predict the future in detail, but based on court cases it is rather safe to speculate that the following scenario is very likely:

  • “There is not enough evidence”: Eternally asking for more proof, or claiming that there is not enough evidence. This creates a delay and buys time.
  • Creating doubt: Bribed bad science financed to defend that meat is not that unsafe, usually coming from trusted sources of information.
  • Reassuring people: Attempts to make “safe meat”, looking for good ways to do the wrong thing.
  • Rallying the biased and influential: A persistence to portray meat as healthy and nutritious, using the bias of doctors and researchers that are very dependent on meat personally. It’s common in science-washing. As for influence, remember the Camel ads?  More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette.
  • Diverting focus: Financing studies that focus on other dangers things than meat, other contributors to cancer and disease. Cigarette manufacturers have financed studies on the the risks of chemical pollutants to divert attention.
  • Limiting focus: Only cured and processed meats, not all meats. The same was done in France where only the Roundup brand (from Monsanto) of glyphosate was banned only from gardeners shops, instead of all glyphosate from where it’s most used: in the fields by crop producers.

More of these tactics are well documented by Devra Davis. As an epidemiologist, she is well used to the old same textbook tactics being used over and over again.

I will focus on the attempts to make meat safer, which is not without reminding us the attempts to make a safe cigarette. Why would the meat industry try so desperately? Let’s see things from their perspective:

Picture 192
This caption is from: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death in the US, a speech by Dr. Greger from

It shows some extract from the paper: “Red meat and colon cancer: should we become vegetarians, or can we make meat safer?” published in the Journal of Meat Science in 2011.

Let’s analyze the statements above:

“If these recommendations [to reduce meat intake] were adhered to, cancer incidence may be reduced, BUT FARMERS AND MEAT INDUSTRY WOULD SUFFER IMPORTANT ECONOMICAL PROBLEMS.”

“These additives, and others still under study, could provide an ACCEPTABLE way to prevent colorectal cancer.”

It’s about keeping business going, health outcomes are secondary to that.

I am quoting below bits of the abstract, and will break it down so that you can see the tactics employed. I put in italics the bits you should pay attention to.

1) “The effect of meat consumption on cancer risk is a controversial issue. However, recent meta-analyses show that high consumers of cured meats and red meat are at increased risk of colorectal cancer.”

2) “This increase is significant but modest (20–30%)”

3) “Current WCRF-AICR recommendations are to eat no more than 500 g per week of red meat, and to avoid processed meat”

4) “Dietary additives can suppress the toxic effects of heme iron.”

1) LIMITING FOCUS: Here we limit our focus only on the effect of meat on cancer only of all health consequences. Of all possible concerns meat contributes to, we will only focus on the colorectal cancer specifically. Of all meats we will only focus on red and cured meat. Of all consumers this concerns only high consumers. Is this reductionist? What defines high consumers? Let’s continue.
2) DISCOUNTING GRAVITY: We also deem that a 30% increased risk of that very specific cancer is “modest”: How many people die from this modest risk increase?
Quick and very conservative back of the envelope calculation, staying within the extremely narrow focus of the study.
Let’s assume 1 billion people eat too much meat,
Lifetime risk is ~5% in the US, with ~50% survival. let’s assume it’s that same rate in all countries that eat too much meat.
If all of them have indulged, taking only a 20% increased risk because of meat, that’s 20% of 5% => 4% is what the rate should be if people were not “high consumers”.
The extra lifetime risk of only cancer, only colorectal, only because of meat is 1%. Sounds small? Hold on.
1% x 1 BILLION people = 10 MILLION people that develop colorectal cancer only because of meat.
5 million of them dying of meat-induced colorectal cancer. Is that modest?
And anyway, the real numbers of meat-induced avoidable deaths are more likely to be around not 0.5% like above but around 50% of all people in those countries, essentially of cardiovascular disease/accidents and cancer. That’s 500 million, 100-fold what the study points to.
3) DIVERTING FOCUS: It’s people’s fault. Look, we are good people, we do tell have recommendations written somewhere saying that people should eat in moderation, such as eating in a week what they eat in a day. Meat consumption in “first-world” countries is close to 300g/day all meats included, that’s 2300g of meat a week, rather easy to end up putting in that 500g of red meat and 500g of processed meat. In practice such obscure recommendations have little effect if any. What is the “WCRF-AICR” anyway?
4) THE SAFER MEAT: And don’t worry, additives are here to save the day and make more safe what we reckon has toxic effects.


No, and that’s the good news. What would you do if you became aware that a craving or bad habit of yours was planted in your head, deliberately, assuming you are weak and have poor control of yourself? That is precisely what happened with tobacco; new adverts running while tobacco manufacturers knew the science and the harm. It was about creating new addicts and keeping the old ones. There are people that started smoking their first cigarette from 1940 to 1980, all ignoring they were being manipulated by people who knew the harm, but hoped the smokers would not find out the good research in a pile of junk. So are we manipulated now to do things that are not good for us? Are we the new tobacco fools only with meat? Will we look back in 50 years thinking it was ridiculous of much meat people used to eat while it was clearly a carcinogen?
More importantly what can we do now?

Well, there is no nicotine in meat. That’s a big bonus to your advantage!
Millions of people have gradually moved on to a plant-based diet, and for having done that change myself, it’s rather easy, and certainly far easier than I thought. Here are some resources to help this transition. Watch this documentary about:

  • How meat is produced: Earthlings
  • The environmental aspect of meat consumption: Cowspiracy (Official Trailer)
  • The health aspect of meat consumption: Forks over Knives (Official Trailer)
  • The story of people who have switched to a plant-based diet: Vegucated
  • Watch Dr. Greger’s regular science-based videos with updates on nutrition:
  • More science: Check out T. Colin Campbell’s work. The book “Whole”, “The China Study”, and his website

“I’m convinced, what can help me?”

  • Join a local vegetarian or vegan community, on Facebook , Meetup, etc. This is by very far the best piece of advice I have. It’s great for support to be connected with people that have made or are making the important change you are making. Some branches or groups have regular meet-ups and events with delicious food and nice folks, it is so in New Zealand :) It’s also practical to ask practical questions such as “where to find plant-based meat?”, what are some restaurants that provide plant-based meals, are there doctors that are up to date with nutrition and that won’t poopoo you etc…
  • FAQ of very common questions: Gary Yourofsky – The Most Important Speech You Will Ever Hear
  • If anything here was of interest to you, save this article for future reference, and share it or some of it with others. That’s more to help others, and to help with the general situation. You can make a change, that’s what got me sat for three days putting up this article :)
  • Contact me if you have any question or concerns. I’ll do my best to help.

[Vitamin D] Where to get Vegan Vitamin D3?

This article assumes that you are somewhat educated about Vitamin D or know what you are doing. It will focus only on the sourcing of vegan vitamin D3 in the form of cholecalciferol, extracted from lichen (which is vegan). The article also assumes that you have figured what doses you are looking to use.
This this list intentionally  ignored any formulation that aims to supplement other things than vitamin D3, so excluded are multivitamins, combos, complexes, bone health pills…
Vitamin D2 was intentionally excluded, although it was proven to increase serum levels of vitamin D, it does not exactly function like vitamin D3.

