Dr. Perrone: The dose makes the poison
Too much of anything is rarely good for our health. As we recently learned from an Arkansas man's scary experience, drinking a gallon of iced tea every day could cause kidney failure. Even water can be deadly—drinking too much, too fast can lead to a dangerous condition known as water intoxication.
The small risk of health issues from drinking way too much tea or water shouldn't stop us from hydrating. But we're constantly being bombarded with "new research" linking certain foods, ingredients, or chemicals to health problems—without a proper explanation of how much you'd have to consume before any elevated health risks.
Consider the recent headlines about a California lawsuit alleging "extremely high levels" of arsenic in popular wines. When you delve into the actual allegations, the lawsuit's plaintiffs are only claiming that the wine they've tested has levels of arsenic above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard for arsenic in drinking water—not exactly an apples to apples comparison.
The EPA's drinking water standard for arsenic takes into account that Americans consume much, much more drinking water on a daily basis than wine. And the agency also considers that it's not just adults consuming drinking water; the levels have to be safe for children, who are more sensitive to arsenic's effects.
When the levels of arsenic found in wine are compared to other regions' arsenic in wine standards (the U.S. has no specific standard for arsenic in wine), all the wines tested were well below the maximum limits. Among the wines included in the lawsuit, the maximum amount of arsenic detected was 50 parts per billion—well below the European Union's 100 parts per billion standard.
A similar spate of media attention surrounded a recent study claiming "half of Americans at risk of carcinogen exposure from soda."
Researchers with Johns Hopkins University School of Public health found that some brands of soda had higher levels of 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a coloring agent in soda and that roughly 44-58 percent of Americans drink at least one soda per day. One study by the National Toxicology Program found that extremely high exposure to 4-MEI could cause cancer in rats.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, you'd have to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda every day before you'd be exposed to levels of 4-MEI linked to tumors in rats. If you're drinking that much soda, you'd develop a host of other health problems before 4-MEI caused cancer.
In gross excess, practically every item in your fridge and pantry could cause health problems. As long as you're consuming reasonable amounts, your favorite food and beverages shouldn't cause you any health-related anxiety.
Dr. Joseph Perrone is the chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, a project of the nonprofit Center for Organizational Research and Education.