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Safe - Natural - Organic... What do they really mean?

Adapted from

Organic Natural Living

by Narelle Chenery   

Organic Business Opportunity

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 Safe and Natural

As the number of people who are concerned about toxins in our environment grows, more and more skin care companies are jumping on the "natural" and "organic" bandwagon for cosmetics and also for personal and body care products.


But what does "natural" and "organic" mean when we see them on a mainstream manufacturers cosmetic or toiletries product label? How do we really know what we are buying is really natural and organic? How do we actually know if the products are safe and non-toxic?  What are the natural alternatives to synthetic and mostly toxic chemicals? Is natural and organic really any better for us? What products are truly natural and organic?

Our skin is the largest eliminatory organ in the body. It is a two-way membrane. Toxins are eliminated through the skin via perspiration and absorbed through the skin into the body’s circulation system, through hair follicles and sebaceous glands, but not through the sweat glands. One square inch of skin contains approximately 65 hairs, 100 sebaceous glands and 650 sweat glands. Every square inch of you skin is like a thousand open mouths, absorbing into the body most of what is put on it.

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Skin care manufacturers are not supposed to claim that their products penetrate the skin. If they did, the products would then be labelled as “drugs” and would be governed by much stricter regulations. However, it is now recognised that the skin does absorb many ingredients in skin care preparations. This is both good and bad. Good, because it means our skin can be nourished from the outside with some wonderful ingredients. Bad, because some skin care manufacturers can use harmful ingredients that would never be allowed to be taken orally, but are still absorbed into our system, through our skin.  

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Nowhere does the idea of “natural” or “organic” take a more gratuitous bruising than in the skin/body care industry.

If we first take the word "natural" and look it up in the Concise Oxford Dictionary we would find this description of natural thus; “existing in, or caused by nature; not artificial; uncultivated; wild existing in natural state; not disguised or altered”. It seems pretty clear what "natural" actually means to me! Does it to you? However when vested interests get hold of the word natural they put a whole new slant on it. It may seem pretty clear to you and me exactly what we mean by natural but for the marketing men they obviously haven't read the dictionary and start bending the interpretation of natural to suit themselves.  

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Many labels have long lists of chemical names, some followed by the phrase “derived from …” (some natural substance). This is grossly misleading for consumers who are looking for genuine natural products.

When chemicals such as Cocamide DEA or Sodium Hydroxysultaine are followed by the words “derived from coconut oil” the consumer is led to believe that these synthetic chemicals must somehow be "natural". While this may be true in some cases where a natural oil or extract is actually used, it is ultimately irrelevant because what you end up with after the chemical solvent extraction and processing is usually anything but natural or pure. It is just another chemical concoction with some rather awful sounding long names to describe the process the "natural" product went through

Now what about "organic"? Back to Top

Again if we look in the dictionary for the word organic it is pretty obvious to us what we expect to find as far as safe products in general are concerned. Would you say in the context you are expecting to use or find the term organic that this would be a fair description; "produced and involving production without the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers or synthetic chemicals." To me it seems rather elementary that when describing a product as organic that this is exactly what the customer would expect. However to the marketing men this is not what they mean by organic. Lets delve a little deeper into this play on words

To create Cocamide DEA, a foaming agent found in some shampoos, requires the addition of a synthetic chemical and known carcinogen, Diethanolamine – DEA, to the coconut oil. It is therefore no longer natural, or safe! If we look at the term “organic” on a label, we usually think it means “grown and cultivated without the use of chemicals” as stated above. That is the conclusion most skin care companies would like us to come to when they use the rather loose term organic.

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Unscrupulous companies are cynically using the chemistry definition of “organic” –  which is also defined in the dictionary as "a compound that contains a carbon atom" to confuse consumers. This is known in the trade as confusion advertising so the real picture becomes blurred. Carbon is found in everything that has ever lived. Vested interests by using this definition of organic, they are saying that a toxic petrochemical preservative called Methyl Paraben is “organic” because it was formed from leaves that rotted over thousands of years to become crude oil, which was then used to make this preservative. How absurd is this when consumers are looking for safe non-toxic products?

The play on the word organic gets even worse. An increasing number of companies are now claiming to use “organic” herbs in their products. But, what about the rest of the ingredients? Are they safe? Are they "natural" or from an "organic" source?  Surely there must be an authority that governs the use of the term “organic” on labels?  

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The simple answer is NO!

