Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dr. Oz Scares Parents for No Good Reason

Dr. Oz has given worried parents yet another thing to freak out about. According to a recent episode of his daytime talk show, the apple juice our children have been innocently chugging from sippy cups is contaminated with a really scary poison: arsenic. The show's audience was horrified, angry, and above all, guilty that they had been unknowingly poisoning their children for years. And now everyone's talking about it, causing even reasonable parents to cast a suspicious eye at the jug of apple juice in their own fridge.

But if you take a big step back and evaluate what Dr. Oz actually said, you'll find that this is a completely manufactured panic. I won't go through step-by-step debunking, as many other bloggers have already beaten me to it, explaining it more clearly than I would have been able to. But I will sum up why this arsenic scare is bullshit in the following three points: 1) Dr. Oz made no distinction between organic and inorganic arsenic, the latter of which is far more deadly and less common than the former. 2) The lab Dr. Oz used reported an arsenic level that was much higher than that found by the labs of both the manufacturer and the FDA. Despite the discrepancy, he did not have the same batches of juice re-tested by an independent lab. 3) The FDA practically begged him not to go ahead with his planned show, going so far as to call it "irresponsible and misleading." But Dr. Oz, Brave Maverick Doctor that he is, did it anyway.

Evidence and professional consensus isn't enough to convince Dr. Oz, and it isn't enough to un-scare his audience. The comment threads of articles about his claim are filled with conspiracy theories and paranoia. What is arsenic doing in anything we eat or drink? How can any amount of poison be safe? They conjure up images of the jackbooted FDA thugs, spewing propaganda to the sheeple so they can keep raking in that Big Orchard money while reducing the world's population through a contaminated food supply. They imagine sinister, faceless men in lab coats tipping a bottle marked Arsenic (with a skull and crossbones on the label, for dramatic effect) over an industrial sized vat of processed apple juice, the better to intentionally poison the children of America.

In reality, arsenic is one of the most ubiquitous elements on the planet, meaning it is everywhere. A lot of it comes from the earth's crust and is released through volcanoes and deep water wells. It's also in rocks, dirt, water, wind, and is the byproduct of microbes in soil and sediment. Humans also contribute quite a bit of arsenic to the atmosphere, mainly through mining, metal smelting, burning of fossil fuels, and preservation of timber. It finds its way into the food chain through the soil and water used to grow crops (and orchards). Make no mistake, too much arsenic can definitely kill you, and efforts should be made to keep its presence in our food chain and atmosphere to a minimum. But getting rid of it altogether is impossible. That's why there are limits in place to ensure arsenic stays below acceptable levels. Believe it or not, the FDA (which is composed of real people, all of whom are members of families that contain children, who probably also drink juice) has our back on this one. If any other lab besides the one Dr. Oz used had measured alarmingly high levels of arsenic, they would have been all over it.

The world is full of poisons, both man-made and natural, but freaking out over trace amounts in apple juice is a waste of time and energy. Despite our frantic attempts to keep them safe, our kids are not going to live forever. They are lucky to have been born into a time and place when surviving childhood is taken for granted, and growing old in good health is the norm rather than the exception. They are also profoundly lucky to have fresh, sweet, cold apple juice readily available to nourish them and quench their thirst. Please don't deny them that pleasure based on one TV doctor's attempt to increase ratings. On this subject, as on so many others, Dr. Oz  full of crap.

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