What’s the pill you are taking?

I spent many years writing seven editions of A Consumers’ Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients and A Consumers’ Dictionary of Food Additives so that you could understand the long chemical names on the label. At the beginning, many of you didn’t know anything listed with dextrose has sugar or that sodium was the name used for salt. You are more knowledgeable. There are hundreds of ingredients that, if you don’t know what they are, you can look them up in my dictionaries.

Now I discovered an even more confounding problem. The labels on medicines. In the past, when I was young are sharp-sighted and took no regular medications, I didn’t  pay sufficient attention to what was written. If I did have a question, I would just grab a Physician’s Desk Reference and compare the pill to a colored picture of it and find out what it was.

Now, I am older, wear glasses and can’t read the tiny print on the labels. There are millions of us past 40 years who can’t see the fine print and if we can, we may not know what it means.

To make matters worse, our pharmaceutical manufacturers have moved from the United States to far off places such as India and China. Aside from the lack of FDA supervision (that’s another story), the pills are usually orange or pink and round. You used to be able to tell that a small, white triangular pill was to Norvasc®, for example is amlodipine besylate produced by Pfizer and is a triangular white pill.  Daikichi Sankoyuo produces a generic amlodipine beyslate/olmesartan medoxomil,) under the name,Azor®) .It is a round yellow pill that looks like hundreds of other generic medications. And according to druggist with whom I spoke, distributors may hand out different colored generic amlodipine beyslate from more than 50 manufacturers. The colors vary from the original Norvasc® The appearance of a brand-name drug is trademarked. Supposedly, the active ingredients should be identical. Is it?

Pharmacists are required to fill your prescriptions with generics unless your physician writes you must have the name brand. The “no-name” pills may come from one company or another. One brand may have a lot of the active ingredient and the other may have almost none. I swallowed a generic medication made by a large company in India and immediately became ill. When I was switched to another generic of the same medication made by another company, I was fine. Of course, it may have just been a coincidence and it would be hard to prove the first generic was the cause of the upset unless many people who had the same reaction took the time to report it.

Generics are cheaper and that is why the government and the insurance companies are insisting we take them.  But how do we know where the pills were produced? Who was supervising to determine the amount of the medication and the inactive ingredient were in balance? Is anybody from the FDA inspecting the foreign sources of generics? There are reportedly three US agents assigned to Chinese pharmaceutical manufactures who now produce a large percentage of our medications. 

 Pharmacists are required to fill your prescriptions with generics unless your physician writes you must have the name brand. The “no-name” pills may come from one company or another. One brand may have a lot of the active ingredient and the other may have almost none. I swallowed a generic medication made by a large company in India and immediately became ill. 

Generics are cheaper and that is why the government and the insurance companies are insisting we take them.  But how do we know where the pills were produced? Who was supervising to determine the amount of the medication and the inactive ingredient were in balance? Is anybody from the FDA inspecting the foreign sources of generics? There are reportedly three US agents assigned to Chinese pharmaceutical manufactures who now produce a large percentage of our medications.

The Internet has made it possible to allow us to find the trade name of the generic medications we have been given. However, as pointed out, some generic drugs are manufactured by several manufacturers, and pill identification databases may not have images of all the generic versions. One of the best medication identifying sources is : WebMD’S http://www.rxlist.com/script/main/hp.asp. The FDA also provides information many generics but you have to list the trade name of the drug first: .http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm194952.htm



The Internet and TV media are having fun about the “dangers” of the “New Car Smell” which subliminally lures the buyer even of a used car to be more prone to opt for the vehicle. The new car smell, which becomes especially pungent after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates along with many other chemicals volatilizing in the closed environment of the vehicle.

It is not so humorous when you consider the chemicals are inhaled and added to the many toxic volatile chemicals in your environment including your home, your office and your yard. In fact, I wrote a book about it, A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals first published by Crown in 1992 and now available as an updated E-book.