However, the term “certified organic” IS governed by a number of internationally recognised bodies. In Australia the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) is the largest. Searching for products with the logo of a certifying body on the label is the only way you can guarantee the organic authenticity and integrity of every ingredient in the product. This can then truly be called a natural product. Without the "Certified Organic" label, the organic claim means nothing, as it cannot be verified and most likely it is a complete hoax perpetrated by the marketing men and their hype. Back to Top


Fortunately, there is a very simple way to differentiate between the hype and truth in skin care and that is to read the ingredient list on the label. It is a legal requirement that all skin care products must be labelled with the ingredients in descending order of their quantity in the product. A good rule of thumb is to divide the ingredient list into thirds: the top third usually contains 90-95% of the product, the middle third usually contains 5-8% and the bottom third, 1-3%.

Here is the ingredient list of a so-called “natural” and “organic” body moisturiser from a well- known “natural” skin care company.

 Natural or Organic ingredients include
1Water (deionised)
2Isopropyl Palmitate (Palm Oil Derivative)
3Apricot Kernel Oil
4Bis-Digyceryl Caprylate/Caprate/Isosterate/Stearate/ Hydroxysterate Adipate (vegetable Triglyceride)
5Glyceryl Stearate SE (vegetable derived)
6Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (glycerin-derived emollient)
7Ceteareth - 12 (Organic Emulsifier)
8Tocopherol Oil (vitamin E)
9Chamomile Extract
10Sage Extract
11Linden Extract (Lime Blossom Extract)
12Balm Mint Extract
13Shea Butter (From Karite)
14Wheat Germ Oil
15Carrot Oil
16Cetyl Alcohol (organic Co-emulsifier)
17Sodium Hydroxide (pH Adjuster)
18Sorbic Acid (Organic Compound)
19Tocopherol Acetate (vitamin E Derivative)
20Methyl Paraben
21Propyl Paraben
22Imidazolidinyl Urea (Organic Compound)
24FD & C Yellow No 5, D7C Red No. 33.
 Content: Apricot oil (2.5%) Back to Top

Take note of the last point that says "Content: Apricot Oil (2.5%). Notice Apricot Oil is No 3 on the list. Because skin care and cosmetic manufacturers are required to list the ingredients in descending order this means everything AFTER Apricot Oil makes up less than 2.5% of the volume.

This effectively means that about 90% of the product is water and Isopropyl Palmitate. Isopropyl Palmitate is derived from Isopropyl Alcohol, synthetic alcohol and Palmatic Acid, a fatty acid from palm oil. It is known to cause skin irritations and dermatitis and has been shown to have comedogenic (acne promoting) properties!

Nos 5 and 5 are all produced by chemical reactions between various fatty acids and glycerol (synthetic glycerine). They are largely synthetic and have been shown to cause allergies and dermatitis!

No 7 is a synthetic emulsifier that may contain dangerous levels of ethylene oxide and dioxane - both are known carcinogens.

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Nos. 8 to 15 are natural ingredients used in tiny amounts merely to make the product look good. They may have been grown using toxic organo-phosphates, other pesticides and chemical herbicides.

No. 16 May be natural or synthetic and has been shown to cause contact dermatitis and eczema.

No. 17 Is otherwise known as caustic soda or lye - a powerful drain cleaner extremely alkaline and corrosive. A known sensitizer for many allergic people.

No. 18 Sorbic acid was once isolated from the Mountain Ash berry, but is now chemically synthesised and is a toxic preservative

No. 19 is synthetic Vitamin E.

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Nos. 20-22 are toxic and allergenic preservatives which have been linked to increasing oestrogen levels in women and is implicated in the rising incidence of breast cancer

No. 23. Probably synthetic, may contain phthalates that have been linked to birth defects.

No. 24. Synthetic colours that could be potentially carcinogenic.

Now let’s look at an ingredient list of a certified organic body moisturiser.