Keywords: lichen, vegan vitamin D, D3, vitashine, cholecalciferol, plant-based, hallal, kosher, not D2, not from mushrooms, not ergocalciferol


1) Dietary with the safety of dietary supplements

Unfortunately, the free market of vitamins and supplements is poorly regulated, whether bought online, in your pharmacy, whether from reputable brands or reputable shops/pharmacies.
The dosage, content and ingredients (or contaminants) if they were measured may not be not be those on the label. They may if the manufacturer decides to impose on themselves a strict manufacturer process. But remember that by law, nothing or very few things forces them to.
If you can get a vegan prescription vitamin/mineral instead that is the absorbable safe/kind, always prefer that option over products available on the “free market”. This ensure that the vitamin/mineral is of pharmaceutical grade, precisely dosed, that the lab producing it is accountable, so in short the best quality possible. Depending on the country you live in, a check-up showing low levels may facilitate the process of obtaining prescription vitamin and minerals. Some non-conventional systems of medicine may be more willing to happily give a prescription for the pharmaceutical grade of vitamins/minerals.

2) Testing, common sense and nerdier things

Different people, even of the same skin tone, synthesize vitamin D from the sun very differently. Moreover, different people also absorb nutrients and supplements very differently. Cherry on the cake, this even changes with age, health status, pregnancy etc.
All this makes it generally hard to throw a one-size-fits all regimen either for indirect sources like sun exposure or supplementation.
Targets for serum vitamin D are much more sensible because they ignore how well a person absorbs things, and set instead a target where it matters, asking the vital question:
Do you have the vital stuff in your body? Yes? or No?

That should always be the logic we use. We can only infer that much.
Hence why I insist that each person (even the healthiest diets/lifestyles) should get checked regularly for their nutritional status, to assess their deficiencies and needs, and do so until they find the dosage that works for them.
Avoid supplementing blindly and get checked to make sure your supplementation is not causing damage, doing what you are expecting/needing it to, and not too much so eventually. It is very common sense but few people do it.
Also be aware, that strangely, even with the best of technology in the wealthiest of countries, some minerals and vitamins status tests either do not exist, or their reliability is very questionable. When it is an issue, reliability depends primarily on technology/method used, direct/indirect method (looking the status or indicators of the status), on the brand/model of equipment used to process sample, on whether the populations chosen to define “normal ranges” represent you well, the kinetics of the markers (how fast the numbers they’re measuring are changing naturally in your body, i.e. things vision and sugar levels change mildly to drastically within the day).
For vitamin D however, the serum levels of vitamin D levels are generally considered a robust method to assess vitamin D status, and the test is generally widely available.

3) Involving your doctor

You often hear “ask your doctor” about supplements. “Ask your doctor” has become so irrelevant that we are confused when to actually ask our doctors. Sadly few doctors are even educated about nutrition, let alone supplements. But there are cases where you would like to ask your doctor (even any doctor) if he/she sees anything wrong with supplementation, especially if you have health problems or taking medication, just had surgery, intending to take very high doses or supplement for a long time…that sort of thing.


Where to buy vegan/plant-based/hallal/kosher Vitamin D3?

Safest bets: Certified vegan products

Safest sources in terms of certainty that it is vegan, brands directly certified by the Vegan Society :

  • 200 UI/spray – approved by the Vegan Society
    Vitashine, dedicated producer of lichen-based D3.
    A few iherb products use the Vitashine D3 in their vitamin D3 products. They will be mentioned below in the iherb list.
  • 400 UI/drop – approved by the Vegan Society
    D.Plantes Vitamine D3++ Végétale, 20mL
    FRENCH brand and website, ships internationally for a minimum of ~20€+ for furthest shipping addresses (simulated with New Zealand for 3 bottles).
    Looks like D3 was historically the core of their manufacture and they then expended to sell other stuff.
  • ~670 UI/spray – approved by the Vegan Society
    Contains Stevia (harmful in “large” amounts)
    One Nutrition® D3-Max, 30mL
    IRISH brand with cheap/free delivery only in Ireland, 18€ flat within Europe, case by case out of Europe…).
    Quite discreet about the vegan origins of the D3, while the two above are quite loud and clear about their research and the lichen source.

Products using Vitashine

Brands from that are not vegan-certified but “using Vitashine”*, which is vegan-certified. ships worldwide, at relatively low shipping costs, and rather fast if all goes well.

* The claim of “using Vitashine” is not a guarantee that the product entirely uses only that as a source of vitamin D3. Some brands go further and support this with “100% Vegan” claims or the likes.

More uncertain choices

More risky in terms of certitude that it is vegan/plant-derived/plant-based etc… :

  • DO NOT BUY any brand that claims that it creates “D3 out of mushrooms” (highly likely D2) or that is not certified vegan.
  • Unsure are: Any brand that does not contain Vitashine or is not vegan certified. Claims relying only on “Veggie capsules” or “suitable for all vegetarians” are generally utterly unreliable.
  • Confusing is: SOLGAR BRAND
    All “vegetarian” Solgar from the USA-Solgar – as opposed to the UK-Solgar which seperates vegan and vegetarian – are claimed to be vegan according to my last communication with their customer service. You are free to doubt this statement, I’m only sharing what they told me.

Here’s a copy of the email that I sent to the Solgar customer service. It’s really difficult to know when you should trust a customer service or sales person with technical aspects of the product. Perhaps too many factors of doubt to have full certitude that Solgar USA products are vegan. I leave it entirely up to your personal judgement.

(Email received on Aug 27th, 2015 from, the USA website)


I hope this article saved you time and was useful. If you have comments, or questions, please share below.

Conflict of interest statement

The links provided here are intentionally not affiliated. I earn no direct nor indirect commissions from this article. In advance, I have declined and will decline any promotional attempt in the comment or sent to me by email. In contrast, I invite common readers to comment if I forgot to list a product that falls under highly reliably vegan (see criteria above).

Further reading

[Iodine] Can we safely get all our iodine only from seaweeds? A practical exploration

Are you vegan? or on a low-salt diet? or heading there? Then this will be relevant to you. The question of satisfying iodine needs through seaweed is not new as you will read in the history but below. I ask here a specific and very practical question:

Based on published science, can we or not safely rely entirely on seaweeds for iodine intake? If so, which ones? why so? and what to do in practice to implement that?

That is usually my approach, very practical, and I do heavily rely on the work of people that are very focused on non-practical aspects. To figure out the answer, we will have to define what is safe? what is reliable? Since the history of iodine deficiency is frankly quite fascinating, I will start with that, and then get more specifically into the seaweeds talk.

Part One – A quick (recent and epic) history of iodine deficiency

19th/20th century

Already in 1813, following the discovery that seaweeds have iodine, a Swiss physician postulated that seaweeds consumption could reverse goiter just like another sea product which the Greeks used for goiter: marine sponges in topical use. [1]

From 1813, it took no less than a century, for iodine to start reaching our diets, through salt iodization. And there are still problems. The Salt Institute declares “In 1990, only about 20% of the world’s households had access to iodized salt and were protected against Iodine Deficiency Disorders. After a major push, access now exceeds 70%”.[2] It will always fascinate me how slowly are accepted and spread undeniably effective solutions to major medical problems.

