Presents are fun. They’re especially fun when they’re unexpected, and something you love, but nobody really knew. After helping out at a local music festival, the organizer lavishly gifted me a basket filled with treats from one of my favorite foodie stops. Inside were energy bars, bags of ‘healthy’ snacks, trail mix, cards for 5 free smoothies, and even ‘natural’ lip balm. It was all wonderful, and as I munched on my air-popped snacks that must be good for me, I inspected my new, and scrumptious-looking lip balm. There were 2 of them, each a different, exotic flavor, and both claiming to be ‘natural’.
In a culture thriving on food trends, the word ‘natural’ has risen to the top, evoking such images as brightly colored fruits, leafy greens, country living, pharmaceutical avoidance and a healthier way to live. Terms that have accompanied this utopian world include: clean, organic, therapeutic, and safe. This sounds great!
However, not all ‘natural’ substances are safe, or clean, or therapeutic. Consider the heart medication ‘Digoxin’. It is comes from the lovely flower called ‘foxglove’ which is in many gardens around the world. Yet, it contains a powerful and toxic, cardiac glycoside, What this means, is a chemical from a flower, toxic enough to induce death, is being used every day, at the right dosage, to save the lives of heart patients.
Let’s go one step further and consider the most potent toxin known to mankind. Clostridium Botulinim, commonly known as ‘botulism’ is a ‘natural’ bacteria, commonly found in soil. In spite of its toxicity and negative associations, it is also used medicinally, therapeutically and cosmetically for conditions like spasms, eye twitching, chronic migraines and reducing wrinkles, the latter condition even earning the commonly known, Hollywood-trending name ‘Botox’.
Botulism might be an extreme example of a ‘natural’ substance, so let’s go back to the lip balm in the gift pack. The ingredients list was lovely, including items like sunflower seed oil, synthetic beeswax, coconut oil, 6 other items, and last but not least, BHT. First, it’s interesting to note that the ‘natural’ lip balm has synthetic beeswax. If you don’t know what synthetic beeswax is, join the club! According to Koster Keunen, the world’s leader in refining and processing waxes, synthetic beeswax “ is achieved by blending a mixture of fatty acid esters, fatty acids, and alcohols from a non-animal raw material source to very closely meet the chemical composition of natural beeswax.” Interesting.
If synthetic beeswax is interesting, then BHT should capture your interest even more. BHT is a lab-made chemical (that means it’s synthetic) added to foods and cosmetics as an antioxidant preservative. Some countries have banned its use. Overall, studies have shown both positive and negative effects of the chemical, and when used in controlled dosage, is effective for its intended use.
Confusion abounds not only for the consumer, wanting to make wise choices. Even the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) has a difficult time maneuvering around the ‘natural’ term. Currently, they offer no definition of the term ‘natural’ on a label, suggesting it simply be used on a product that contains no added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.
Ambiguity opens wide the door for companies to market their ‘natural’ products, when the ingredients used may actually be synthetic. What options are we left with? Is the public in danger? Are we doomed to be plagued with cancers, skin conditions, and unknown diseases because we have no control over what we eat, and put on and in our bodies? On the contrary, we have the great luxury and privilege of living in a world with fantastic technology. Maybe the beeswax didn’t come from a hive, and a synthetic preservative is present when moisturizing my lips on a sunny day. I’m grateful that my grandpa, and perhaps yours, was able to live well into his nineties because of a heart medication that came from a toxic, natural flower. Product research and testing today are held at an all-time high, with the results being public and accountable like never before in history.
Sipping a fresh smoothie, applying a lip balm that smells good enough to eat, and savoring the time you have with a loved one are some of the naturally good things I've chosen to include in my life. Enjoy gifts, take your medication (if necessary), and cherry on!