This ingredient list says

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1Proprietary blend of organic native Australian distilled herbal extracts,
2Organic Safflower oil
3Purified Water
4Organic Avocado oil
5Organic Cocoa butter
6Non-GMO Lecithin
7Organic Sugar-Cane Ethanol
8Organic Unrefined Beeswax
10D-Panthenol (pro-vit b5)
11Olive extract
12Grapefruit extract
13Sclerotium gum
14Organic orange
15Vanilla extract
  1. Is a proprietary blend of organic native Australian distilled herbal extracts
  2. Is cold-pressed from organic safflower seeds.
  3. Purified Water.
  4. Is cold-pressed from organic avocado fruit.
  5. Is from organic cocoa beans.
  6. Is from non-genetically modified soybean oil.
  7. Is from organic sugar.
  8. Is from organic beehives!
  9. Is cold pressed from the skin of organic limes.
  10. Is a precursor to vitamin B5.
  11. Is from olive leaves.
  12. Is from grapefruit seeds.
  13. Is a natural gum.
  14. Is cold-pressed from organic orange peel.
  15. Is from natural vanilla beans. Back to Top

All skin care products, both synthetic and natural, contain items from the following categories in some combination or other:


Emollients serve two functions; they prevent dryness and protect the skin, acting as a barrier and healing agent. Water is the best emollient, but because it evaporates quickly it is ineffective. It needs to be held on the skin by emollient oils in what is called an emulsion. Synthetic emollients are occlusive i.e. they coat the skin and do not allow it to respire (much like plastic wrap), which can cause skin irritation. Some synthetic emollients can accumulate in the liver and lymph nodes. They are also non-biodegradable, causing a negative environmental impact.

Natural emollients actually nourish the skin. They are metabolised by the skin’s own enzymes and absorbed into it. They are readily biodegradable and are of edible quality.

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Some Synthetic Emollients:

PEG compounds (eg PEG- 45 Almond Glyceride) may contain the toxic by-product dioxane Synthetic alcohols (anything that contains the phrase benzyl –, butyl-, cetearyl-, cetyl -, glyceryl-, isopropyl-, myristyl propyl-, propylene-, or stearyl-) eg Isopropyl Palmitate, Diglyceryl Caprylate) have been shown to cause allergies and dermatitis. Hydrocarbons (eg mineral oil, petrolatum, paraffin) contain carcinogenic and mutagenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and can cause chemically induced acne. Silicone Oils (eg dimethicone, cyclomethicone, copolyol) can clog the skin like plastic wrap and cause tumours when painted on lab animals (according to the Material Safety Data Sheet supplied by the manufacturer). Back to Top

Some Natural Emollients

Plant Oils (eg. Jojoba, Avocado, Rosehip) Shea, Cocoa and Jojoba Butters


The main purpose of any cream is to keep the skin moist. Many conventional creams form a suffocating film on the skin to prevent moisture loss. Even a natural humectant, glycerin, actually attracts water from the air and surrounding tissue. It keeps the skin moist as long as there is sufficient moisture in the air. In a dry climate it actually draws moisture from the skin. Collagen, elastin and keratin enjoy some popularity as humectants. Whilst they are compatible with the skin and deposit a protective film, they are usually sourced from animals and therefore cannot be termed “cruelty free”. Some skin care companies would like you to believe that your skin can use special animal proteins to rejuvenate and replace aging cells. This is nonsense! The size of the molecules, even when broken down (hydrolysed), are far too large to penetrate the skin. Even if they could get in, they would be immediately rejected as foreign matter and attacked by the immune system.

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Natural phospholipids, from lecithin, are fantastic humectants. An important benefit of phospholipids is that they are hygroscopic (attract water from the surrounding air) and hold water where an increased level of hydration is needed. Therefore, phospholipids increase the hydration levels of the skin without being occlusive (forming a film to prevent water loss, and preventing normal cellular function). A recent study proved the value of topically applied phospholipids in skin care. It found that environmental factors (sun, wind, pollution) and the detergents and solvents, found in most skin cleansers, actually stripped the natural phospholipid content from the top layer of skin. This loss resulted in a rough feel and a pitted appearance under a microscope. Importantly, the phospholipids in the uppermost skin layers cannot be replaced by natural cell function, as the top layer of cells no longer metabolise; they serve only as a protective barrier.

Remarkably, the study showed that topically applied plant phospholipids restore the barrier function of the skin, protecting it from substances such as bacteria and harmful chemicals.

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Some Synthetic Humectants
  1. Propylene Glycol – causes irritation and contact dermatitis
  2. Ethylene/Diethylene Glycol – causes irritation
    and contact dermatitis
  3. PEG compounds (eg Polyethylene Glycol) –
    may contain the toxic by-product dioxane
Some natural Humectants
  1. Lecithin
  2. Panthenol (pro-vitamin B5)
  3. Glycerin Back to Top

Emulsifiers hold two ingredients together that normally don't mix. This can be either a physical substance (like a wax) or a physical action (shake well before use). Synthetic emulsifiers are usually petroleum/hydrocarbon derivatives and can be allergens. Natural emulsifiers are obtained from various nuts, berries and leaves.