21st century – The ironic re-emergence of iodine deficiencies, “for health reasons”

While many countries are still working on making iodized salt the norm, other countries such as New Zealand (and probably others) are already experiencing the next iodine problem, a re-emergence of iodine deficiency [3]. Why? Several reasons, mainly health-driven:

1. People cutting on (iodized) salt to reduce cardiovascular “accidents” [3]

As salt awareness is growing, people do try to cut on visible salt. They do when using the shaker and in the kitchen. If that salt was iodized, cutting on salt also means cutting on iodine.
Automatically then, your only source of iodine becomes uncontrolled and random, with the execption of New Zealand* which I will develop later. When there is no more iodized salt in your diet, you rely almost entirely on the salt chosen by restaurants and food makers you eat, from the sea products you eat, on the (usually low) iodine content of the soil that grows your food, and even more rarely on the voluntary use of iodized salt in the supermarket food, the last industry I’d expect to care unless forced by law* or consumer trends.
*In New Zealand, bread manufacturers have been forced by law to iodize the salt in bread, since people still eat a lot of bread. Think of bread as a last refuge for salt. Once you got rid of table and cooking salt, the next thing to get rid of is either bread or the salt in it. Inevitably, when that happens, iodine deficiency will become a problem again. Salt being something unnecessary and unhealthy, should not be the carrier for iodine, or anything else that is important for health.

2. People switching to rock salts (i.e. Himalayan salts)

A pink rock salt recently gone quite mainstream, Himalayan salts mined and therefore usually very low in iodine by default. Although any amount of salt is not necessary and therefore contributing to a more unlhealthy status, Himalayan salt has gained popularity as a “healthier salt” due to claims of it containing a wide spectrum of trace minerals. Besides safety issues with the uncontrolled variation of the trace minerals, and a possible content of heavy metals, Hymalayan salts in the “natural” state do not contain a relevant amount of iodine and pose an (ironic) issue of iodine deficiency. In passing, the concept of “healthy salt” reminds me of the $30 million of US taxpayers money spent in 1967 by the National Cancer Institute to create a “safer cigarette”.

3. A rise of vegetarian and vegan diets

In studies done on iodine deficiency, vegans and vegetarians are mentioned as being at particular risk of iodine deficiency. The reason is that most seafood in the Western diet is animal-based, and that most animal produce (meat, milk, cheese) comes from animals that were given a feed artificially supplemented, either for the animal’s own health, as a means of supplementing the final product, or accidentally like in the case of milk-based iodine which comes (or used to come) from iodine containing disinfectants like Betadine applied on cow tits. [4] Other disinfectants have gradually replaced the iodine-based ones, resulting in lower iodine in cow’s milk.

4. The still-existing lack of a holistic agricultural practice

Some posters on the internet, widely shared, claim certain plant foods as reliable sources of iodine. It is not true because it depends heavily on the iodine content of the soil where the plant came from. A potato may be able to accumulate iodine, but since most soils are iodine-deficient, how much iodine should we expect in potatoes? Deficient soils are still far from being thoroughly and routinely balanced with life-sustaining elements, iodine being one of many. In fact, there is more thought being put in supplementing cows and their feed than in conditioning soils for the healthiest feed of humans: plants, fungi, and other non-animal foods. Most fertilization is still entirely focused at productivity and profitability, what is not? Yet we still buy produce based on weight, price, and appearance, not enough based on nutritional content or  taste, let alone environmental and social factors. There is however a growing culture of a holistic approach, aiming at going back to basics: taking pride in actually feeding people [5]. Iodine deficiency could likely be resolved by means of fertilization and cultivation methods, among other deficiencies.Picture 103

Image credits: Alena Kumpta Watercolor Art

Part Two – The search for the perfect seaweed

Criteria to match in order for a reliable, safe, and practical intake of iodine from seaweed only:

  1. Reliably narrow range of iodine concentration, so that we know accurately enough how much iodine is contained in let’s say a spoon or 10g.
  2. The range starts away from zero iodine (so that there is no risk of getting close to none)
  3. Practical concentration: the daily requirement ideally fits in more than a pinch, but less than a lot of tablespoons, so ideally something like a gram or a teaspoon, not one kilogram of seaweed because that would not be realistic nor practical.
  4. The seaweed has long history of usage and is generally safe
  5. The seaweed is easy to source
  6. High absorbability by human digestion
  7. Low heavy metal content


  1. The range of suitable iodine for human consumption is based on official recommendations : ~160 µg/day (upper limit UL or maximum: 1,100 µg/day)
  2. That official recommendation are correct is subject to debate, and here too. Official recommendations have changed a lot historically [1]
  3. OBJECTIVE: So rounding up, we will consider safe the range 150 ~ 1,000 µg/day, remember this.

Seaweeds – Variation in content of iodine

Given the large number of seaweeds in existence, the focus was intentionally restricted to a popular few:

  1. WakameUndaria pinnatifida (the fronds are called wakame, the base part of the same plant is called mekabu)
  2. KombuLaminaria digita japonica, also known as kelp
  3. Nori – which is tricky because it’s a whole genus (Porphyra genus) contaning many species including Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis) or Karengo (Porphyra columbina) and many others. Many seaweeds fall under nori.

These are the ranges in parts per million (ppm) or equivalent units :  mg/kg or µg/g (same as mcg/g or micrgrams per gram), all units reflecting the content as packed, usually dry [6,7] For iodine in seaweeds, the microgram per gram unit because the dietary recommendations for iodine are given in micrograms, and one gram of dry seaweed is human sized; if dried it would fit in a hand or a spoon.

  1. Wakame: 39 ~ 1,571 µg/g
  2. Kombu: 25 ~ 12,000 µg/g with one measured at 21,000 [8] by EU food safety authorities
  3. Nori: 0,7 ~ 550 µg/g

How absorbable is iodine from seaweed?

While iodine is an atom, its presence in food can exist in different forms, different molecules or ions referred to as “chemical species”. It’s important to know the chemical species of in foods because that affects bio-availability (how much we can absorb and use) or things like toxicity (less of a concern here).
A study published in 2005 compared kombu  to wakame concluded that kombu’s higher content of iodide made it a more bio-available choice than wakame’s various iodine species (monoiodotyrosine and diiodotyrosine) [9]

Heavy Metals Warning

Seaweeds are notorious for accumulating heavy metals. Interesting work was done by the Health Ranger, a food activist, on a very narrow but US-popular range of seaweeds. One brand of seaweeds harvested in New Zealand showed the cleanest profile in terms of heavy metals. Be careful though when chosing “New Zealand” as a reliable criteria for clean seaweed. The mention “from New Zealand”. All inhabited land in our day dumps pollutants in the sea, New Zealand is no exception, far from the common eco-fantasy. That is why, the cleanest New Zealand seaweeds are most likely harvested in open sea far from the land, ideally South towards Antarctica, in regions far from volcanic/human activity. In my survey ofseaweeds from shops, also saw “NZ-nori”, NZ-seaweed” and other “NZ” prefixed labels in large print. That could just be marketing to write NZ somewhere capitalizing on the good perceived image of New Zealand seaweed. It could also mean the product sold is the NZ species of a certain seaweed, but that by no means guarantees it was grown or harvested in New Zealand, or in clean waters.

Best seaweed verdict

Kombu: too much iodine, extremely wide range, and starts close to zero. It’s out.
Nori: wide range, start close to zero. It’s out.
Wakame: relatively narrow range (good) but starts close to zero. It’s out.

Among these three popular seaweeds I cannot see any candidate for a best seaweed taken daily on its own as the one and only source of dietary iodine. The fantasy of getting all iodine in precise amounts from seaweed alone is over for me. So what to do now?

Well, there is good news. There are other more viable avenues.

