The mouse with hair from McDonalds

by The Non-Obsessive Way of Eating Company                                          13 February 2018

You may have read the recent report about a Japanese scientific team that put to use a chemical used in McDonald’s chips to help in curing baldness. Fact or fake news? Either way it did make me wonder about the connection between a chemical that could act on millions as a human hair regenerative treatment for androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness), and a chemical that millions consume every day in their fast food fix, which incidentally I also enjoy on occasion.

The article, “Scientists claim chemical used in McDonald’s chips can cure baldness”, describes how scientists used a chemical in McDonald’s french fries, along with a “simple” technique using human stem cells, was used to regrow hair on bald mice. The key use of this chemical, dimethlypolysiloxane, was its use as the culture base material used to mass-produce the “hair follicle germs” (HFG), seed hairs basically. The chemicals unique characteristics allowed oxygen to circulate and pass through the bottom of the silicone chip, the bed used to grow the HFG, encouraging even spread and prolific new growth. The method created a viable number of HFG that could be transplanted into mice, and within days the lab rodents had furry backs and scalps,

Hey fantastic you say… it sounds like we can eat more fast food and grow hair at the same time!! Sorry it is not that simple. While dimethlypolysiloxane was apparently helpful for the experiment, it was only used as a base to grow the follicles—it doesn’t trigger hair growth on its own. So eating more fries is very unlikely to cause your hair to grow!

So that was the experiment and the rather misleading headlines, but what exactly is this chemical dimethlypolysiloxane (also known as polydimethylsiloxane, PDMS) that was used, and is also in our food?

PDMS is a non-biogradable, synthetic substance, common in industry. In fact it is actually the main ingredient that gives Silly Putty its unique silicone, rubbery texture! It is found in many cosmetic and hygiene products like nail polish, skin conditioners, make-up, contact lens solutions, sunscreens, deodorants, shampoo and conditioning agents, and skin protectants. It is also the silicon-based synthetic compound used as a lubricant in industrial materials such as the vinegary-smelling silicone caulks, adhesives, silicone grease and polishes, along with the defoaming agents, used in our food!

On a daily basis, many will come across this chemical in their fast food consumption. It is not only used by McDonalds to help prevent the splattering of oil in the cooking of their fries, it is also used in their chicken nuggets, at Wendy’s in their Frosties to achieve a thicker consistency, at KFC in their Mash Potatoes, at Dominoes in their Cheesy Bread Sticks as a substitute for real butter, and in all the restaurants drink machines, like those found at Sub-Way and Burger King – and this is not an exhaustive list!

Is it safe? Well it is not deemed unsafe. A number of health agencies have reviewed the use of PDMS as a food additive, and those studies haven’t linked it to any harmful side effects. The European Centre for Ecotoxicology and Toxicology of Chemicals carried out a review in 2011 that found it had no adverse affect on the immune system and was “rapidly excreted unchanged” when ingested by humans. Possibly good as a laxative?

The FDA has deemed it as “a substance generally recognized as safe in food” and approved its use in 1998, allowing the food industry to use it in anything they want (except milk). The World Health Organization states it is a substance that is inert and has no known toxicity. Studies have also shown that PDMS is safe for human consumption in limited amounts with the FDA regulations allowing for 10 ppm in foods ready-for-consumption (this is around 1/400th of a teaspoon to a kilogram) so from this perspective it does seem rather safe.

However, PDMS has also been used as a filler fluid in breast implants. A range of studies have linked these silicone filled implants to a range of potential health threats that may occur several years after implantation. As a result the practice of using this chemical in the production of breast implants has gone down dramatically, and for some women the concern is that great, they are having them removed. Additionally a 2017 FDA study found that a rare form of cancer called ALC Lymphoma is more commonly found with textured silicone breast implants. So it must be asked, if there are concerns about PDMS being used inside our bodies, why does the food industry allow us to eat it? It’s important to note here nonetheless, that most restaurants don’t use this to intentionally harm us; they use it to cut costs as PDMS is a cheap industry ingredient.

Still its food for thought and if you are afraid of PDMS and other synthetic substances like it, you can simply choose to eat more wholesome, real, unprocessed foods.

What are your thoughts about foods containing substances like PDMS being available to the public? What evidence, either positive or negative, have you heard about this topic? You are welcome to share your views in the comments.

Check in at Towards A Non-Obsessive Way of Eating to view my opinion piece, Short Piece, containing observations, tips and debate on nutrition, food and eating that will inform your health.

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