Have you ever wondered if there’s a natural way to lower your high blood pressure, guard against Alzheimer's, lose weight, and feel better? Well as it turns out there is. Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, founder of NutritionFacts.org, and author of the instant New York Times bestseller “How Not to Die” celebrates evidence-based nutrition to add years to our life and life to our years.

You Look Marvelous Just the Way you Are

Some personal care products may contain lead and intestines, potentially infected with mad cow disease. This episode features audio from Which Intestines for Food & Cosmetics?, Is Lipstick Safe Given the Lead Contamination?, and Is Henna Safe?. Visit the video pages for all sources and doctor’s notes related to this podcast.


Let’s say you really need to find reliable information about the best diet – for high blood pressure – or heart disease – or diabetes. Where do you go? Do you go to a website sponsored by Big Pharma that wants to sell you pills to fix your problem?

Or, do you want to treat the cause? 

Welcome to the NutritionFacts podcast – with the latest peer-reviewed research on the best ways to eat healthy – and live longer.

The average adult – uses nine personal care products a day, and each of these products can have hundreds of chemical ingredients. And, don’t get me started on  mad cow disease intestines.  Here’s our first story.

The Food and Drug Administration recently reopened comments about their policy of allowing some intestines, but not others, into the U.S. food supply. When the first few cases of mad cow disease started popping up, the FDA’s gut reaction was to ban all guts from food and personal care products. But, in 2005, USDA and FDA amended their draft rule to “permit the use of the entire small intestine for human food” if the last 80 uncoiled inches going to the colon was removed. Since then, though, studies have shown that infectious mad cow prions can be found throughout all parts of the intestine, from the stomach down to the cow’s colon—raising the question of whether all entrails should again be removed.

The North American Meat Association says no, wanting to keep cattle insides inside the food supply, similar to what we heard from the CTFA—the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. They protested that by banning from cosmetics downer and dead cattle, as well as “brain, skull, eyes, [and] spinal cords,” as well as “intestine[s] and tonsils,” our nation’s supply of cosmetics could be put in jeopardy. There could be a tallow shortage for soap, for example. The FDA may not realize that cosmetics and personal care products are a quarter-trillion dollar industry worldwide.

In the end, the FDA tentatively concluded that intestines should continue to be allowed in the food and cosmetic supply, because only trace amounts of infectivity have been found throughout the bowels of cattle—a conclusion they have to make, since, otherwise, all meat would have to be banned as well, because new research shows that mad cow infectivity is in the muscles, too. And, not just the atypical cases of BSE, like the last mad cow found in California, but now we know, the typical BSE as well—bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). Low levels of infectious prions have been found in the ribs, shoulders, tenderloins, sirloin tips, and round cuts of meat.

The latest estimates out of Britain suggest 15,000 people are currently incubating the human form of mad cow disease, contracted through the consumption of infected meat. Fewer than 200 Brits have died so far of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but the incubation period for this invariably fatal neurodegenerative disease can be decades—the time between eating the meat and one’s brain filling up with holes.

The fact that so many people are carrying it has important implications for the safety of blood transfusions—that’s why many Americans who’ve lived in England are barred by the Red Cross from donating blood, as well as the safety of handling surgical instruments that may have cut into someone who’s a carrier, since it’s so hard to sterilize anything, once contaminated.

Given these factors, it may be prudent to err on the side of caution when regulating which intestines are allowed on and in our mouths. But, it’s a balance. As one meat company points out, guts are not just used for lipstick, “intestine is…human food, “providing us with [a] precious source of protein which is [evidently] essential for our human population.”

In our next story, dozens of lipsticks and lip glosses are put to the test for lead contamination.

Over the past years, the use of cosmetic products has evidently increased “at an alarming rate due to unending pursuit for individual beautification.” Nothing necessarily wrong with that, unless cosmetic products contain ingredients that may be linked to disease: ingredients such as toxic heavy metals, like lead. Lead has been found in a wide range of cosmetic products, from eye shadow to skin cream, foundation, blush. I talked about henna before. But, looking at the data, an important warning can be recognized—the presence of lead in lipsticks—because you end up inadvertently actually swallowing a little bit of it. It has been estimated that a woman may end up ingesting three pounds of lipstick over her lifetime; “moreover, lipsticks can be used by pregnant women or women of child bearing age.” Uh, duh.

Yes. “Lead is highly toxic;” but how much lead can there be in lipstick? Surely, it’s “a very minor source.” “Nonetheless, one should not exclude the fact that lead accumulates in the body…over time, and [so] repetitive lead-containing lipstick…application [might] lead to significant exposure.” But, you don’t really know…until you put it to the test.

Thirty-two lipsticks and lip glosses tested, and lead was detected in three-fourths of the products, suggesting “public health concerns.” But how much lead did they find? About half exceeded the FDA-recommended maximum level set for candy.

Yeah, but come on. That limit is set for something kids may eat every day. Kids are not going to eat tubes of lipstick every day. “Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that there is no safe level of (lead) intake.” Ideally, we should get contaminant levels down to zero. And look, as a consumer group pointed out, a quarter of the lipsticks were lead-free, so we know it can be done. So, maybe we should better regulate toxic metals in cosmetics “to protect women’s health in the United States,” as has already been done in Europe. Fair enough.