Phthalates, derived from the organic chemical phthalic acid, include a large group of chemicals. World production of phthalates is estimated to be several million tons a year. . Phthalate compounds are used in just about every major product category including cosmetics, construction, automotive, household, apparel, toys packaging and medicinal material. You undoubtedly have phthalates in your body. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected phthalates in the urine of every Americans tested. Minute levels of phthalates used in toys, building materials, drug capsules, cosmetics and perfumes, have been statistically linked to sperm damage in men and genital changes, asthma and allergies in children. .Recent observations indicate some phthalates may be mutagenic, and cancer-causing

In 2004, the European Union banned phthalates in nailpolish. The FDA said in 2004 that phthalates are safe for humans in the amounts to which we are exposed. In 2008, The National Research Council (NRC) launched a project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate the potential health effects of phthlates including accumulative risks

Cynics say there are so many reports of minute amount of toxins and there is really nothing to worry about. It’s the dose that counts. But I always say tell me how much of a carcinogen causes cancer and what is the effect of the chemicals around us, in us and on us?, Here’s a pertinent quote, I believe, from my A Consumer’s Dictionary of Household, Yard and Office Chemicals by Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, Director, Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, At the Annual Conference of the American Medical Writers Association in 2005. She said among the reasons scientists believe in environmental causes of cancer:

  • Fewer than 1 in 10 cases of breast cancer occur in women born with genetic defects. The others are believed to be environmental.
  • The cancer risk for adopted children reflects their adoptive parents, not their biologic parents.
  • Fewer than half of identical twins get the same cancer.
  • Rates of cancer are higher for people employed outside the home.
  • The cancer risk for immigrants changes to that of their new country.
  • The majority of cancer cases have no known risk factors.
  • Disease is more aggressive in women with higher residues of toxins in their blood.

Manufacturers say there is no reliable evidence that phthalates cause any health problems. Newly identified markers are providing a better indication of our exposure to phthalates. So next time you sniff at the potential of adverse effects of the “New Car Scent” don’t laugh. That new car smell, which becomes especially noticeable after the car has been sitting in the sun for a few hours, is partly the pungent odor of phthalates volatilizing and many other chemicals floating around the enclosed environment of your car, especially if the temperature is high.

Seafood Surprise

I write about food additives and other problems related to edibles almost every day but I had a surprise experience yesterday. I was having lunch with some of my writer friends at a fine Greek restaurant. Since I’ve known for years that I can’t eat shrimp because I am allergic to it, I never eat it.  I also avoid salt at all costs for a variety of medical reasons.

The waiter was very nice and I asked him for a dish that had no salt. He said the only one in the restaurant was Kalamari (also spelled Calamari). That’s the name of squid.

After lunch, my belly began to swell. I thought was just indigestion but when I began to look pregnant—and I am way past the possibility—my son said I think you are having an allergic attack. I found it hard to believe but when I began to wheeze and cough, I took the appropriate allergy medicine my doctor had previously prescribed. I was very uncomfortable but I survived.

Food allergies are now the leading cause of sensitivity reactions treated in emergency departments in the US, according to the American Academy of Asthma and Allergy. The organization estimates there are 29,000 anaphylactic reactions–a severe and sometimes fatal allergic reaction to a foreign substance, especially a protein, in foods. Nearly 200 deaths due to food allergies are reported each year.

Seafood allergies are one of the most common causes of food allergy. Seafood can be a powerful allergen for those sensitive to certain sea life. Seafood allergies are life-long.– including scaly fish and  a type of shellfish:,“Mollusks, Abalone, oysters, mussels, and squid (Calamari). There are many types of squid, and they occupy a huge range of size from one inch to 80 feet long. In English-speaking countries, squid is called calamari because it is believed that the word “squid” sounds unappetizing. Another type of shellfish, “Crustaceans,” encompasses lobsters, crayfish, prawns, crabs and shrimp. I didn’t think that squid had a shell like lobsters or crabs.

The squid I ate did not have salt nor sauce. It was just on a bed of greens. Though looking innocent, it did cause quite a reaction in my body. By researching it, I learned Calamari is one of the most common causes of seafood allergic reactions so I thought I would tell you what I didn’t know, just in case you may be the allergic type. The dish was delicious, I admit,  and the service great at the restaurant. I had fun with my writer companions discussing the chaos in the publishing industry. The price I paid for eating the dish, however, was more than the cost on the bill. For further information about seafood allergies, check with: The Asthma and Allergy Foundation:1-800-7-ASTHMA . Email is: info@aafa.org .

