Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent
header_02 home about login header_06
sidebar-top content-top

Sometimes rules were made to be broken

G'day. This is Roslyn Ross's first contribution to Webdiary. An old-fashioned yet ever-timely tribute to common sense, it comes as a coincidence in my own life as I have just recently had a re-look at Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the seminal work in the popular appreciation of toxins in food. Thankyou Roslyn, and I hope we see more from you.

by Roslyn Ross

Sometimes rules were made to be broken

There’s an old saying that rules were made to be broken. As a general rule I wouldn’t agree but there are exceptions to every rule and when it comes to all the shoulds and shouldn’ts which litter our lives as to what is good for us and what isn’t, there’s more than one ‘rule’ which deserves to be broken.

In the seventies it was decided that dummies were bad for babies and now, in 2006, they are said to be good because they seem to protect babies from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Then again, you didn’t hear much about SIDS in the dummy-era. And in the seventies the advice was that babies should sleep on their stomachs because that way they would develop strong necks, and, should they vomit, they would not choke. In this day and age putting a baby on its stomach to sleep is a real no-no. It is said to predispose them to SIDS.

Honey is bad for them too it seems because it can grow botulism spores which can lead to transient paralysis. We can only look back in horror at the decades where just about every baby had a dummy and it was as often as not dipped in honey. There was also a time when people didn’t worry about a bit of dirt. And then came anti-bacterials and we ratcheted up the chemical intake of our kids by washing everything they were likely to suck. In recent years our erstwhile scientists have decided that a bit of dirt is a good thing because it kickstarts the immune system and makes it stronger. The Americans have even gone so far as to develop ‘dirt’ pills.

There was a time when pregnant women could eat processed meats and Italian women still do of course. There was a time when pregnant women could eat soft cheeses... and French women still do. But the French have a way of cocking their berets at things. Take the French Paradox for instance which drives Americans in particular crazy. How, they ask, can the French do all that ‘bad stuff’ and get away with it?

The French traditionally have eaten three times as much saturated fat as Americans and only a third as many die of heart attacks. I happen to think the difference is that the French actually enjoy their food and eat less processed food. At least they have in the past. That too is changing and so the French Paradox may be a paradox no longer.

And the French smoke as well to add insult to injury. But then tobacco, which is a plant, and also a herb, at one time was considered to be good for asthmatics and prescribed as such. The problem these days is more likely to be the chemicals used in the manufacturing process rather than the plant itself. Nicotine has also been found to be useful in the treatment of intestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease because it has a calming effect. This explains why soldiers in war and people who work in crisis environments tend to smoke. In years to come we may see doctors prescribing cigarettes made from organically grown tobacco.

How times change and how they change back again.

I remember when butter which came from cows was said to be bad for us and margarine which was concocted in a laboratory was better. Not any more. I remember when egg yolks were said to be bad for us and we were told to eat only the whites because the fats in the yolk were full of nasty things like cholesterol. A bit more research and they discovered that there was something in the white which enabled the body to process those ‘bad’ fats and that if you ate the whole egg, as Mother Nature in her wisdom pretty much intended, it was absolutely fine and extremely good for you.

And then there was bran and then there wasn’t bran; there was tofu and now it looks like there isn’t tofu; there was soy milk and now we’re not sure about that either and there was the Sun, something that has come to be seen as a definite demon in recent decades.

The latest discovery made by scientists, to replace the former ‘discovery’ that sunshine was bad for us, is that sunshine is good for us. And here’s another paradox: while too much sun pre-disposes us to skin cancer it also contains, a bit like the egg, that which we need to combat cancer... Vitamin D.

A controversial report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that patients in the early stages of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are significantly more likely to survive if they've had a history of sun worshipping.

Another study found that prolonged UV exposure was associated with a lower risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. The authors of both studies think that vitamin D may be the key to the benefits of sun exposure since it has a role in regulating cell growth, and may be able to inhibit tumour growth.

Several studies observing large groups of people found that those with higher vitamin D levels also had lower rates of cancer. When Vitamin D was measured in blood samples it was shown that the higher it was the healthier people were.

Laboratory studies and tests done on animals also showed that vitamin D stifles abnormal cell growth, enables cells to die when they are meant to and inhibits the formation of blood vessels that feed tumours.

As we age our skin makes less vitamin D which is no doubt one other reason why cancer is more common in the elderly. And people with black skin have higher rates of cancer than those with white skin. The darker the skin the more pigment it contains and this prevents the production of vitamin D.

Other factors which are leading scientists to renew their appreciation of the role that Vitamin D plays in health is the fact that vitamin D is easily trapped in fat and obese people therefore have lower blood levels of this vitamin and higher rates of cancer; diabetics are also more prone to cancer because their damaged kidneys have trouble converting vitamin D into a form the body can use and people who live in northern Europe and north America have higher rates of cancer than those who get more sunshine all year round.