The solution: Get your iodine from more reliable sources than seaweeds

The natural way, and its limitations

  • Do not rely only on daily seaweeds unless it passes the above-discussed criteria/checklist
  • If relying partly on seaweeds, only consume a safe amount based on the method here: trusting observed ranges more than nutritional facts (generally one-shot, or copied off the net rather than measured) and always calculate to avoid the worst case scenario of toxic doses
  • If you forage, that’s wonderful. Do it intelligently though:
    • Select a clean foraging spot: Learn about the history of activity and pollution of the area you forage in.
    • Identify: Always identify the species you collect.
    • Quantify: Once you know the name of what you forage, look into the research to quantify the amount of iodine in different parts of plant.
  •  Research iodine ranges of other seaweed species (dulse, arame, …) <== and of course write me an email to show me what you found 😉

Relying on iodized salts/products

  • People with a very low-salt diet, and no other iodine source may choose a highly-iodized salt, that provides enough iodine in a very small daily intake of salt. That means a higher concentration than in normal salt. Note that iodized salts in general have by law wide ranges of allowed iodine (45±20 µg/g for NZ/Aus.). I read some research showing that the legal (already wide) ranges are not generally not respected and that an even wider range of iodine is actualy found in iodized salt products. This makes iodized salt an unreliable source of iodine if you are aiming at a rather reliable range of iodine intake.

Or even better, iodine supplements

If you consume a very low-salt diet, get a good iodine supplement, preferably pharmaceutical-grade.

  • Best of the best: Pharmaceutical-grade prescription iodine

    Did you know the iodine in your iodized last is extracted from seaweeds? So the same concerns you would have for seaweeds (heavy metals, sea-borne contaminants etc…) are legitmate to have when it comes to iodized supplements. Supplements also being very poorly regulated worldwide, my current advice is to always try to get the pharmaceutical grade,  prescription-only iodine. The dosage will be very precise, contaminants likely checked for, and manufacturing process perhaps not perfect but far more regulated and accountable than free-market supplements.
    Dealing with probable relunctance from your G.P.: If your diet has such incredibly low salt that you are realistically at risk of a predictable iodine deficiency, there is no reason why a G.P. would not take you seriously when you request an iodine prescription. You may just need to be ready that they would suggest seafoods and free-market supplement and you may need to be ready to tell them kindly why that is not an option for you. I would change GPs (and I have been) if he/she does not generally share similar views on nutrition and prevention.
    I strongly believe in prevention over therapy, it also costs less in many ways. But unfortunately the practice of things, still reserves a lot of supplements and testing to pathologies rather than preventive actions. You may experience that worldview from your doctor when you ask him/her for supplements or preventive/routine testing in a non-therapeutical context.

  • If you still want “free-market” supplements

    If this is not available to you, or you still prefer free-market supplements, get a clean iodine supplement (i.e. low on heavy metals). I looked at this link, the only (apparently) genuinely independent lab that looked at the heavy metals. Strangely it did not look at iodine content itself! At the moment I write this, I roughly trust this source but have not examined it thoroughly enough. If you have researched the trustworthiness of the Health Ranger, (whom as supplement vendor might or not have a conflict of interest) please comment below.

Exploring further

Comprehensive Handbook of Iodine: Nutritional, Biochemical, Pathological and Therapeutic Aspects

Selenium variation in Brazil nuts – Can we get all our selenium from Brazil nuts?
[1] Research on Iodine Deficiency and Goiter in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries
[2] IODIZED SALT by The Salt Institute – July 13, 2013
[3] Iodine, New Zealand Ministry of Health
[4] Are vegetarians an ‘at risk group’ for iodine deficiency? British Journal of Nutrition (1999), 81, 3–4
[5] Based on the works of Claude & Lydia Bourguignon.
[6] Analysis of iodine content in seaweed by GC-ECD and estimation of iodine intake
[8] Notification details – 2005.050 RASFF Portal
[9] Iodine speciation studies in commercially available seaweed by coupling different chromatographic techniques with UV and ICP-MS detection

Pandering of Mother Nature, or the Deceitful Marketing of Green and Healthful

As global warning is knocking at the death door of our species, the most conscious of us marvell at the advent of sustainability-driven brands. We are so eager to see change happen that we are ready to embrace, often without a question, anything that looks just like it. But are these companies and their products really delivering what they promise? Unfortunately, far from it most of the time. There are multiple reasons for that.
In a world where sales and purchases are driven by perceptions more than realities, there will always be people adapting their speech to sell the same junk. In a world where most of our knowledge is second-hand and we assume all we read and are told is just true without checking, we make ourselves the unwitting preys to unwitting predators, because there will always be people who sell junk while genuinely thinking what they sell is absolutely great, because just like us they assumed a lot of things instead of checking. In a world where people have such specific functions they end up living in their little worlds, people take part without knowing in ventures that seen as an individual contribute or create effects that are contrary to what everybody thought they were doing.
We don’t naturally care about the reality of things. We assume the reality of things and even if we don’t, we doubly assume 1) the vendors know it even better and 2) take adequate responsibility. Finally the system (division of work) isn’t working in a way where we would automatically know about the reality of things.
All these incoherences are becoming increasingly visible. So let’s look at some of the inconsistencies in the field of sustainable products, and how these inconsistency take form.

Naming and Branding
Brands containing “Earth” or “Eco”, “Wise”, “Green”…
That’s branding, and unfortunately it works like magic. That’s until the brands get an image blow when someone expose the deceipt.

I have seen cardboard packages for fabric-softeners and other products with “eco” products containing a list of products I wouldn’t want in my house. I have seen packages with graphics of flowers and leaves, and blue planets on them and a whole world and wording of sustainability…all lighting up excitement in our monkey brains that rush to assume “what more natural than something with a bamboo leaf drawn on it”? But read the ingredients, and research some of them. You will see that more often than not…it’s not nearly as green as it ants you to believe.

But also “plant-based”, “plant-extracted”, and everything that suggests it comes from a plant.
The real questions should be: The compound in question is it actually safe? or actually environmentally-friendly? quickly biodegradable with no toxic by-products? What else was used in the process? How efficient and sustainable is that extraction? Is that plant sustainably harvested?
Those “plants”, how were they grown, stored, and preserved? Could they have accumulated heavy metals from the soil they grew in?

This is the most pervasive word.
When you naturally have bushfire that naturally burns wood, that naturally creates benzene and other hydrocarbons and particles that are toxic to life, do you want to inhale those?
In the late 19th century /early 20th century, many products marketed for their medical benefits routinely contained mercury and lead, all sourced from mines, natural mines, does that make these products healthy?
If you eat certains ferns, it is natural, but many times also carcinogenic or deadly if you where to eat a death angel or a death cap mushroom. All natural, do you want to try them? No?
The almonds I buy are imported from the United States. For strange reasons, they must be pasteurized by law, but nothing says so on the label. Are foods that are pasteurized (undergoing high heat and chemical treatments) still natural?
Some grains for storage use powered pesticides, are they still natural?
Is it natural to grow “natural” foods with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides…?
Hummus from Alaska (naturally composted organic material found in nature) is ironically sold to people who care about health and sustainability nd grow their own food, but is it really sustainable?
Peat moss, used in gardening for instance, is sold to the same people, do they know peat moss takes very long to grow and is harvested in China faster than it grows?
An organic banana that is ripened with chemicals, is it a natural product? Or still organic? Let’s consider “organic”.
Is wild fish sustainably harvested?
Is that wild food even healthy at all? (are there parasites in the wild fish? or heavy metals in the wild seaweed?)
How wild is wild, is a closed culture in open sea give “wild” fish?
Is the word “wild” controlled in country with a label that strictly defines its definition?
Is “wild” only historically part of the name like “Wild rice” which is interestingly neither wild nor a rice.

