Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The sunscreen nanoparticle flap

Some comments from Australia

Health experts fear lives will be lost because of what some view as scaremongering about risks from tiny particles used in some sunscreens.

Concern about the potential damage caused by Friends of the Earth's anti-nanotechnology campaign is so great that public health advocates are abandoning their previous cautions on using sunscreens with nanoparticles.

"In the past I have said that consumers are better to avoid sunscreen with nanoparticles in it," said Michael Moore, chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia. "But we are rethinking our position as evidence grows of people being reluctant to use sunscreen."

One third of respondents to a federal government survey made public in February said they were aware of possible risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles. In the group that was aware, 87 per cent said it made them concerned about using sunscreen.

Nanoparticles are so small they are measured in millionths of a millimetre. The concern is that they generate free radicals which could penetrate cells and interact with cell protein or DNA in unknown ways. However, research has yet to establish proof that nanoparticles in sunscreen are harmful to health.

In contrast, it is proved beyond doubt that using sunscreen protects against skin cancer, which causes 200 deaths a year in Australia and for which thousands of Australians are treated every year, said Terry Slevin, chairman of Cancer Council Australia's skin cancer committee. Scaring people based on "extremely unconvincing evidence" of a "theoretical" problem means "public health harm is likely to occur", Mr Slevin said.

"There is more risk from not using sunscreen and getting burnt than there is from using sunscreen and the potential penetration of nanoparticles,” said Maxine McCall, CSIRO nanosafety research co-ordinator and senior principal research scientist.

Sunscreens with the  "blockers” zinc oxide and titanium oxide scatter or absorb UV radiation across a broader range of the UV spectrum than competing sunscreens relying on chemicals alone.

Sunscreens with metal oxide particles in their traditional or "bulk" form appear milky or white on the skin, such as zinc cream, the "Aussie war paint".  When the metal oxides are in nanoparticle form the lotion is more transparent and so more appealing to many consumers.

Friends of the Earth  wants mandatory safety testing and labelling of sunscreen products using nanoparticles, similar to European regulations to apply from July.

 "We sell a product that is safe and it’s nano,” said  Rade Dudurovic, chairman of the listed company Antaria, a Perth manufacturer of zinc-based nanoparticles used in sunscreen.

 "Unless [Friends of the Earth] can provide some form of academic, reputable medical evidence to suggest it is unsafe, it’s a spurious debate.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration said there was "currently no evidence” to suggest a particular safety risk from sunscreens with nanoparticles or to support tougher labelling requirements.  New Zealand will require mandatory labelling from 2015.

Friends of the Earth’s  nanotechnology project co-ordinator Louise Sales said the fault for public concern about sunscreen safety lies not with the campaign group but with the Therapeutic Goods Administration  for failing to act to give consumers  peace of mind.


Sausages ARE safe after all: Relax about the recent scare - unless you've eaten one banger a day for your whole life!

Another comment on the Rohrmann rubbish

Can eating just half a pork sausage – or a ham sandwich – a day really trigger an early death? That was the warning from experts earlier this month – that processed meat is a major factor in developing two of Britain’s biggest killers, heart disease and cancer.

Eating more than 20g a day increases the risk of dying young from these diseases, according to the results of  a European study.

Study leader Prof Sabine Rohrmann, from Switzerland’s University of Zurich, said: ‘We estimate three per cent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g of processed meat per day.’

To put this into perspective, one Tesco Finest British Pork Sausage weighs about 75g, and a rasher of back bacon is about 35g.

So your average fried breakfast would send you spiralling over the limit and towards an early grave, if you believe the headlines.

The main focus was meat that has been preserved or had something added to extend its shelf-life. Bacon, corned beef, sausages, salami, doner kebabs and meat pies count as processed.

Scientists quizzed nearly half a million people, including the British, for more than a decade about their eating habits.

The results initially appear pretty damning about the health dangers of processed meat. But what do our experts think?

Professor Tom Sanders, head of nutrition and dietetics at London’s King’s College, says we shouldn’t rush to bin our bangers just yet.

The scientist points out that this study does not calculate actual deaths in Britain from processed meat. Instead, it estimates the likely chance of dying from cardiovascular disease if you eat these foods.

Its main finding is that anyone who eats a lot of processed meat (160g plus – the equivalent of two-and-a-half sausages) every day – is 72 per cent more likely to die from heart disease than someone who eats a moderate amount (less than 20g). But eating it in moderation doesn’t pose a great health risk.

Processed meat cannot be singled out in this study as the only trigger for stroke and heart attack deaths, says Prof Sanders. Other factors such as smoking, diet and lack of exercise could be equally to blame. The people quizzed for this study in ten countries included smokers.

‘Smoking is such a potent factor,’ he says. ‘Those most likely to smoke ate the most processed meat and less fruit and vegetables. People who eat a lot of fatty, processed meat also have a lot of unhealthy behaviour, eating chips and drinking sugary drinks. The message should be to look at your overall diet, not just if you have the odd bacon butty.’


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