This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bad Science -- Toxic Salt

The great promise of the Internet is that it allows everyone to share their opinions with the public. The curse of the Internet is that it allows everyone to share their opinions with the public. I occasionally run into web-based articles discussing some aspect of science written by people who obviously don’t know the first thing about the subject. Recently, I found myself greatly amused by the following article on table salt. Excessive salt intake is apparently bad for your health – not because it increases your blood pressure, but because refined salt contains dangerous chemicals the industry doesn’t want you to know about. Here’s a typical quote:

“One or two servings of refined salt won`t send you to the grave. But continued almost daily use will avail you to the perils of aluminum toxicity.”

Aluminum toxicity?

The author’s suggestion: Use only “organic” salt. An amusing oxymoron, to say the least. There are many more such pearls of wisdom within this article. For example, he seems to have a fear of NaF, which he describes as “a synthetic, poisonous fluoride.” Unless I’m misreading it’s LD50, the amount of NaF you’d have to ingest for it to be toxic would probably cause your heart to explode due to a super elevated blood pressure brought on by all that sodium.

I’m sure the author means well, but this article could be the poster child for why chemistry should be a required course in high school.


Chemgeek said...

Don't you know about the conspiracy?

Come on man. It's the 'conspiracy!'

You must be in the pocket of the salt cartel or something.


Organic salt. That's a good one.

James said...

Refined salt, stripped of its natural mineral structure, is virtually all sodium. As a matter of fact, it is 97% to 99% sodium!Aaaaaaaahhhh. That makes me want to beat some people over the head with some stoichiometry.

Ψ*Ψ said...

I don't know whether to cry or to go out and start beating people with science.

Katie Collette said...

I am so with you on this one. The health hazards that await us with the use of regular cooking ingredients, or deodorant, or fluoridated toothpaste, etc. are my biggest pet peeves. People! Don't believe everything you read on the internet! (Unless Chemist Ken posted it.)

Chemist Ken said...

I don't necessarily think you should believe what Chemist Ken says either. ;)

El Joaco said...

It is tremendously frustrating to see how many people think in this way about science. Just watch any late night infomercial! they are selling plain ignorance. Are they aware of it? Are they ignorants themselves? I've actually listened the phrase "it contains no chemicals at all!"
Science should be compulsory at every high school. It is in Mexico but apparently the results aren't that much better either. Too much focus on electron configuration and atomic models, there should be courses of science in society or something of the sort. Just my 2cents

Unknown said...

Great article. I'm proofing some hideous document on "food additives" -- and I am certain these people have never picked up a book -- on anything-- in their entire lives.

Mary said...

Well I know what you mean about some of the pseudoscience out there and the suggestion that refined salt is 99% sodium whilst sea salt is only 50% is a major error.
But as a physics graduate rather than a chemist I wonder if you could just clarify a couple of things for me.
Firstly is aluminium not toxic to the human body? Perhaps that is a question for a biologist really!
Secondly is the LD50 not a measure of the amount of a substance that would be fatal to half a population taking it rather than giving any information about what quantity of it may have detrimental effects on overall health?
As for the question of 'organic' salt certification the author does point out that it has a different meaning in this case but that a certification process exists. The use of the word 'organic' in food terms in general strays from the usual chemical meaning as all foodstuffs are chemically organic rather than inorganic.
If you are going to debunk bad science - which I think is a great thing to do, it would be good if you did it with facts and evidence rather than snide comments and irrelevant measurements.