The billion-dollar lipstick industry, however, wasn’t happy. In an article that tried to downplay the risks, the scientists-for-hire firm, that once played villain in the real-life Erin Brockovich case, concluded that “Although lipstick may contain (lead), the concentrations are so low that they would not be “expected to pose any health risks to adults or children.” Children’s blood (lead) levels are influenced more by background(lead) exposures (in the air/dust/water/food) than by lipstick exposures.”

Okay, but just because our environment is so contaminated doesn’t mean we need to add to the problem. In fact, because there’s so much lead around anyway, maybe it’s that much more reason to cut down on additional exposures. But they calculate that an adult would need “to apply lipstick over 30 times a day” to raise their blood lead level to even the most stringent limits, and 695 times a day to get blood levels up to more concerning levels.

Ah, but this was based on an assumption that lipstick would only have about one part per million lead, or at the extreme end maybe two or three. But by 2016, about ten times more lipsticks were tested, and they averaged nearly 500 parts per million, with 10 percent over 1,000, all the way up to 10,000, with more than one out of five exceeding FDA and even Chinese safety limits on lead in cosmetics.

Lip gloss was worse than lipstick; orange and pink had more lead than brown, red, or purple, and all the really contaminated ones were the cheaper ones—under five bucks.

But wait a second. 10,185 milligrams? That’s 10 grams per kilogram, which means the lipstick was 1 percent pure lead. That means a single application could expose a grown woman to perhaps 12 times the tolerable daily intake.

And if she’s interested in having children, then that poses a “particular concern,” as lead accumulates in your bones and “may [then] be released into the bloodstream during pregnancy,” where it can slip through the placenta or into breastmilk.

The good news is that the FDA is considering lowering the maximum allowable lead levels in lipstick from 20 to 10, something Canada arrived at a decade ago. But without enforcement, it doesn’t matter. Moving the legal limit from 20 down to 10 would just mean that instead of 23 percent of lip products exceeding legal levels, 27 percent would be exceeding legal levels.

Finally today, we ask – Is there a risk of lead and PPD contamination of red and black henna?

Over recent decades, we’ve started to recognize “that some topically applied substances can penetrate into or [even] through human skin” and end up circulating throughout our bodies.

Take the toxic heavy metal lead, for example. To see if lead could be absorbed through the skin into the body, researchers applied lead to someone’s left arm, and then they measured the level of lead in the sweat coming off their right arm over the next few days. And there was a big spike, proving, nearly 30 years ago, that “lead can be absorbed through [the] skin” and rapidly distributed throughout the body.

This led public health authorities to “recommend that parents avoid using cosmetics [at least] on [their] children that could be contaminated.” Which cosmetics might those be? Lead has been found in a wide range of cosmetic products, because it’s a natural constituent of many color pigments. The FDA has set an upper limit for lead at 20 parts per million, and though only some samples of “henna” exceeded that, because henna is used for temporary tattoos, these quantities of lead can remain on the skin for a long time and may not be safe, because studies show that lead “may have no identifiable safe exposure level, with even the lowest levels shown to affect [the brains of developing] children.”

“Thus, the use of henna especially among children may constitute a public health risk.” So, “[i]ncreasing awareness of henna’s serious toxic implications [may help end, or at least reduce] the use of such hazardous material especially when children are involved.”

Now, traditionally, henna was just the dried powdered leaves of some plant. But, more recently, other ingredients have been added “to give it a stronger color”—added ingredients such as lead, “one of the most common and egregious additives in henna.” But, not as common as PPD (para-phenylene-diamine).

“The red paste traditionally used, known as ‘red henna,’ rarely produces adverse effects.” But, to “help achieve a darker pigment, known as ‘black henna’,” various additives may be used, including animal urine. But, better pee than PPD, a coal tar derivative that can cause nasty skin reactions such as blistering and scarring. PPD is added to speed up the process from as long as 12 hours down to less than two hours. So, while the “[u]se of black hennas may be tempting,” it has the potential for both short- and long-term side effects.

How common are these reactions? The best estimate is about 2.5 percent. So, one in 40 kids who get a black henna tattoo may have an allergic reaction. Unfortunately, this practice “has become fashionable” (thanks a lot, Spice Girls). There’s no such thing as “natural black henna.” So,
“[p]erhaps it would be best to respect the traditional practice…lest a temporary tattoo [turn into] a permanent scar.”

The problem is that “PPD can be found in products labeled as ‘red henna,’ too.” So, just because it’s red doesn’t mean it’s not risky. Bad news for the $100 million industry.

Because henna of all colors is so often adulterated, under FDA guidelines, “henna should not be applied to the skin at all.”

We would love it if you could share with us your stories about reinventing your health through evidence-based nutrition. Go to nutritionfacts.org slash testimonials. We may share it on our social media to help inspire others.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, or studies mentioned here, please go to the NutritionFacts podcast landing page. There, you’ll find all the detailed information you need – plus links to all of the sources we cite for each of these topics.

For a timely text on the pathogens that cause pandemics – you can order the E-book, audio book, or the hard copy of my last book “How to Survive a Pandemic.”

For recipes, check out my second-to-last book, my “How Not to Diet Cookbook.” It’s beautifully designed, with more than 100 recipes for delicious and nutritious meals. And, all the proceeds I receive from the sales of all my books go to charity.

NutritionFacts.org is a nonprofit, science-based public service, where you can sign up for free daily updates on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos and articles.

Everything on the website is free. There’s no ads, no corporate sponsorship. It’s strictly non-commercial. I’m not selling anything. I just put it up as a public service, as a labor of love – as a tribute to my grandmother – whose own life was saved with evidence-based nutrition.

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