Each day, we eat foods, drink sodas, and use soaps, shampoos, and lotions that contain thousands of additives and chemicals. But did you know that many of these chemicals have made it into our homes without any review whatsoever?
According to a recent investigation, 275 of the chemicals found in our food have never been reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is because of a loophole introduced in 1958 that allows companies to use chemicals that are “generally recognized as safe.” But while many are harmless, the FDA’s own investigations have found that at least some of these untested additives are linked to reproductive and developmental problems.
Thankfully, this is about to change, and the FDA is slated to receive vital data from the food and grocery industry about what chemicals are used in food, beauty products, and other applications. This will give us unprecedented clarity on just what we are eating and using on a daily basis.
Here are just nine of the chemicals that are in the products we use on a daily basis. Don’t worry — these may be getting a second look in the near future.
Carrageenan is a product that comes from red seaweed. It’s used to thicken and emulsify all kinds of products, including toothpaste.
Where Else It’s Found: Carrageenan is used to thicken processed dairy, meats, shampoo, soymilk, diet soda, organic foods, vegetarian hot dogs, and beer. It’s also in the foam we use to put out fires.
Why It Might Be Harmful: Recent research in mice has linked it to gastrointestinal disorders like Crohn’s disease. The European Union has banned its use in infant formula, but does allow it in other foods. The FDA also has concerns about unwanted, dose-dependent side effects, but its use continues on.
Iron is an essential nutrient that’s necessary for healthy red blood cells. It’s found in meat and vegetables.
Where Else It’s Found: Dietary iron is commonly added to cereals and “enriched” flour. It’s also added to other foods under the names sodium ferricitropyrophosphate, iron napthenate, iron peptonate, and sodium ferricitropyrophosphate.
Why It Might Be Harmful: Too much of this good thing can cause serious health problems, including organ damage and cancer. Some research links high levels of iron to diabetes. The FDA cited dietary iron (added in the form of microscopic metal shards) in the 1970s and 1980s because there was no scientific evidence for their long-term safety, but there’s been no change in their usage since then.
Benzene is a carcinogen known to cause cancer. The most prevalent source of inhaled benzene comes from cigarette smoke. If you’re a smoker, you typically inhale about 10 times more benzene a day than a non-smoker.
Where Else It’s Found: Benzene can be found in some sodas. It’s created when sodium benzoate mixes with vitamin C. Most soft drinks manufacturers have phased out its use, but Coke Zero contains it in the form of potassium benzoate. It’s also found in car exhaust, glues, paints, furniture wax, and detergents.
Why It Might Be Harmful: The World Health Organization considers benzene exposure to be a major public health concern. Long-term exposure is known to cause cancer, leukemia, myeloma, and a host of other diseases that affect the liver, kidneys, lungs, heart, brain, and bone marrow.
Caffeine is the most common stimulant in the world. It’s a natural ingredient of coffee and tea.
Where Else It’s Found: Caffeine is added to soft drinks, energy drinks, gum, and even jellybeans. It also comes in pill and powdered form.
Why It Might Be Harmful: While caffeine found naturally in foods is generally considered safe in moderation, the FDA doesn’t consider caffeine to be safe as a food additive. The long-term effects of consistent use are becoming clear: the stimulant raises blood pressure and can cause heart arrhythmia and seizures in susceptible people.
Theobromine comes from the cocoa bean and is found in chocolate. It acts as a weaker form of caffeine.
Where Else It’s Found: It is added to soft drinks, chewing gum, soy milk, candy, and more.
Why It Might Be Harmful: While low levels of theobromine are safe, the FDA has raised concerns because people consume more than five times the amount that’s been tested for. Theobromine poisoning is of particular concern for the elderly. Symptoms include sweating, nausea, trembling, severe headache, and anorexia, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
EGCG, or epigallocatechin-3-gallate, is found in green, white, and black tea. Some believe its antioxidants can ward off cancer.
Where Else It’s Found: It’s added to sports drinks and juices. It’s also sold in supplement form.
Why It Might Be Harmful: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there is evidence that EGCG can cause leukemia in fetuses. Some studies on animals showed damaging effects of EGCG on the gastrointestinal tract, thyroid, testis, spleen, pituitary, and liver.
GABA is produced naturally in the brain and helps neurons communicate with one another. Synthetic GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is marketed as an ingredient of many anti-wrinkle face and eye creams. Manufacturers claim that it relaxes muscles and smoothens out face lines without side effects.
Where Else It’s Found: Synthetic GABA is also marketed for its “brain boosting” abilities, and is an ingredient in some sodas, teas, candies, and gums.
Why It Might Be Harmful: Like caffeine, the FDA had concerns over its expanding use, as there has been no comprehensive research on its effects and safe dosage. The NYU Langone Medical Center also states that GABA’s brain boosting capabilities aren’t replicated when it is ingested orally.
Parabens are one of the most common substances in cosmetics, including makeup. They’re used as preservatives to prevent any fungal or bacterial growth.
Where Else They’re Found: They are used as a preservative in shampoos, moisturizers, and toothpaste.
Why It Might Be Harmful: Concerns were raised after studies found parabens present in breast tumors. In the body, it can mimic estrogen, which helps fuel some cancer cells. Still, the American Cancer Society says there’s no evidence to say parabens cause cancer.
Germ-killing products often contain antibiotics, similar to the ones your doctor would give you for an infection. One of the most common antibacterial products you’ll come across is antibacterial soap.
Where Else They’re Found: There are many body washes and cosmetic products that market themselves for their antibacterial qualities.
Why It Might Be Harmful: The FDA is currently reviewing the safety of antibacterial soaps. Because they claim to kill most, but not all, germs, there is some risk of certain bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics, i.e. “super bugs.” Antibacterial soaps also contain untested chemicals, such as triclosan.