Some Synthetic Emulsifiers
  1. Alkoxylated Amides (eg TEA, DEA, MEA MIPA compounds) can undergo nitrosation to form nitrosamines which are known carcinogens.
  2. PEG compounds - may contain the toxic substance dioxane
  3. Sorbitan Sterate, Laurate, Palmitate, Oleate etc.
  4. Ozokerite, Ceresin, Silicone and Montan Waxes
  5. Isopropyl Stearate, Laurate, Palmitate, Oleate etc.
Some Natural Emulsifiers Back to Top

Plant waxes (eg Candelilla, Carnuba, Jojoba, Rice Bran)

Xanthum Gum

Quince Seed


Surface-active-agents are substances capable of dissolving oils and holding dirt in suspension so it can be rinsed away with water. They are used in skin cleansers and shampoos.

A serious problem with ethoxylated surfactants (those that utilise ethylene or propylene oxide in the chemical reaction) is that they often contaminated with dioxane, a potent carcinogen. The exact same toxic carcinogen sprayed on the Vietnam jungle during Agent Orange which caused hundreds of thousands of birth defects and cancers in Vietnamese civilians and huge increases in the cancer rates for US and Australian army personnel.

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These surfactants are listed on labels as ingredients ending with -eth, (like laureth) or containing the phrase PEG (Poly Ethylene Glycol), or PPG (Poly Propylene Glycol). Another dangerous class of surfactants are amides. These are listed on labels containing the term TEA - TriEthanolAmine, DEA - DiEthanolAmine and MEA MonoEthanolAmine. All compounds containing TEA, DEA, and MEA can undergo nitrosation with other chemicals to form nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. One study found that over 40% f products containing triethanolamine (TEA) were contaminated with these potent carcinogens.

Natural saponins (foaming agents) are a much better choice for shampoos. They gently cleanse the hair and scalp without stripping the natural oils.

Some Synthetic Surfactants  Back to Top
  1. Sodium or Ammonium Lauryl or Laureth Sulphate
  2. Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate
  3. Sodium Lauroyl or Cocoyl Sarcosinate
  4. Cocomidopropyl Betaine
  5. TEA compounds
  6. DEA compounds
  7. PEG (Polyethylene Glycol) compounds
  8. Quarternium -7,15,31,60 etc
  9. Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine
  10. Disodium Oleamide or Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate
  11. etc. etc. etc.
Some Natural Surfactants

Castile Soap

Yucca Extract


Quillaja Bark Extract Back to Top


The decaying process is natural and happens with or without preservatives. Skin care products do
not (and should not) last for ever. Just like food, all natural skin care products will eventually deteriorate and go rancid. The effectiveness, not safety, of synthetic chemical preservatives has
only been “proven” by animal testing. Chemical preservatives are generally used because they are
much cheaper than, and extend the shelf life of the product more than natural alternatives. Storing natural products in the fridge will help extend their life.  Back to Top

Some Synthetic Preservatives
  1. Imidiazolidinyl Urea (Germall 115) and Diazolidinyl Urea (Germall II) Causes contact
    dermatitis. Germall 115 releases formaldehyde over 10°C.
  2. DMDM Hydantoin Highly toxic, causes contact dermatitis, contains formaldehyde. Used in
    shampoos and deodorants.
  3. Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben Toxic, Causes allergic reactions and skin rashes. Used in a huge range of products and is implicated in increasing breast cancer rates when used as a preservative in underarm deodorants.
  4. 2-Bromo-2-Nitro-Propane-1, 3-diol. (Bronopol). Toxic - causes allergic contact dermatitis. Used in face creams, shampoos, mascaras and bath oils.
  5. Benzalkonium Chloride - Highly toxic, primary skin irritant. Used in shampoos, conditioner and deodorants.
  6. Quarternium-15 Toxic, causes skin rashes and allergic reactions
  7. Chloromethylisothiazolinone and Isothiazolinone - Cause contact dermatitis
  8. Methylisothiazolinone and Methylchloroisothiazolinone- Both cause allergies
  9. Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) - Both cause allergic contact dermatitis - worse BHT is carcinogenic! Back to Top

This alphabet soup of synthetic chemicals which go into making the average personal care product and/or cosmetic is believed to be playing a major part in the enormous increase in cancer rates in the developed countries of the world. Research scientists such as Dr Samuel Epstein have been speaking out strongly for decades trying to warn the public of the dangers of toxic chemicals in personal care products. We are losing the "winnable war on cancer" due to vested interests totally ignoring the damage that low level exposure to toxins over may years do to our immune systems.

