Since I’m fairly new to blogging I thought it’d be a good idea to browse through some other health blogs to see what’s being talked about. It’s really hard to find interesting health blogs that aren’t abandoned, owned by a magazine or run by a newspaper. I want to read things that are unfiltered! That’s hard to do that when you’re writing for a website with a reputation (and editors).
I stumbled upon a really well-written blog post about multivitamins. There are a few points that caught my attention and sparked this post. I must add that the following notions are a commonplace throughout the internet and aren’t specific to the blog post I found. The blogger feels that multivitamins/mineral supplements are necessary because it’s extremely difficult to obtain everything we need through diet. I know I can’t depend solely on diet alone for all my nutrients. It’s far too hard for me to eat the recommended daily servings of each food group.
The following views are ones that are found all over health blogs on the internet. Multivitamins are not all created equal. Synthetic multivitamins do not act the same, or are they absorbed the same as those from natural sources (non-fortified foods from our diets). Almost all synthesized multivitamins are derived from petroleum products and/or coal tar. Coal tar is the liquid sludge byproduct from distilling coal. If you don’t believe it, there’s a little science experiment you can do at home. As long as you have an oven, multivitamins and a baking sheet you’re all set. The experiment works the best if you use a couple different brands of multivitamins. Place a few multivitamins on a baking sheet and bake at 350 °F for 10 minutes. You’ll notice something bizarre happen to the tablets. Once you take them out and let them cool down you’ll most likely notice that some resemble charred pieces of coal with thick black tar seeping from them. This experiment has been referenced in many blogs and natural health news articles all over the web. If you decide not to conduct the experiment, just Google Image the keywords “baked vitamins”.
Our multivitamins we give to ourselves and our children contain coal tar! Well, before you panic, take some time to think about this for a minute. Coal tar contains a mish-mash of many different chemical ingredients. Benzene, naphthalene, phenol, aniline etc… all of these are or can be toxic. I’m very skeptical that companies, our government and regulatory bodies would allow the use of coal tar in oral natural health products (NHP). In fact, Health Canada is in the process of regulating natural products so they can ensure safety, effectiveness and product quality. If a natural product doesn’t have an ‘NPN number’ on the box or bottle, then it is not yet licensed and regulated in Canada. (Eventually, all NHPs will be required to have this number to be sold in Canada).
According to Health Canada’s website concerning natural health products in Canada…
“To get a licence, applicants must give detailed information about the product to Health Canada, including: medicinal ingredients, source, dose, potency, non-medicinal ingredients and recommended use(s).” (Health Canada on the subject of product licensing)
Obtaining a licence for a multivitamin would be pretty difficult if one of your non-medicinal ingredients was coal tar. Just stick it in at the bottom, in really small print, no one will see it there!
You might make the argument that companies who make these supplements might not report the entire product’s details to Health Canada. And you’re right, I have no way of knowing that. However, I’m pretty sure someone’s eventually going to find that out. Some lucky researcher would make the discovery that certain multivitamins contain carcinogenic coal tar. Government notified. Government reviews research. Government and/or consumers sue. Company abolished (in Canada). Well, wait a minute! I think I could consider myself a researcher. Didn’t I just get finished conducting a scientific experiment proving that there’s coal tar in our multivitamins?
Well, there’s a problem. You may have done the experiment and perhaps classified it as science. But you didn’t come close to proving anything substantial. The only thing the experiment demonstrates is when heat is applied to something, depending on the temperature, the physical and/or chemical composition will change. This isn’t anything new. Ever bake a cake? Cake batter is no longer cake batter after you’ve baked it at 350 for 10 minutes. It doesn’t look or even taste the same. Bake a vanilla cake and you’ll notice it turns brown on top. I’ve never heard of someone jumping to the conclusion that the brown color was because I used contaminated ingredients. I’d go through a lot of flour if I decided I would use different types until I found one that didn’t turn my cake brown after being in the oven. It seems just as absurd to me to make the conclusion that the black ooze coming from the multivitamins is coal tar.
After reading about these claims, which I had never heard before, I decided to do some digging. I originally thought that there might be reference to a real laboratory experiment somewhere. I googled every possible key word I could think of that would bring up more info. But, every time I thought I was getting a lead, I’d be linked back to someone’s blog or health site regurgitating the same kitchen experiment. The one thing I kept seeing was the association between vitamin B1 and coal tar. Here is an excerpt from a blog post I found:
“Starting materials for strictly synthetic supplements can be anything from coal tar to petroleum to acetylene gas. These supplements are made in facilities via chemical manipulations with the goal of duplicating the structure of the isolated vitamin. Specific formulas for the process aren’t made available to the public (sorry, I tried).
