“Oh Those Evil Chemicals”: Really, again?

I have extremely mixed feelings about Living with Cancer. From a technical perspective, it was pretty good. It handled cancer tastefully. It told touching stories. It used music to set mood and transition between segments. And the use of comedy in the last act was very good as a finisher. It was touching, yet angry and funny all at once. It left me feeling better as a viewer, yet at the same time the segment honest. I cannot entirely say the same about the rest of the piece. Why? It does “evil chemicals” dance.

This is Western Water Hemlock. It is natural, but it is also the most toxic plant in the united states. It will kill you if you eat it. It will probably hurt. Horribly.

The word “chemical” is repeatedly said in a fearful way implying that the only things that cause cancer are unnatural things made in labs by evil scientists. Yet dietary supplements and “natural” cures may fall under the common definition of chemical (“a compound or substance that has been purified or prepared, especially artificially” -Oxford English Dictionary). But  “natural” is always good and helpful, right?  Because the big PharmaCos are always using their big money in congress trying to keep it down? Breaking news: “Natural” supplement makers are a business worth billions of dollars. They lobby congress and use legal loopholes to avoid prosecution and keep their products on the market. They can be just as unethical as pharmaceutical companies, if not more so.  There is no guarantee that just because something came from  a plant it will not hurt you. Poison Ivy is one great example. Hemlock is another. For a less straw-man example, sassafras oils and teas are suspected to be carcinogenic due to their safriole, a compount present in both the bark and the root of the plant. Although the initial studies on this used rodent models, there is strong evidence that the same compound is responsible for oral cancer in regions that use Betel Nut, another “natural” product rich in safriole. And despite this, Sassafras it is still available in US health food stores as an oil and a tea. The piece mentioned that carcinogenic chemicals may still remain on the market because of settlements. Saying that something is “natural” or “used for centuries” to indicate that it’s healthy while vaguely alluding to possible health risks is another form of the same issue: making information hard to notice (in this case, behind marketing buzz) so that nobody knows about the health risks. And it is evil.

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