Mascara, Murder and a Multibillion Dollar Company

I wrote A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients (now in its 7th edition) and found most ingredients are of botanical or synthetic laboratory origin. I came across a history of an ingredient, however, which has a really unique history. Not only did it begin in a kitchen by accident, it eventually became a multibillion dollar industry involving love triangles, bisexuality, company failures, thefts, and murder. Sharrie Lynn Williams, the great grandniece of the founder of Maybelline, Tom Lyle Williams, co-authored with Bettie Youngs The Maybelline Story published by Bettie Youngs Books.

In 1915, a kitchen stove fire singed Lyle Williams’ sister, Mable’s, eye lashes and brows. He watched as she performed a “secret of the harem.” She mixed petroleum jelly with coal dust and ash from a burnt cork and applied the mixture to her lashes and brows.

Williams, a Kentucky, a 19 year old farm boy, who loved movies, observed that his sister’s eyes became glamorous and made her look like Gloria Swanson or Lillian Gish. He then went to cosmetic counters to find out if there were competitive eye lash and brow products. He found the field was wide open. Victorian women were not using “eye enhancers.”

Williams borrowed his friend’s chemistry set and mixed a concoction of Vaseline, cottonseed oil and carbon black from the chemistry set. He believed he had the formula. Mable tried it. It looked good until it began to melt run into her eyes with painful results.

Frustrated, young Williams took a train to Detroit where there was whole-sale drug company, Parke-Davis. He described what he wanted and sometime later, a chemist sent him ten pounds of refined white petroleum with some fine oils and a touch of perfume.

In a boarding house, three members of the Williams family melted the concoction in a tea pot and then squeezed mixture into small aluminum containers and called their creation “Lash- Brow-Inc”.

Williams took ads in Photo Play, the Police Gazette, Saturday Evening Post and other magazines. The quarters, the price they had set on the product, poured in by mail and the Maybelline Company was born.

Now one of the largest cosmetic businesses in the world, Maybelline products are more complicated. And as for complication, one of the main characters in the mix was Evelyn Boecher with whom the teen-aged Williams had a son, Billy. Evelyn and Williams never married but years later she did marry his alcoholic brother, Preston.

Eventually, as wealthy older woman due to her shares in Maybelline , she became what today is called a “cougar”—an older woman who covets younger men. And like many famous female beauties, she made poor choices. Several took her money and eventually someone allegedly killed her by burning down her house with her in it.

Sharrie Williams, Evelyn’s granddaughter. has described a history of cosmetic company which seems to be more dramatic than most, except perhaps for the botanists that tramp through jungles looking for new ingredients. Sharrie Williams can be contacted at: http://www.MaybellineBook.com


I am recovering from a mysterious case of food poisoning. It is mysterious because not one of the 19 guests at Thanksgiving table became ill except me. And yes, I carefully washed my hands and counters while preparing the turkey.

The only thing I ate that no one else did was a sour tomato. I suspect it but can’t prove it since my son threw out the container while I was suffering the symptoms of the illness.

The Senate just passed a much needed overhaul of he nation’s food safety system, November 30, 2010, after thousands of people became ill from tainted dairy, vegetables, poultry, meat and other common edibles in recent years. Some of the victims died. In fact, I was wishing that I might pass away during the worst of the symptoms.

Recent legislation passed by the Senate 73-25 revamps the inspection and oversight laws established in the 1930s. The new legislation is aimed at strengthening the Food and Drug Administration that has long been understaffed, underfunded, and a political football The US House must still accept the Senate amendments before the measure can be forwarded to the President, who urged the House to “act quickly” on this critical bill.

The FDA has paid most attention to medical safety in recent times. That’s fine but most of us take a pill or two but all of us eat every day. The FDA is also responsible for overseeing cosmetics which have had pretty much free reign to reach the market. To make things more difficult, a large percentage of our foods, cosmetics, and their ingredients are made overseas in China, India and other countries, sometimes without any oversight at all.