Let’s first aside that are a gazillion different labels and sets of rules (of any rules) to describe what is organic.
An organic produce is grown on a land that because of the geology is rich in arsenic and lead, the farmer doesn’t know but complies with even the most stringent criteria to get the organic label. Is that healthy to eat food grown on that land?
An organic crop is naturally grown on land that previously was used using chemicals and pesticides that are persistent. Is that organic?
A wild mushroom in an ancient wild forest if probably as organic as it gets, do you want to eat one?

Naturally found in the body
This suggest that the compound is harmless since you already have some in your body. Ok, but since when is it safe to add something in on or the body just because it’s in the body?
Human blood is naturally found in the body, would you want to drink some?
Gut bacteria is naturally found in the body, would you want to inject or eat some?
And anabolic hormones are naturally found in the body, would you want to inject yourself some?

Is there a label for biodegradability? Who decides something is biodegradable? How long will it actually take? If it takes 1 day, or 1 year, or 1 century to degrade does that mean it’s biodegradable?
In the process of degrading, how much life will it damage and alter, or prevent? Let’s take crude oil as an example, a highly toxic material if you didn’t know, in a few thousand or millions years in a forest would probably digest it, but how many people, animals and will have been intoxicated? The question probably ought to be “immediately it is bio-friendly?”, as in does it actually promote life? That could be said of clean rainwater water, is “bio-neutral” as in it doesn’t demonstrably affect any living immediately organism at any time scale looked at?

I have found more than once, products that claim to be eco-friendly but packagings that are not recyclable, and ingredients that are far from being eco-friendly in the sense I understand it.
How is something like a detergent or soap that potent preservatives (meant to kill microorganisms to extend shelflife) or antibacterials (to kill microbes on your hand) eco-friendly.
Also, if a company produces the most eco-friendly product there is (something like pristine drinkable water) but does so using extraordinary amounts of toxic chemicals to keep a sterile environment, and extraordinary amount of fuel to transport it, is it deceitful or not to label the drinking water as “eco-friendly” or any of the sustainable  labeling?

“Everytime they chop a tree they replant one”
That’s the last trick I fell into.
That’s what the young lady at TARGET NZ told me when I bought wooden furniture not too long ago and asked about where the wood was sourced. Of course, I hadn’t done my homework on TARGET NZ and ended up relying on a saleswoman as clueless as I was. I realize in hindsight that I could have done this better…Anyway, here’s what she said: “Everytime they chop a tree they replant one, that I can guarantee you”.
Ok, but is it in a plantation that has been there for a long time? or is it a tree from the Amazon forest that has been cleared by poor local men working for foreign-owned companies, in a land that will become a grazing area for the cows that produce the methane ranking cows as the top contributor to man-made global warming? I don’t care where they plant that other tree, replanting a tree for each tree we have cut doesn’t alone constitute a token of sustainability, not at all. Even asking all these questions, in a small retail shop with newly-hired staff, can you sense that to get the truth about the origin of that piece of furniture is a bit of Mission Impossible? Chances are, perhaps nobody in the entire Target company would know about that…

It’s recycled
Ok, some furniture was recycled. But why not recycle for all the shop then? Or is it just to satisfy those who care?
And the recycling wood, is it safe? or was it used for pallets transporting dangerous chemicals which may have spilled on them?

There has been a trend of people seeking more and more sustainability, and there are unfortunately people, willingly, or unwittingly marketing products that are not in any way sustainable or bio-friendly or quickly biodegradable with no harm to any life form…but are marketing using terms that appeal to people as being “good” products, products that are sustainable, eco-friendly…

This was about the harm we do ourselves by letting companies decide for us what is sustainable, what is life-sustaining and what is not. There is a flip coin to this, is our assumption that anything produced synthetically, or using some chemicals, is automatically a bad thing. We are biased to think that it is, perhaps rightfully so to a large extent, because there has been countless abuses with chemicals and their wonders which turned out very harmful if not deadly. But thinking all chemicals or synthetic things are evil is the dangerous sister bias than assumes anything natural is good.

What we can do?
It’s easier to point to problems than to solve them. But I want to offer a solutions too.

What we need to understand, especially the greenies targeted by specific branding and marketing:
Perhaps it’s not about natural or not, it is about the effects we seek, and how ALL the processes involved in entire the cycle of a product are systemically beneficial to life, harmless to life, and sustainable at all time scales to life. It may not be the ultimate best practice, but if go by this tennet until we find better, it will probably be the best we can do now, and we are certainly not doing that just yet.

We can point out to the brands and in public debate why certain branding strategies are incoherent and deceitful. Most brands have a feedback line or some way to contact them.  Contact them.
They have an office, go and talk (kindly) to the CEO, forget about emails and phone calls.
As for public debate, you have a blog, Facebook, social media, relevant forums online? Use them!
You know people, talk to them, don’t assume you’re the only one who cares.

Entrepreneurs or employed by a company that makes beautiful claims? Challenge your own beliefs that you are doing something good, make sure with your providers that they provide what they claim? Ask for evidence and be the only first-hand judge of the facts you broadcast. If you’re not happy with what the market offers, make it yourself and provide to others. If you’re an employee, be interested in what your company makes, how they make it,educate yourself about the cycle of the product or service that your company provides, ask yourself, is it coherent with the marketing claims? Are we lying to ourselves and lying to others? Do other people in the company know at all? Do the customers know?


[Selenium] Selenium content in Brazil nuts varies greatly – Should Brazil nuts still be considered a reliable and safe source of selenium?

Selenium is an important mineral for general health and is of particular importance in the prevention of cancer or its relapses.
I knew Brazil nuts are an easy high source of selenium and I wondered “Can people reliably and safely get their selenium from Brazil nuts?
For those in a hurry, the answer is: It’s possible but not reliably.

Brazil nuts have very random amounts of selenium in them. From close to nothing at all, to 20 times the RDI* (Recommended Daily Intake), the RDI being ~65 microg/g for adults.[4]

Variation of selenium content in Brazil nuts

The following three studies show just how random the content of selenium in Brazil nuts can be:

“The average and standard deviation and range of selenium concentrations in ppm, fresh weight for nuts from [the two] regions were, respectively, 3.06 ± 4.01 (0.03–31.7) and 36.0 ± 50.0 (1.25–512.0).” [1]
Another study looked concluded that “concentrations were highly variable (median: 13.9 microg/g; range: 0.4-158.4 microg/g). [2]”
In another study, they wanted to compare selenium form nuts and from supplements. But in trying to measure the exact amount of selenium they wanted from nuts they faced “difficulties in analyzing individual nuts” because the “first 10 nuts [were] ranging from 0.816 to 1390 microg Se/g”. [3]

Content variation, a widely ignored reality in nutrition and plant medicine

As I explained in my previous post about green tea, the content of specific compounds in organic products is known to vary greatly, while too often overlooked. The presence and wide usage of nutritional facts databases for fruits and vegetables is a good example of the lack of general understanding of this variation. With variations from nil to 20 times the RDI as is the case for Brazil nuts, you would expect a gigantic red asterisk next to virtually every number on those websites. This would remind the general public that the numbers mean absolutely nothing, that they are averages of a wide range, that the quantifying was done on a single fruit/vegetable/nut or that the sample is non-representative of the real life consumption. However, such variations are the main reason for inconsistencies in efficiency of herbal products in herbal medicine, and sometimes for the lethality of treatments/foods otherwise very effective and safe. Many people today would rather get their nutrients from food and cures from plants rather than from supplements and drugs respectively. The good thing however about (reliable brands of) supplements is that unlike in foods and plant medicine, the dosage of active ingredient is measured, consistent and reliable.