Some Natural Preservatives
  1. Tea Tree essential oil
  2. Thyme essential oil
  3. Grapefruit Seed Extract
  4. D-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate (Vitamin E) Back to Top

Well you make your own mind up! There are some people who really do think that there are "safe" synthetic chemicals which can be applied to the skin and eaten in food without doing any harm. However didn't the cigarette manufacturers maintain for over thirty years that the chemicals in smoke never caused cancer too? It is easy to bury your head in the sand and ignore these dangers as we listen to the hollow platitudes of vested interests who are making billions from a gullible public.

If we look at chemicals from a historic point of view we see a pattern of wonderful chemical and drug breakthroughs which are going to change life for the better. They are sold to us on a platform of hype and false promises as the answer to all sorts of problems. Subsequent disastrous side effects and countless deaths have been caused by some of these new wonder chemicals and drugs before they were pulled off the market and banned long after the damage had already been done.  Back to Top

Remember the miracle of DDT? How this was going to revolutionise farming in the world and destroy all insect pests. Now every single living creature on earth today, humans included, carry a burden of DDT stored in their fat cells with who knows what consequences for generations to come. What about thalidomide? Remember the miracle drug to ease women through the "sickness" of bearing a child. How many tens of thousands of children were born with defects from this incredible chemical folly? How would you feel if by your uninformed use of toxic chemicals caused ongoing medical problems for your loved ones in the future?

The search for newer, better and safer synthetic chemicals goes on and on with new chemicals being released at a staggering rate onto the market and the unsuspecting public. When you really think about it, the entire process is so futile and foolish and is only being pursued in the name of corporate profit. Mother Nature has always had the answers for us yet man seems hell-bent on ignoring the most basic rule of all and that is to live in harmony with nature not try to control it. Ultimately nature reduces us back to the earth. For many of us, sadly well before our time is due, we will be struck down by deadly cancer. The rate is already 1 in 3 in the US and is running very close behind in the UK and other developed countries. Back to Top

We should all avoid toxic synthetic chemicals from all sources. We can do this largely by sourcing organic produce as much as we possibly can and using only certified organic personal care products and cosmetics. You may be amazed at the huge difference these simple measures will make to your health.

Informed people make informed choices

YOUR Health... YOUR Decision

 www.Health-report.co.uk comment:

This extremely well written article by Narelle Chenery the founding director of a new and exciting project in Australia to produce Certified Organic 100% synthetic chemical free non-toxic personal care products and cosmetics sheds a lot of light on the risks we are all exposed to on a daily basis without even thinking about it. Toxic chemicals are invading our lives from every direction and as Narelle points out... Are any of them actually safe?

We heartily commend Narelle and her co-directors for producing such a wonderful range of completely natural products. It is really heartening to see there are people who are prepared to do what it takes to deliver what must be one of the most advanced Certified Organic product ranges in the world.

The products are available in most countries in the world. For more information contact us

Just to reinforce what Narelle has written about manufacturers of so-called "natural" and "organic" products read this report just in from Washington


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Consumers Deserve Strong Organic Standards for Cosmetics Back to Top

Most 'Organic' Cosmetics Labels Mislead Public

Monday, August 18, 2003 Adam Eidinger 202-744-2671http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/organic_standards_cosmetics.cfm

WASHINGTON, DC -Scores of "natural" cosmetic companies will be in Washington, DC September 5-7 for the Natural Products Expo East, the largest natural products trade show on the East Coast. While most companies that sell increasingly popular "natural" soaps, shampoos and skin creams in natural supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Trader Joes do not claim their products are "organic," an increasing number of these brands, such as Avalon Natural Products, JASON, and Nature's Gate, are misleading consumers into thinking up to 70% of such products are in fact "organic." Back to Top