In my first book, Poisons In Your Food (published 1969 and updated in 1991 by Crown) I quoted Howard Bauman, PhD, then vice president of the Pillsbury Company, who, at the American Health Association-sponsored National Conference on Food Protection warned of a “mass catastrophe” in the U.S. food supply: “Can you imagine the runways and control towers of the thirties trying to keep track of and land jets at our airports today? It seems ridiculous, but that’s exactly what we’re doing in the food business,” Dr. Bauman said.

In the Seventh Edition of my Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives published last year, I pointed out some of the problems the FDA and other food safety agencies in other countries face. For example:
• The problem of underfunding , understaffing, and shortage of qualified experts
• The problem that almost no regulatory testing is actually done in science laboratories.
• The problem of how the additives in our food may interact with the drugs, cosmetics, and environmental chemicals in our lives.

I am delighted, just as most other consumer advocates are, Congress is trying to pass a law that will help to keep our food supply safer. As you can determine, however, that it is a tremendous undertaking that will cost millions of dollars that we don’t have in our treasury budget. Should our food safety, however, take priority over our wars overseas?

In 1985, the United States had the largest documented outbreak of foodborne illness in the nation’s history. The cause was bacterial contamination in a single Illinois milk plant— contamination that affected approximately 200,000 people.

An epidemiologist with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whose job it is to track the incidence of illnesses, admits that the reports of foodborne diseases that do filter in to the Centers are only the tip of the iceberg and that the number of true outbreaks is actually fifty to one hundred times greater than the number reported.

I hope a weakened Congress does pass the new food safety bill but I don’t think I will ever find out if it was the green tomato that made me sick unless others report they also had a problem with green tomatos. Usually, people with ordinary food poisoning never report it. You can play an important part in strengthening the new law (if it is enacted), by reporting any adverse event with FDA-regulated problems such as food poisoning: The FDA emergency, 24 hour number, is 301-443-1240



Fingernails in good shape are not only attractive, they tell a lot about your personal habits and they serve important functions. Most fingernails are rounded at the tip but manicurists usually make clients square tipped nails for added strength.

How fast nails grow

The average growth rate for nails is 0.1 mm each day but age, time of year, activity level, and heredity may affect them. Nails grow more rapidly in the summer than in the winter. Nails on a person’s dominant hand (right vs. left) grow faster, and men’s nails grow more quickly than women’s, except possibly during pregnancy and old age. Fingernails grow faster than toenails.

What Nail Reveal

“Normal nails should have a healthy pink skin or nail bed below them indicating a good blood supply, ” according to Richard K. Scher, MD, professor of dermatology at New York’s Columbia University and known nationally as “the Nail Doctor”. He says it is possible to diagnose or suspect conditions of medical importance by the appearance of nails. For example:

  • Indented “spoon nails”–in which the nails develop depressions— may be due to iron deficiency anemia.
  • Horizontal depressions may be signs of malnutrition, chemotherapy, or carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist condition becoming more frequent because of computer use.)
  • Pitted nails can indicate, depending upon the pattern, psoriasis, eczema or other immune system disorders.
  • Bright red nail beds can point to heart or blood problems.
  • Triangular moons may signify bone or kidney abnormalities.
  • Splinter hemorrhages can be due to high blood pressure, ulcers, rheumatoid arthritis but the most common cause is trauma.
  • Tan stained nails may be due to smoking

Brittle nails, however, are usually caused by lack of moisture, according to  Zoe Draelos, MD, a specialists in skin and nails at the Clinical Dermatology Center, High Point, NC, this can occur by exposing nails to nail polish remover, detergents and water. Draelos says nail polish can actually protect the nail plate from dehydration by inhibiting water vapor loss.

Advice About Caring For Your Nails

  1. Nails are not tools and should not be used as screwdrivers, scrapers or staple removers.

2. Protect your nails during housework or mechanical work by wearing gloves

3. Cuticles should not be over manipulated, or pushed back with wooden or metal instruments. If you do push the cuticles back overvigorously you weaken the nail matrix and open the space above it to chemicals, fungus and viruses.