Questioning the reliability and safety of Brazil nuts as a health-promoting food

Given the tremendous variations reported about selenium, it is fair to address the following questions:

  1. How does the variation in selenium content affect blood selenium?
  2. Is there a risk in having even a single small intake of the nuts highest in selenium?
  3. Supposing we vary sources, does nuts selenium (and therefore blood selenium) average to healthy levels?

This is all to answer the question: Are Brazil nuts a safe and reliable method of ensuring a healthy intake of selenium?

Note to readers: The study annotated “[2]” is led by a French team that has published several papers on selenium and Amazonian populations and may be the first most relevant direction for further study on the subject.

* RDIs are very arguable.


[1] “Selenium content of Brazil nuts from two geographic locations in Brazil”, (Jacqueline C. Chang & al., 1994)
[2] “Elevated levels of selenium in the typical diet of Amazonian riverside populations”, Sci Total Environ. 2010 Sep 1;408(19):4076-84. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.05.022.
[3] Brazil nuts, an effective way to improve selenium status (Thomson & al, 2008)
[4] Selenium – New Zealand Nutrition Foundation

Science-based Recipe for Green Tea And White Tea Mouthwash

If you have been struggling with cavities, it’s because of the combination of in short your genetics, your mouth hygiene, and your diet. What causes cavities is not directly sugar but the cavity forming bacteria S. mutans, that feeds on the sugar, acidifies your mouth thus demineralizing the teeth (dissolving them). They also form the unaesthetic and gum-harming plaque, and create glues to stick to the teeth. When you understand how cavities are formed, you understand why mouthwash exists, and why it is extremely important in the fight against cavities. Virtually regardless of diet and genetics, adding mouth hygiene by using an effective mouthwash can bring the vast army of S. mutans to a near eradication and prevent further plaque and cavities. But which mouthwash? Well two things: I hate the taste of conventional mouthwash, I don’t fancy putting in my mouth broad antiseptics, and I’m always happier when I don’t rely on “cosmetic” products, so this white tea/green tea mouthwash really got my attention. But does it really work?

Dr. Michael Greger’s website has a wonderful video called “What’s the Best Mouthwash“. In this video, he compiled scientific evidence to compare the efficacy and safety of different mouthwash solutions, commercial or homemade.
The wining solutions used green tea, and immediately it raises the usual questions: How to make it? How to use it? Are there risks (like staining teeth)? Can I use white tea instead? None these questions were addressed, making such interesting information poorly actionable. So I decided to look into the literature cited and beyond, to get some answers and hopefully convert the scientific talk into something people can easily make at home, whether health-conscious, frugal, or in places of the world with limited resources.

For those in a hurry who already decided they would go for it:

Recipe and instructions for a 0.5%green tea mouthwash :
Put 5 grams of green tea (or white tea) in 1 liter of room-temperature water, let sit 1 hour and strain. Rinse with 15mL for 30 seconds and spit. Do this after brushing your teeth or before/after a meal. WARNING: Because of the natural variation in the content of active ingredients found in tea leaves, refer to section 6) to know how to test your batch and make sure it will actually work.
Cost: ~5cts for a 500mL bottle = 2 week supply. You can’t beat that!
Based on 250g of loose green tea at about US$5 in a Chinese shop, and assuming your tea is as potent as in the study.

1) Let’s re-cap
Different studies used green tea extract, one showing how green tea helps keep a high oral pH, lowers (cavity causing) S. mutans population and reduces oral bleeding.[1] Another study showed how green tea dramatically reduces plaque accumulation, improves gingival index, and improves salivary pH. In the former study, oral pH remained above 6 (mildly acidic)  without green tea, but plummeted below 5 without (relatively very acidic). In the latter study, mean plaque score goes from 1.45 to a ridiculously low 0.11, indicating a 94% reduction in plaque. You can read more here about plaque assessments, it’s interesting.

2) Figuring out a recipe and instructions

The first study was done one a single-shot basis (not over a long period of time) and people swished 10 ml, of a 2% green tea solution that people swished for 5 minutes [1]. The sucrose solution (in your case: the meal) was taken 20 minutes after the end of swishing. Unfortunately, they mention nothing about how that “2% solution” is prepared.

The second study was done over 3 weeks. They used a 0.5% green tea solution. “The subjects were instructed to brush twice daily” and “15 ml of mouth  was rinsed for 30 s after each brushing” [2]. Unfortunately, how they prepared their green tea solution is confusing and imprecise.
When I looked into the recipe they used, I was disappointed to find a rather complicated way of explaining something simple, and they had used an recipe: “Tea was extracted by combining 3 1/2 oz. (about 7 tablespoon) of green tea with 4 cups of still (not sparkling) mineral water. The tea was steeped at room temperature for 1 h and then poured in to the lidded container, straining the tea with sieve as it is poured followed by refrigeration. The loose tea is discarded. The 500 ml concentrated tea is mixed with 1000 ml of distilled water to get 0.5% solution of tea mouthwash”.
It doesn’t say of the water was boiled or not, so by default we’re going to assume it was not, and that it doesn’t matter whether is blended or not. There are chances all these factors make some difference in the extract content.

Nothing says where that “0.5%” figure came from, and everything about their recipe is misleading. Is it fluid ounces (volume) or weight ounces? Is the water boiled or not? 4 cups doesn’t give 500mL so why did they say “The 500mL concentrated tea” instead of just “500 mL of the concentrated”, did they use the official cup measurement or not? Ah…those moments when you wish the metric system was more popular than the Kardashians.
Anyway, I solved this ambiguity though another study about green tea [3] not mentioned in the video. That study says “As in previous studies (9), the concentration used during brewing was 2 g of tea leaves per 100 ml of hot water (2%, wt/vol)”. The percentage is in weight per volume. Problem solved.

3) Should you add amla or indian gooseberry?
You can, but the study on amla [5] used a solvent extract of amla, not a water extract. So it’s fair to wonder what is the active ingredient? is it water extractable? if so would it work? and if it interacts with green or white tea. More research reading needed there.

4) “Green teath” and the white tea alternative
Some people asked in the comments of the video if it’s possible to use white tea instead to prevent stains. White tea is the young leaf of green tea basically. First of all, do the stains happen if one swishes with cold tea or could it be the hot tea? Is it in people who drink sweetened green tea, or  green tea alone? The concern for stains can only be in our heads until we get evidence that green tea swishing – not drinking – stains the teeth. There are two ways to answer the question about white tea: 1) Understand why green tea works and see if white tea has a similar same composition in that regard 2) Confirm that white tea works, for instance by doing something as simple as a pH test using paper pH testers at home, like they did in [1]. I looked into the literature to get a feel of what is responsible for effect of green tea for oral health. That was done very fast and needs more in-depth work. This being said, it seems that it’s the catechins and especially EGCG that are at play. Does white tea have that? Yes, but it’s also a bit different : “White and green teas contain similar levels of EGCG but differ in the relative amounts of other polyphenols and caffeine” [3]. This suggests white tea extract is likely to work as a mouthwash too, with the same recipe. If it doesn’t work as well that might be because of the difference composition, or just because of the greater general variation in the content of active ingredients between batches…

5) The problem of variations and how to hack it
You’re not using the same batch as in the study so the same expression “green tea” in practice can be a very different product each time.
We can be very obsessed about precise numbers in an effort to practice good science. All that precision becomes irrelevant when you start taking into account variations. In nature, the content of any compound in living things varies tremendously. That’s how selenium in a single Brazil nut can go from almost nothing to 20 times the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake). In my past work on growing methods for crops (where health begins) I came across a study showing a 10-fold difference in vitamins and minerals depending only on growing practices. Then the studies like that on Brazil nuts confirm that the composition of the soil have a profound impact on the composition and nutrient density of foods. Then you have freshness, storage, processing , distributors mixing batches from different locations, cooking/extraction technique. All this put together results in a very wide range of minerals, vitamins, and other compounds in any living things and food. Always take the nutritional values with a truckload of salt. In the case of tea specifically :  “Total catechin content (TCC) for white teas ranged widely from 14.40 to 369.60 mg/g of dry plant material for water extracts […] TCC for green teas also ranged more than 10-fold” [4]. In one of the studies [1] or [2] the authors state very clearly that other groups carrying out similar studies failed to find an improvement in oral health due to green tea. Content variation should be the number one suspect for inconsistencies in results from studies using extracts that are not titrated for their content of active ingredients.So how to hack this variation?

