The Woo of Toxicity (Plus a Bit about Cancer)

There’s a webcomic almost entirely like any other I follow that deals with topics often encountered by skeptics. Yesterday’s strip was about the Pumpkin Spice Latte and toxins.

He certainly gets nothing wrong, that I can see, but I have a tiny bit to add.

Saying something is “toxic” is almost meaningless, because essentially everything will kill you if you consume enough of it in a short enough period of time – even pure water. Things that are considered poisonous to humans simply harm us faster at lower doses. Even saying something has a certain level of toxicity is probably untrue. A fat person will most like be able to consume more of a “poisonous” substance than a skinny person, simply because the fat person weighs more.

Most importantly, however, is the note that most things considered “toxic” by the alternative medicine crowds are actually completely harmless in the doses that are normally consumed. Sugar can cause health problems if a person consumes too much of it, and having multiple lattes in one sitting (or even one day) is probably more than you really want (this may be hypocritical, as I have a pint of ice cream for dinner sometimes). Everybody knows too much sugar can be bad for a person, though!

Tangentially related note: some members of the alternative medicine crowd think that chemotherapy is bad because it pumps the cancer patient full of poison. This is one of the most dangerous lies, because it actually has a great deal of truth: chemotherapy is pumping poison into the patient. The reason that doctors recommend it is that cancer cells are weaker (in most cases) than the actual human cells. If the cancer cells are not killed or removed, they will destroy the human. So, much like doctors of the past would amputate a gangrenous leg to prevent it from spreading to the rest of the body and killing the person, doctors of today try to amputate the cancer cells, leaving the person alive. Not having had to deal with cancer for all that long, and cancer being what it is, means the process has not yet been perfected – but it does work for many people.

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