Vitamin D deficiency is also a major factor in osteoporosis, a condition which has become somewhat endemic in recent years and may well be linked to sun avoidance.

While cod liver oil and oily fish are good sources of this valuable vitamin, the sun is our main source of Vitamin D which is why a little bit of ‘slip, slap, slop’ goes a long way. Too much of it and you are in trouble. Common sense would have suggested as much a long time ago and no doubt did to many people but the do-gooders have been hard at work and our children have been wrapped, rubbed and hidden for most of the past two decades.

In the days before sunscreen, when common sense prevailed, many people took their kids to the beach at sunset. When kids played in the sun they wore hats and a reasonable amount of clothing. When they went to school they didn’t cover up. Logic, as well as common sense suggesting that they would be indoors for most of the time and the bit of sun they got walking to and from school, not that they walk anymore, and playing at lunchtime and recess was probably good for them and not likely to do any harm.

Children today are encouraged to see the sun as an enemy to be avoided at all costs, instead of a powerful friend to be treated with respect. Perhaps even worse is the chemical cocktail which is rubbed into children’s skins from babyhood on, and which, evidence is beginning to suggest, may encourage cancer rather than inhibit it.

Chemical sunscreens like methoxycinnamate, padimate-o (even the names sound bad) and physical sunblocks like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, have been found to generate free radicals when exposed to sunlight, which can then attack the nuclei of skin cells and cause mutations. Titanium dioxide for instance is not only used in many skin lotions including sunscreens, but in house paint as well. In 1997 a study done by Oxford University and Montreal University showed that nanoparticles from titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sun screen caused DNA damage. Everything that you put on your skin is absorbed into your body. Sunscreen chemicals have also been found to mimic estrogen when they pass through the skin and this in turn can disrupt the balance of the body’s natural hormones.

Governments around the world have found sunscreen chemicals in bodies of fresh and salt water. These chemicals have also been found in fish and in human breast milk.

A report from the American National Cancer Institute has determined that over four million new chemical compounds were formulated, many of them for cosmetic use - that means shampoo, toothpaste, soap, sunscreens and food as well as makeup - between 1965 and 1982. They have been adding to them ever since at the rate of thousands a week.

One of the most common of these is Sodium Laurel Sulphate. Read the ingredients on your bottle of shampoo or tube of toothpaste and you are likely to find it there. This chemical is a multi-tasker and is used in floor de-waxers, engine degreasers, floor cleaners and was used by the military as a defoliant agent during the Vietnam War.

Why is it used? Because it makes toothpaste foam and shampoo lather. It has been implicated in the formation of cataracts in adults.

For those who use mouthwash you might like to know it contains propylene glycol, something that doubles as an anti-freeze agent for car radiators. But then you aren’t meant to swallow mouthwash so it is probably okay.

Another chemical used in body creams, shampoos, sunscreens, conditioners and deodorants are phthalates, or plastic softeners. This chemical has been detected in the urine of users and is suspected of disrupting the development of the testicles, reducing sperm counts and damaging the liver and kidneys.

It all sounds a bit terrifying but that seems to be the way of the world these days no matter who is doing the telling. You can research anything online and come up with all sorts of information from which to make a balanced decision. Or you can just believe the scientists although, as we can see, they keep changing their minds. You can also believe the doctors although they keep changing their minds too because what they believe comes from scientific research or research prepared by people with vested interests like drug companies.

Or, you can apply a large dose of common sense to anything you are told and take it from there. There’s one question that is always worth asking: Does it make sense? It’s a good question and one which is likely to lead to a reasonable sort of answer.

Does it make sense to worry about the amount of chemicals in our environment? Not unduly, no, at least in terms of the impact it has on you personally because human beings are clearly resilient and adaptable and some people have such strong constitutions it does not matter what they do. But, we should all remain informed and aware about the impact that chemicals are having on our ecology. We may be tough enough to survive anything but it doesn’t mean our planet can and if it doesn’t then ultimately, none of us do, no matter how strong we are.

Does it make sense to make an effort to limit the amount of chemicals to which we are exposed? Probably, depending upon how healthy you are.

Does it make sense to limit the amount of chemicals to which our children are exposed? Absolutely yes because they are still growing and developing and are more vulnerable because of their greater cellular activity.

At the end of the day there will always be someone somewhere telling us what to do. When common sense prevails we will process the information and make up our own minds what is right for us. As a general rule the more natural something is, as in least processed and interfered with, the better it is likely to be for us. That means discreetly applied sunshine is always going to be better than lavishly applied sunscreen.

And, as the French say: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

[ category: ]

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I found the article

Thanks Robyn, I did find the article and replied on that site.