An example is vitamin B1[thiamine]. Coal tar is a widely used foundational substance for this vitamin — typically a crystalline yellow coal tar (yes, this means it’s from coal, a fossil fuel). Hydrochloric acid is often added to allow precipitation. Then fermentation, heating, cooling, and other steps are completed until a final synthetic vitamin is created. It’s then dried and tested for purity before being shipped to distributors.” (excerpt from PrecisionNutrition.com)
Unfortunately, there weren’t any sources referenced at the end of his post. Another dead end. I’m still unable to prove that coal tar exists in multivitamins or vitamin b1. However, I did have a promising lead with Google keywords ‘thiamine’ and ‘coal tar’. This directed me to www.drheise.com/bvitamin.htm . Right away I noticed a lot of superscripts and a large ‘References’ section at the end of his article. Excellent. Sifting through some of the info I find this:
“Synthetically thiamin is usually marketed as thiamin[vitamin b1] hydrochloride or thiamin mononitrate6 and is a made from Grewe diamine (a coal tar derivative7) processed with ammonia and other chemicals.8 “
He uses superscripts to indicate studies 6, 7, and 8:
6 Cohen B, Thiel RJ. What to do about borderline elevated TSH levels? Presentation at the Down Syndrome Medical Interest Group, San Diego, July 8, 2001
7 Thiel RJ, Fowkes SW. Down syndrome and epilepsy: A nutritional connection? Accepted for review, Medical Hypotheses, December 2002
8 Baer MT, Waldron J, Gumm H, Van Dyke DC, Chang H. Nutrition assessment of the child with Down syndrome. In Clinical Perspectives in the Management of Down Syndrome. Springer-Verlag, NY, 1990:107-125
All 3 sources are papers written about Down’s Syndrome. Not chemistry. Not multivitamins or coal tar. I couldn’t access the original articles because I don’t have a subscription to a publisher like Elsevier. I can only imagine that they would contain very brief and limited statements about vitamins. Not to mention that number 6 is a ‘presentation’, 7 is from a journal called Medical Hypotheses and 8 is a ‘clinical perspective’. Medical Hypotheses was the only journal that was formally mentioned. The name itself sounded a bit untrustworthy. On the journals website it describes what Medical Hypotheses is all about.
“Medical Hypotheses is a forum for ideas in medicine and related biomedical sciences. It will publish interesting and important theoretical papers that foster the diversity and debate upon which the scientific process thrives…”
“…and still exists today, to give novel, radical new ideas and speculations in medicine open-minded consideration, opening the field to radical hypotheses which would be rejected by most conventional journals.”
The journal is all about generating creative ideas and speculations. It doesn’t use real scientific methods to study aspects of medicine and biomedical science. Anyone with an imagination and some decent writing skills could probably land an article in Medical Hypotheses. In fact, Medical Hypotheses got in a bit of hot water with it’s publisher Elsevier over an article they published. The article said, HIV does not cause AIDS and that the current statistical data does not support existence of an AIDS epidemic in South Africa. (Read the full story here). That’s like saying the earth is flat and revolves around the moon.
My search for answers stops there. I don’t buy the coal tar theory. There’s no evidence I’m aware of that proves scientifically that the black ooze is petroleum byproduct. And no, commentary, opinions and speculations do not count as evidence. That’s called hearsay. I can’t even find concrete evidence that artificial synthesis of vitamins started from petroleum or coal tar sources. And even if chemists used it as a starting compound, that doesn’t at all mean that coal tar would be in the final product. Sodium(Na+) reacted with Chlorine(Cl¯) is table salt (NaCl). Ingesting pure chlorine would kill someone. But everyone is able to consume table salt.
Although I do not disagree that not all multivitamins are alike. The main differences that I would base my multivitamin selection on would be: varying milligram strengths, cost and absorption ability. Not how much tar content, saw dust or any of the other silly things I’ve read to be included in multivitamins. I can only speak about Canadian regulations. Maybe other countries manufacturing procedures are so lax as to allow harmful ingredients in their consumer products. If so, I’m even more happy to be living in Canada.