4. Nail polish may be helpful in slowing down breakage but make sure the polish is free of toluene and formaldehyde   and use acetone free remover.

5. Do not grow your nails too long because this leads to nail trauma and weakens the nails

New Kind of Alzheimer’s Drug May Prevent or Treat The Disease

Daniel Chain,Ph.D, the son of a Nobel Prize Winner and a distinguished neurobiologist  himself, woke up one Sunday night 1996 and had a sudden inspiration– “Why not monocolonal antibodies?”

Chairman and chief executive officer of Manhattan-based Intellect Neurosciences, Dr. Chainwas interested in finding an innovative medication that can slow down, arrest and ultimately prevent Alzheimer’s disease – a devastating condition afflicting 30 million people worldwide. Contrary to current drugs on the market, which only treat symptoms, Dr. Chain’s aim was to create a new class of disease-modifying Alzheimer’s drugs that attack the underlying pathologies.

 Monclonal Antibodies

 Moncolonal antibodies are a type of protein made in the laboratory designed  to find and bind to a specific substance. Could a monoclonal antibody be developed that would latch on to amyloid, a dense deposit of protein found as plaques on the cells and nerves of Alzheimer’s patients at autopsy? There is no unanimous agreement that amyloid plaques are the cause of the condition but may be just a symptom or an extraneous factor.

Amyloid plaques were first noted by Dr. Louis Alzheimer’s in 1906 . The main constituent of the plaques is the Beta Amyloid protein which is comprised of fragments of a much larger protein called the Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP) implicated in regulating numerous physiological functions in the body.  Beta Amyloid can accumulate for different reasons in the brain.  The naturally sticky fragments form clumps that increase in number and density until eventually, the clumps deposit as insoluble plaques onto the surface of nerve cells. Are these plaques toxic? Are they beneficial?  Do their roles change at different stages of the disease? As the plaques mature in the brain do they trigger inflammation which damages the cells causing them to die?

Toxic Substance Floating In Brain Fluid

 Dr. Chain now believes that there is a toxic substance floating around in brain fluid that is a precursor to amyloid clumps and plaques.

 “Perhaps,” he reasons, “the plaques of hardened amyloid found on the brain cells of Alzheimer’s patients may be the way the brain actually protects itself from the toxic amyloid precursor.”

Drug Companies At Work On The New Type of Drug

He says  he decided to develop a method of harnessing certain monoclonal antibodies that he believes can be used to render the precursor harmless and thus prevent or improve Alzheimer’s destruction of the brain cells.

Dr. Chain was successful and he patented the technique he developed for amyloid precursor seeking monoclonal antibodies. He calls it Antisenilin for anti-senility. His invention is currently being used by several of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies which have taken licenses to Dr. Chain’s patents from which Intellect Neurosciences stands to obtain royalties from sales if and when the drugs are approved by the FDA . The most advanced product, Bapineuzumab, is in Phase 3 clincal trials involving several thousand Alzheimer’s patients world-wide. Bapineuzumab is being co-developed by Wyeth/Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.  Dr. Chain’s patents have already been granted in Europe, Japan, China and elsewhere

Dr. Chain points out there are two basic types of Alzheimer’s. One that occurs in 5 to 10 percent relatively early at 40-50 years and invariably has a genetic pre-disposition carried in families. The other starts later– about 65 years and up –and has known and unknown causes.

He said the tests first conducted with bapineuzumab, involved a small group about 250 patients: “The researchers did not separate out those with the gene for the disease and those who developed Alzheimer’s later in life. Results did seem to indicate that those who developed it later in life were benefited by the drug but not those who carried the gene.”

Studies involving several thousand people –separating the two types of Alzheimer’s—are now underway.

Bapineuzumab May Be On The Market Within Three Years

Dr. Chain said he hopes that within three years, bapineuzumab will be on the market.

What about side-effects?

So far, he said, he, there is some edema—(swelling) –but it goes away and in lower doses it does not occur at all.