Excellent article by Ross

Roslyn, I'm afraid Ross may be too modest to point you to the article he wrote for us here, so I will - Not another bloody depression self-help guide.

The French et autres choses

Thank you for an interesting article, Roslyn. I have learned to treat all medical breakthroughs with a grain of salt, problematic though that may be for my incipient hypertension. I was interested to hear on ABC radio the other day a scientific researcher saying that realistically he had no idea whether moderate amounts of alcohol were good for you or not. Previous research on the subject was inconclusive or contradictory, and he intimated that people often made claims that were only marginally supported by data, largely because they were seeking ongoing funding.

However, your mention of the contradictory nature of the French reminded me of a story which I would like to share. A distant French relative of mine, a woman in her forties, was so stressed by her father dying of lung cancer that she took up smoking. Vraiment.

The Dutch paradox?

David, thanks for your post. I think along with common sense a sense of humour is vital in surviving this crazy world.

In regard to hypertension, I read today that a Dutch study has found men who regularly consumed cocoa, from Mars and Milky Way bars to full-fat chocolate milk had significantly lower blood pressure than those who did not. I read this story this morning in the Vancouver Sun. Ten grams of dark chocolate a day may reduce the risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by half. It's one of those things where it doesn't matter if it works or not it is fun going along with it. Cocoa beans are rich in flavonol, an anti-oxidant also found in green tea and red wine.

Make mine a double

ABC Radio National's Health Report had a story about alcohol and heart disease a couple of weeks ago. The report notes "It's been widely assumed that a small amount of alcohol each day is good for your heart and helps to explain why, say, the French have less heart disease than us despite their diet. Well, a leading public health researcher has recanted and reckons a re-think is in order. It's probably only relatively heavy drinking that has the benefit for the heart he says, and then the costs are too great to make it worth trying." So which is more important to you - your heart or your liver?

A wonderful book about food fashions and myths is The Man Who Ate Everything, a collection of essays by Vogue Magazine food critic Jeffrey Steingarten. "Why Aren't the French Dropping Like Flies?" deals with the paradox of the French diet. "Salad, the Silent Killer" takes stock of the toxins in raw veggies. A votre santé.

Perspective matters

Good article, Roslyn! Perspective also helps. Many years ago now (way back in the last millennium) I was working at university and had the occasion to buy a bucket of steaming hot, deep fried chips on a cold winter’s day. As I was anointing them with lashing of lovely salt the lady next to me chastised me by telling me how bad that was for my health. I replied that as I was currently working on a research project that involved making several carcinogenic and toxic chemicals in copious quantities, that my meal was the least of my worries!

I survived the chemicals, but I now have a low salt diet also!

On a similar note I have always found "chemophobia" to be a difficult phobia to counter. Even natural ingredients are made up of "chemicals", there is nothing sacred about natural being "naturally" better, nor is there a hard rule that "artificial" or "man-made" is worse for you. Penicillin is now an "artificial" chemical, far more sophisticated and efficacious than the original version, which when produced "naturally" was difficult to extract and produce in sufficient volume to save as many lives as it has.

Finally, the following website is an old favourite of mine.

It's all about perspective, really.


Roslyn's article.

I found the article controversial especially the statement that: "when commonsense prevails we will process the information and make up our own minds what is right for us."

Since when does commonsense prevail as far as humans are concerned? 6,000 years of violent history clearly shows little commonsense either individually or collectively.

The capitalist system would collapse if commonsense prevailed (after all, who really needs a phone that can take pictures?). The Labor Party would reform itself and the public would see through the scare-mongering Howard if commonsense prevailed!

Pass the grass!

Great article, Roslyn

Hey Roslyn, I really enjoyed reading what you have written. I often have discussions on this issue (frequently with myself) as the reversing of previous "critical advice" is just too funny sometimes. Serious but funny. One thing I would say on the serious side is that perhaps the continual changing of scientific opinion does affect a lot of people who become confused as a result of the conflicting advice. Is this issue a small cause of anxiety and stress? I believe so, as people come to not trust any opinion after enough of these reversals.

I can see you have done a lot of work across a number of issues to pull this together and I appreciate it as you have expressed a long term issue I think about almost daily.

Your conclusion that common sense is the way to deal with is indeed a quality lacking in many today and to apply that question "does it make sense?" is the best tool for filtering information and should be used far more often by our governments where the opposite usually applies.

Your mention of anti-freeze sparks humour for me as my immediate thought was "How long before we are drinking anti freeze to reduce the energy used on heating"? Silly, but nothing is silly if you have a group of scientists with studies to back them up, is there?

You mentioned the changing of scientific opinion over time which also strikes a chord as we are all aware that anything can be proven if you define the actual test to get the result you want.

As an example, I googled the words "Smoking Alzheimer's" and got many links, two of which are on the first page, apparently with totally opposite results.