The body care companies in question claim that "organic floral waters" are somehow key functional components of their products. However, floral waters, that are also called "hydrosols," did not exist as an ingredient in body care formulations until companies started to use them to make fraudulent, inflated "organic" claims. Not only is the presence of these hydrosols largely inconsequential, their actual organic content is minimal since they are mostly ordinary distilled water. Nonetheless, various so-called "natural" body care manufacturers are using these waters to green-wash their products and make organic label claims, even though their formulations are in fact largely composed of the same conventional synthetic cleansers, conditioners and preservatives found in mainstream products. These companies assert "70% organic ingredients" on their labels and advertising to mislead consumers into thinking that they are buying mostly organic products when they assuredly are not. Back to Top

Similar to an infusion or tea, which is made by boiling botanical material in water, floral waters are made by steaming plants, and then cooling the steam back to water. Products made with infusions or teas cannot count the water in such teas or infusions as organic in calculating organic content under NOP food standards. However, it has become distressingly common practice to use "Steam Tea" as the main "organic" ingredient in many personal care products by misleadingly counting the ordinary water in such "Steam Teas" as organic.

The fraudulent practice of counting such water as "organic" in some major companies' body care products has been getting a lot of attention in mainstream press, from The New York Times and Los Angeles Times to Consumer Reports. The OCA has demanded that organic body care standards should mirror the standards for organic food products. This means that:

  1. Certified organic agricultural feed-stocks are utilized exclusively, versus petroleum or conventional vegetable feed-stocks, in the manufacture of the key basic cleansing and conditioning ingredients.
  2. Manufacture of such ingredients is reasonably simple and ecological.
  3. The toxicity of each ingredient is minimal.
  4. Non-agricultural water is not counted in any shape or form as contributing to organic content.


The OCA is a grassroots nonprofit organization concerned with food safety, organic farming, sustainable agriculture, fair trade and genetic engineering.

Telephone: 218-226-4164 o Fax: 218-353-7652o email: info@organicconsumers.org

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www.Health-report.co.uk comment:

Well here we go again. Vested interests will stop at nothing if they think they can make a fast buck or two. Seems everyone wants to get onto the "organic" and "natural" bandwagon even though their products are far from being anything like natural. Still full of synthetic chemicals and preservatives and they have the hide to call them natural!

The only way to actually know you are getting true organic body care products and cosmetics is to check to see if the product is CERTIFIED ORGANIC by the governing body in the country of origin.

There is an Australian company which does supply Certified Organic Products which will be available in the US from the end of Sept 2003 and in the UK from 2004. Contact us at the health report if you want more information about safe products. We can't guarantee 100% "natural" products in your country but we can recommend some responsible manufacturers in some countries. Back to Top



Today's Fruits and Vegetables Lack Yesterday's Nutrition  Back to Top

Courtesy of: The Globe & Mail - Andre Picard Reporting

Fruits and vegetables sold in Canadian supermarkets today contain far fewer nutrients than they did 50 years ago, according to an analysis conducted by The Globe and Mail and CTV News.

Take the potato, by far the most consumed food in Canada. The average spud has lost 100 per cent of its vitamin A, which is important for good eyesight; 57 per cent of its vitamin C and iron, a key component of healthy blood; and 28 per cent of its calcium, essential for building healthy bones and teeth. It also lost 50 per cent of its riboflavin and 18 per cent of its thiamine. Of the seven key nutrients measured, only niacin levels have increased.  Back to Top

The story is similar for 25 fruits and vegetables that were analyzed. But Health Canada refused to comment on the findings, saying the debate was an academic one. The academics, for their part, are intrigued, but not alarmed. Modern farming methods, long-haul transportation and crop-breeding practices are all believed to be contributing to the drop in vitamins and minerals.

Phil Warman, an agronomist and professor of agricultural sciences at Nova Scotia Agricultural College, said there is no doubt the nutritional content of food is different today, due to the emphasis on producing cheap food."The emphasis is on appearance, storability and transportability, and there has been much less emphasis on the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables," he said.

Dr. Warman said crops are bred to produce higher yields, to be resistant to disease and to produce more visually attractive fruits and vegetables, but little or no emphasis is placed on their vitamin or mineral content. While there is little evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that the changes are resulting in major nutritional deficiencies in the general population, Dr. Warman emphasized that consumers should care about the issue because it is the nutrients, not the appearance, that give food value. Back to Top

"I care because I want to eat a product that is as high in nutritional value as possible. Otherwise, I would eat sawdust with nitrogen fertilizer," he said.

Tim Lang, a professor at the Centre for Food Policy in London, England, agreed. "It's an issue of consumer rights," he said. "We think of an orange as a constant, but the reality is it isn't."