For practical reasons, a pH test of saliva is the best way to know if a green tea extract is potent enough or not. Paper tests can do the job, you want a pH test mostly sensitive for pH in the range the [4.5 to 6] and keep a pH above 6 when following the protocol of the study [1] that I summed up in paragraph 2 of this article. I’m sure there’s even a way to do this pH test with very low-tech means at home without even having to buy paper strip pH tests.
It’s tricky though, because this will work the first time, and if you’re consistent with green tea mouthwash, the pH test will not give you an acidic saliva reading and you’d find yourself confused. Why? There seems to be an increased benefit of green tea mouthwash overtime as described on the pH results in [2], very likely because of a gradual eradication of the acid-forming bacteria  S. mutans overtime  (a single wash cuts S. mutans population in about half in both saliva and plaque [1]). This means you’d have to test your new batches either by using a guinea pig (homo sapiens) that doesn’t use green tea, or by not using your mouthwash for a while, re-allowing your bad bacteria to develop and be able to score you a low pH again of you weer to have a sweet drink. For practical reasons I would go for the latter even if I don’t like the idea of allowing the bacteria population to grow again. So I don’t have to do that too often I would make large concentrated batches I can keep in the fridge. This would assure that I have a lot of a good batch saved whenever I make one.

Additional notes:

1) This article is purely based on a literature review. It provides a prediction of what is expected to be the best method to sustainably achieve with low-tech means a green/white tea extract that is reliably potent. Experiments with the above method are needed to confirm or disprove what I described. The results are of interest to me, so do share in the comments what the results are for you or if you have a question.

2) The could be a possibility of the bacteria S. mutans adapting to the active ingredient in green or whit, rendering the mouthwash useless. Only long-term experimentation will tell.

[1] Int J Dent Hygiene 9, 2011; 110–116 DOI: 10.1111/j.1601-5037.2009.00440.x, “A pilot study of the role of green tea use on oral health”, Awadalla HI, Ragab MH, Bassuoni MW, Fayed MT, Abbas MO.
[2] Indian Journal of Dental Research, 24(1), 2013, ” Comparison of the effectiveness of 0.5% tea, 2% neem and 0.2% chlorhexidine mouthwashes on oral health: A randomized control trial“,  Aswini Y Balappanavar, Varun Sardana1, Malkeet Singh
[3] Nutr Cancer. 2001; 41(1-2): 98–103. doi:  10.1080/01635581.2001.9680618, “Inhibition by White Tea of 2-Amino-1-Methyl-6-Phenylimidazo[4,5-b]Pyridine-Induced Colonic Aberrant Crypts in the F344 Rat“,  Gilberto Santana-Rios, Gayle A. Orner, Meirong Xu, Maria Izquierdo-Pulido, and Roderick H. Dashwood
[4] Unachukwu, U. J., Ahmed, S., Kavalier, A., Lyles, J. T. and Kennelly, E. J. (2010), White and Green Teas (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis): Variation in Phenolic, Methylxanthine, and Antioxidant Profiles. Journal of Food Science, 75: C541–C548. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2010.01705.
[5] Hasan S, Danishuddin M, Adil M, Singh K, Verma PK, et al. (2012) Efficacy of E. officinalis on the Cariogenic Properties of Streptococcus mutans: A Novel and Alternative Approach to Suppress Quorum-Sensing Mechanism. PLoS ONE 7(7): e40319. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0040319

REVIEW: Do not go to this ENT doctor – Dr. Koh Tat Ngee (ENT)

It’s always more pleasant to recommend someone than to **not recommend** someone. But today, it is my duty to let others know about this unpleasant doctor so that they vote their dollars on a more worthy experience.

I recently visited Gleneagles Kuala Lumpur Medical Center for an ear infection. Dr. Koh Tat Ngee was the only doctor available, the others were fully booked for the next two weeks. NOT RECOMMENDED.

The medical center itself receives quite a lot of positive reviews, but this specific doctor is not to be recommended.

IN SHORT: Very very stubborn, cocky, arrogant, insecure, and unpleasant kind of doctor. The kind that thinks he knows everything and that patients are idiots with wallets that know nothing. A better bet if you want a good ENT doctor in that hospital for a better experience is  Dr. Arasa Raj SinnathurayI cannot personally vouch for him because I never visited him, but he was booked for two weeks when I called, and I suspect there’s a reason to that :) I hope I’m right. But definetely, I had a very negative experience with Dr. Koh Tat Ngee

Now if you want to know more this is what happened:
Dr. Koh Tat Ngee is extremely rude, unpleasant and very unprofessional. And this is not “the cultural gap”. I have been around Malaysians and Chinese for years to know that his perceived rudeness is due to him personally and by no means to any cultural gap. Like everywhere, doctors are people, and they come in different flavours. When he seats you on his lying chair, he enters in his “chain factory” mode and proceeds very fast and a lot of manoeuvres, and moves/spins you on his tables so roughly as if you were a piece of meat lying there, no politeness at all, no letting you know he’s going to spin the chair, just a total rude brute.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to suggest that this doctor wants to process as many clients as possible and make money faster. You are meat, meat with a wallet. And if you’re white, you’re exquisite meat, with an exquisite wallet. From the behaviour he had, that was also an obvious one, the only hint of a smile we saw on this frustrated man was when he received white foreign patients. Sadly, it’s a common thing in Malaysia, and I somehow had gotten use to not being shocked every time that happened. So let’s not even focus on this.

As a doctor, he performed very poorly, luckily he had some good tools. As he was rushing to “process me”, I tried very hard to explain to him the background of the infection.

Ok, when you get an ear infection, it’s either fungal or bacterial. He was going to put me on antibiotics and was utterly convinced it was bacterial, without even hearing my story or checking me. Like he has some super guessing powers. On my side, knowing the context I got the infection from (research experiments around composting using fungi) I was certain it was fungal, and spore bits had been visible on ear buds, so IT WAS AT LEAST FUNGAL. The good thing about looking for evidence is that it reveals a truth people can agree on. But he kept interrupting me the way you interrupt a child who doesn’t know what they’re saying, too proud and insecure, he tried to patronize me with his knowledge, explain the baby basics of ear infections when I happen to be a trained researcher, who had done quite a bit of reading on this, including in recent science journals.