This link asserts that Alzheimer's is associated with non smoking, while this link asserts that smoking doubles the risk.

I can't work out which to believe but it really doesn't matter as my own Alzheimer's is on its way I'm sure!

Again, well written and researched and please write more.

I read your post

Ross, I found you on the Spoiled Ink Site (new one to me but I liked it) and read your post and have replied there as probably not appropriate here.

It does increase stress

Thanks, Ross, for your post. I agree with you in terms of the stress involved in for people who are trying to 'do the right thing' and then finding that the right thing is now the wrong thing and the wrong thing is now the right thing or maybe we're not sure if it is right or wrong... but you know what I mean.

I think the same thing applies to the barrage of medical testing which people are pushed into these days. A friend said to me years ago that she had given them all up because she got so stressed when she went and while she waited for results that she figured the stress was doing her more harm than she would face not doing the tests. Fair enough. Common sense.

I think it is about deciding what is right for you. We are all different and what works for one does not work for another. Thanks for the smoking link. All grist for the mill.

And then there are  all those people agonising over their high cholesterol when there are studies  which show that low cholesterol predisposes people to depression and perhaps suicide.

The world is an amazing place.


Hey Roslyn, thanks for that link re depression. If only they could prove and resolve something!

You probably have seen my ramblings on depression and are aware I've been one of "them" for most of my life. Funnily enough I've always had low cholesterol and, despite many years of self abuse in a range of areas including weight, this does not vary.

In my case I know where and when my depression started but maybe the cholesterol issue is part of my inability to recover fully or quickly.

I wonder how my situation would affect such a study? I note the article mentions rage/anger and that is certainly a big part of my depression.

The world is an amazing place and we all continue to live and learn (well, most of us anyway).

One of the things people should note is that all these "breakthroughs" that populate news programmes today seem to be mentioned once and then disappear from sight. How many of these wonders actually come to fruition?

My brother, a biochemist for many years, pointed out to me the way to tell the difference in these news snippets. Usually at the end the reporter will say when it will happen. When they say in about 5 years the reality is it's in never never land. I hadn't noticed that until he pointed it out to me. He also voiced his opinion that these vague wonders are usually set up to gain funding for projects that may otherwise wither and die. I think he's right.


Ross, no, I haven't seen your writings on depression but I do know the places of which you speak. I think that in terms of emotional and psychological wellbeing, as with most things, there are a variety of factors at work. The reality is that some people are physically, emotionally or psychologically more resilient than others and the trick is to know yourself and to work with and manage being you accordingly. This requires, of course, learning to like yourself and love even the bits you would prefer not to be.

There is an excellent book called The Highly Sensitive Person, which I found extremely useful in terms of understanding me and my reactions to the world. In essence the message was, being you is okay, in fact it's damn fine. It only seems strange because 80 percent of people in the world are not like you or me.

I think the difficulties involved for anyone who is by nature inclined to be anxious or melancholic, or whatever word one wishes to use, is that we make comparisons with others and feel even worse as a result. Anyway, it's an interesting book and a valuable perspective for anyone on The Path.

The fact is, once we accept who we are and see it as a positive, not a negative, and learn to use the gifts which always reside within the 'curse', my experience has been that anxieties fade and depression lifts. Much of the fear and the gloom exist because we tell ourselves and society tells us that who we are and how we are is wrong.

As one other poster said, it's all perspective. We see what we expect to see, are told to see, or trained to see. Change the perspective and everything else changes as well.

Don't get me started on coffee!

I just keep drinking it. Every week, it seems there's another study showing caffeine is good or bad for you, depending on the week. I don't care.

If coffee is taking years off my life, those would not have been years worth living if they had to be without coffee. Whatever happened to oat bran?

Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow.......

Will, as someone once told me: if you give up drinking (include coffee), smoking or whatever your favourite poison is then you may not necessarily live longer but it will seem a hell of a lot longer.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
© 2005-2011, Webdiary Pty Ltd
Disclaimer: This site is home to many debates, and the views expressed on this site are not necessarily those of the site editors.
Contributors submit comments on their own responsibility: if you believe that a comment is incorrect or offensive in any way,
please submit a comment to that effect and we will make corrections or deletions as necessary.
Margo Kingston Photo © Elaine Campaner

Recent Comments

David Roffey: {whimper} in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 13 hours ago
Jenny Hume: So long mate in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 1 day ago
Fiona Reynolds: Reds (under beds?) in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Justin Obodie: Why not, with a bang? in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Dear Albatross in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Michael Talbot-Wilson: Good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 3 days ago
Fiona Reynolds: Goodnight and good luck in Not with a bang ... 13 weeks 4 days ago
Margo Kingston: bye, babe in Not with a bang ... 14 weeks 1 day ago