In fact, you would have to eat eight oranges today to get the same amount of vitamin A your grandparents got from a single orange. And you would need to eat five to get the same level of iron. However, the amount of vitamin C has increased slightly. Back to Top

Dr. Lang said declining nutrient levels may prove to be a health issue because we are only beginning to understand how important micronutrients are to disease prevention. "The argument that it doesn't matter because we over consume is complacent. . . . Nutrient density might also be important."

Alison Stephen, director of research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, said the biggest nutritional problem is that most Canadians do not eat anywhere near the recommended five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

But she is not unduly worried about today's consumers failing to get their required vitamins and minerals. "A lot of our foods today are fortified — milk, bread, apple juice, cereal," she said. In other words, grains and dairy products are far more important sources of essential nutrients than they were in the past. Back to Top

To conduct the analysis, The Globe and Mail and CTV examined food tables that were prepared by government researchers in 1951, 1972 and 1999, and compared the nutrients available from 100 grams of the given food. The results were almost identical to similar research conducted in the United States and Britain. The U.K. research was published in the British Food Journal, a peer-reviewed, scientific publication, while the U.S. data have been published only in alternative-health journals.

According to the Canadian data, almost 80 per cent of foods tested showed drops in calcium and iron; three-quarters saw drops in vitamin A, and half lost vitamin C and riboflavin; one-third lost thiamine and 12 per cent lost niacin. But some experts said the explanation for the decline might be found in testing and sampling methods. Back to Top

Len Piché, an associate professor of nutrition at Brescia College in London, Ont., questioned the accuracy of the numbers, saying testing methods were not great in 1951, so we may only now be getting a true idea of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables. "Did they really go down, or do we just have better techniques for analyzing those nutrients?" he wondered.

However, Dr. Piché said the issue is one Health Canada should examine. "If there's a problem, I'm confident the government will take it seriously and do the necessary research to address it," he said.

In the analysis, the biggest loser was broccoli, a food that epitomizes the dictates of healthy eating. All seven of its measurable nutrients declined, notably calcium, which fell 63 per cent, and iron, which dropped 34 per cent. Broccoli is often cited as an excellent source of calcium and iron.

Experts Say Nourishment Needs Boost, No Matter How Careful People Are About Their Diets

If the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables is falling -- as research suggests -- it raises the question: Should everyone take nutritional supplements to make up for shortcomings? Back to Top

"Absolutely," said Aileen Burford Mason, a biochemical nutritionist and a Toronto-based nutrition counsellor. "Taking a multivitamin is risk-free and could have tremendous benefit." Dr. Burford Mason stresses that eating well is essential and that supplements are precisely that -- complementing good food choices, not substituting for them.

But, as someone who has spent her career studying the importance of various micronutrients for overall health, she is also adamant that, no matter how careful people are about their diet, they need help from supplements.

"When I hear people say:

'You can get all the nutrients you need from food,' I ask them:

'Where is there a shred of evidence that is true?' They are in denial.

"No matter how well we eat, it's not possible to get adequate nutrition."

While that seems like a radical notion, it has increasing support in the nutrition community. In recent years there has been a raft of evidence about the importance of basic vitamins and minerals for long-term health. It used to be thought that supplements were necessary only to avoid exotic diseases such as scurvy, beriberi and rickets. But today it is believed that common killers such as cardiovascular disease and cancer may have their roots in nutrient deficiencies.

Research into this area began in earnest after it was discovered that a deficiency of a seemingly innocuous nutrient, folic acid (or folate) caused the devastating birth defects spina bifida and anencephaly. A little extra folic acid may also reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer in adults, particularly if they drink alcohol (which robs the body of the nutrient).

Walter Willett, author of the seminal work Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, said the research suggests that taking supplements (in addition to eating well) "could substantially improve our long-term health." Back to Top

Dr. Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the Canada Food Guide should include a recommendation that supplements be included as part of a healthy diet.

He said the five nutrients that people don't get enough of in their diets are folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin D and vitamin E. These can all be found in a standard multivitamin, though he suggests that men and postmenopausal women should take an additional vitamin E supplement.

He calls a daily multivitamin a good, cheap insurance policy.

According to a survey commissioned by the Canadian Health Food Association, however, only 30 per cent of adults take a daily supplement -- even though two-thirds of respondents feel that Canadians, in general, are not receiving enough nutrients in food.

"Probiotics will be to medicine in the 21st century as antibiotics and microbiology were in the 20th century."- Michael McCann, MD

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