After he finally discovered that, as I had told him 100 times, it was fungal he “cover matcho” (acted cocky to save face) and prescribed me drops. Now, important detail, my eardrums were pierced. There are very clear directions given by doctors to NOT use drops on a pierced eardrum. So like anyone who knows this, I was surprised, and double-checked if it was OK to use his drops in pierced eardrums. If it was a new formula all he had to say is “It’s usually true but these are special drops that you can put on a pierced eardrum”. If the advice I had received from other doctors was mistaken, all he had to say is “The advice about not putting drops in pierced eardrums is mistaken, it’s one of these things that aren’t quite true and become dogma once they’re spread.” But instead, after struggling to provide a satisfactory explanation for the curious, he literally said (brace yourself)

He literally said “I don’t want to hear questions anymore, my hair is grey enough”. You would expect that kind of answer from someone who’s job is being questioned, or if you’d been extremely annoying to them that they don’t want to hear your voice anymore. But I asked only that question “I read and was told by doctors that ear drops shouldn’t go on a pierced eardrum, so is it OK to let sit the drop until they enter the ear canals?”.

“I don’t want to hear questions anymore, my hair is grey enough”. He even dared to give me another appointment for two weeks later to “check”.

If I was a skilled doctor I would welcome questions and patients who come with valuable background information on what is going on, and who did their bit of research to understand what they have. In my experience (around scientists, not doctors) the attitude he showed is a standard attitude of people with strong ego when they are not too sure about what they’re talking about.

We pay these people, isn’t normal to understand what they are doing and prescribing us?

Anyway, now I understand why he was the only doctor available, and you’re warned.

Now some tips on your next ENT visit for ear infections:
– Get an ENT doctor who’s equipped with a vaccuum pump for ear canals, they might all have that I’m not sure, I can only tell it did a lot of good to remove all the junk that accumulated there.
– If you’re going to go with a first round of drops, look for NEO DECA (5ml), probably costs 5 to 10 RM like most drops. The active ingredients are Dexamethasone 21-Phophate 0.1% and Neomycin Sulphate 0.5%, just copied the label, so haven’t had time to research on these but from what I was told it’s both antibacterial and antifungal.

[Stand-up Comedy] Plagiarism: From theft, to subconscious near-plagiarism

This is a sensitive issue for many comedians, and I find it exciting to talk openly about taboos. A lot of comedians get very uncomfortable with this subject. Admitting you have been concerned by anything in the line plagiarism is like being a parent of several children and having to answer which one is your favorite. There’s definitely one, but it’s just seems wrong to admit so. So let’s talk about all plagiarism in stand-up comedy. Set aside when you write something, then discover somebody you DIDN’T KNOW nor HEAR before has done the same thing. This happens all the time and this article it’s not even about that, and will instead focus on cases where a comedian’s “new” content is definitely influenced by other people’s material.


As a performer, it’s scary to realize how your subconscious absorbs everything you see and massively guides your conscious mind. Meanwhile you would be utterly convinced you’ve been constantly creating something from scratch, and been in control of the whole process. But, at times, you would look closely and find 1) what inspired you 2) striking similarities with your inspirations. It stems from a human bias called Cryptomnesia, a cognitive bias where the inspired mind has forgotten its source of inspiration and thinks it’s creating something new.


Example : One night, I wrote a rant and performed an hour later. It was largely inspired by George Carlin rant style, that was very conscious. But I used “I am a normal modern person” to begin every single paragraph, and today I read that Carlin started one of his rants with “I’m a modern man”. Almost exactly the same title. It’s a scary realization that kicks you in the nuts. No one wants to copy-paste other people, we all deeply know that going on stage to get approval from other people’s work is the lamest and most pointless thing a comedian could consciously do, and we’re wired to give very little respect to people we spot doing that.
This kind of subconscious influence is very vicious, and shouldn’t be OK just because “Oh, I had no idea I was so deeply influenced”. I think stand-up comedians that truly are here to learn something and not in a race to be the first to get the spotlights, should tell each other that this or that seemed like it was plagiarism and quote from which original work. It’s the comedian’s work then to try and understand how this happened. But this is probably utopian, most comedians are in serious competition for the spotlight and wouldn’t take the risk to make others feel uncomfortable, nor to give constructive feedback to their competing fellows.


Don’t get me wrong: Blatant plagiarism does exist and takes many forms. It can range from jokes from comedians, the smart plagiarists will use foreign plagiarism, the dumber ones will do it right in front of the comedian they stole the joke from. I’ve seen comedians do  9gag/facebook meme on stage…That was for blatant, planned, intentional plagiarism.

But also, many things may seem to some like blatant plagiarism, but the process that leads to that is not conscious. So now to something deeper: As part of human nature, even animal nature, we have a HUGE bias for more or less unconsciously borrowing a style here, a body language there, a voice here…until you shape that into your own style, with a distinct identity. That’s what matters and that’s where it should head. We’re not inventing anything, all our characters and stories are from things we see in our family, experience with our friends, notice about society. And sometimes, the awakening to observe here or there comes from other comedians. If you learn about how birds learn to sing, or how people build their body language, personality and language, you will find that the common ground is living things’ ability to get inspiration from influencing peers. Comedy is no exception to that.


At best, like anyone learning from others, as Newton said, great comedians like great scientists are just midgets standing up on the shoulders of our giant heroes.

Solution to Folders disappearing from Places in Mac OS Sidebar

Network Folders, or folders pointing to external drive always disappear in Mac OS X. It is a big problem when the shortcuts in Places don’t stay in the Places Sidebar on Mac OS X. This can be very frustrating because you use these shortcuts to be more efficient but every time you take the drive off you’re signing for spending minutes recreating your shortcuts again. A NIGHTMARE.

HERE IS THE UNIVERSAL SOLUTION in order to permanently add folders to Places in Sidebar on Mac OS. Creating a small software that will attempt to open the folder.

Here is the very simple procedure, do it for each folder or file you want to add to Places in Sidebar:

  1. Open Script Editor
  2. Copy / paste the following, and replace by the folder location you want to put in Sidebar :
  3. -- Script to open a location in the current finder window. You can set the desired location to be on a removable volume, or a disk drive, and then put the script into the sidebar as a means to access files on a removable volume from the sidebar.
    set primary_item to POSIX file "/Volumes/EXTERNAL-HARD-DRIVE/WHATEVER"
    tell application "Finder"
    set folder of front window to primary_item
    on error
    display dialog "The location could not be found"
    end try
    end tell

  4. If you don’t know the folder location, right click on the folder and click on “Get info” and look then in “Where”
  5. Save the script as Application, somewhere on the local hard drive, NOT on the removable disk, not on a network drive or anything…
  6. Put the Application in the Sidebar
  7. Drop me a message in the comments if you are happy 😉

Source: The article you just read is a clearer refinement of this article.

Aerial Photography Using Paramotor. Verdict? POSSIBLE.

My friend and paramotoring instructor James Gibbs worked around May to June 2011 in contributing to produce a documentary called Shoot For The Sky in Sabah. It was aired on Bio Channel Asia from February 25th to March 6th, 2012.

The whole point of the documentary was to experiment aerial photography from a paramotor, the cheapest form of powered aircraft. It is extremely relevant to do so, because usually a helicopter or plane is used at a huge cost. A paramotor is also a very transportable aircraft and a whole great for one passenger fits easily in the average car. Additionally, because of its limited size, a paramotor can access places that would not be accessible by plane or helicopter.

Two top-rank Malaysian photographers, Jon and Cede, were first trained. 5 days of an epic adventure.

Then the production team flew to Sabah with all the gear, and photography equipment. Despite some dramatic landings funnily commented in the documentary, the pictures came out outrageously clear. They can be seen in the photo album of the documentary Shoot for the Sky.

The paramotor training in Malaysia was provided by AirVenture.