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Amsterdam, the Netherlands
7 December 2004

From the Net:

Shampoo Ingredient Kills Rats' Brain Cells

Mon Dec 6,

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

Experiments with the brain cells of rats show that contact with an ingredient found in shampoos, hand lotions and paint causes neurons to die.

The chemical, methylisothiazolinone (MIT), belongs to a class of compounds called biocides. These are used in the manufacture of many common household products and industrial water cooling systems to prevent bacteria from developing.

According to the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites), brands containing MIT include the shampoos Head and Shoulders, Suave, and Clairol, as well as Pantene hair conditioner and Revlon hair color.

"As far as I can tell, no neurodevelopmental testing has been done on MIT," said lead researcher Elias Aizenman, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Aizenman said he is concerned that without such testing it is not known if, for example, a pregnant woman who is exposed to MIT could put her fetus at risk for abnormal brain development. People working directly with MIT are those most at risk, he said.

In earlier experiments with rat brain cells, Aizenman's team found that direct exposure to MIT in concentrations like those found in hand cream was enough to kill neurons. In the current series of experiments, also with rat cells, the researchers found that a long exposure to low concentrations of MIT caused a malfunction in the ways neurons communicate with each other.

"One of the things that this compound was very good at was preventing neurons from communicating with other neurons," he said.

Aizenman presented his findings Dec. 5 at the American Society for Cell Biology annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Whether long-term exposure to products containing MIT is dangerous is not known, Aizenman said. "Can I say that these products are safe to use? No," he said. "Can I say that these products are unsafe to use? No."

Aizenman believes that testing needs to be done to determine if MIT is harmful to humans in the concentrations found in household products.

"It appears that the Environmental Protection Agency (news - web sites) [EPA] does not require neurodevelopmental testing," Aizenman said. "That is bothersome. Maybe there are substances that have made it into general use that could be damaging to the nervous system. Regulators need to take a hard look this and require more tests."

The work that Aizenman has been doing "is important in understanding the things that people are exposed to on a chronic, daily basis," said Beth Ann McLaughlin, an assistant professor of pharmacology at Vanderbilt University.

McLaughlin added that people using products containing MIT should be skeptical. "There is a healthy dose of skepticism that needs to come when using any products or being intensely exposed to any compound," she said.

"These findings are expected," said Gerald McEwen, vice president for science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. "MIT is a biocide. The purpose of it is to kill bacteria. You would expect it to be detrimental to any type of cells."

McEwen said that direct exposure to high concentrations of MIT will be irritating to the skin, because it can damage skin cells. However, he doesn't believe that MIT poses any dangers to consumers in the low concentrations found in household products.

"The ability of MIT to cause neurotoxicity has been studied," McEwen said. In animals exposed to MIT, there has been no hint of neuro-damage, because MIT affects only the cells it touches and there is no way for it to get into the bloodstream and go to the brain, he said.

"It can't get to your brain cells, period," he emphasized.

MIT has been approved as a biocide by the EPA, which looked at the neurological effects, McEwen added. This information was published by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, an industry program that reviews the safety of cosmetic ingredients, he explained.

However, McLaughlin remains concerned. "The quantity of compounds that we can make that make the quality of life wonderful, in the short term, is growing," she said. "But we are lagging in our understanding of what those compounds can do to our health and our children's health."

Mystics Can Pocket a Million--When Pigs Can Fly

By Sven Nordenstam

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A sworn enemy of superstition, Canadian-born magician James Randi has thrown down the gauntlet to mystics, promising $1 million to anyone who can prove supernatural powers or a phenomenon beyond the reach of science.

An arch-skeptic who demonstrates with his own sleight of hand how easily it is to dupe the gullible into mistaking trickery for the supernatural, the bearded 76-year-old has written nine books and lectured at the White House, NASA and several top U.S. universities.

The million-dollar "paranormal challenge" lends publicity to Randi's life-long mission.

His pursuit of skepticism was sparked by a visit to a spiritualist church in his native Toronto when he was just 15.

Already an amateur magician, he was upset at seeing "common tricks" pass for divine intervention. But his attempts at enlightening the churchgoers cost him four hours questioning at the police station.

Sixty years on, Randi is still trying to persuade people to give up their belief in mystic forces beyond their control.

"It's a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense. You're giving away your money to the charlatans, you're giving away your emotional security, and sometimes your life," he explained in an interview before giving a lecture in Stockholm.


Deeply concerned with the spread of beliefs not based on the principles of science, Randi is especially worried about the growing popularity of exotic cures and therapies catering to sick people who are then lured away from effective treatments.

"It's a mission, and also an obsession," he said.

The challenge also serves to dent the image of professional psychics, as they so far have balked at the chance to win the million.

"They offer all kinds of strange excuses," he said.

On a European tour of Germany, Italy, Ireland, Belgium and Sweden, Randi tested people who wanted to go for his million. Most applicants sincerely believe they have supernatural gifts, the vast majority claiming to possess the power of dowsing -- the ability to detect water with the help of a cleft stick.

Dowsing has never been proved to work in a controlled setting, said Randi.

"But no one ever changes their mind," he said, recalling only one single case throughout the years where a man backed down from his claim after being tested.

At a lecture to promote critical thinking, a Swedish audience of about 300 applauded and laughed as Randi blasted away at astrologers, homeopathists, faith healers and psychic mediums, accusing them of defrauding the sick and the desperate.

Riddling his performance with tricks--divining the symbols on cards put in an envelope by an apparently randomly chosen audience member--Randi says his own expertise at "magic" helps him expose fraudsters.

"As a magician I know two things -- how to deceive people and how people deceive themselves."


On one particular night Randi was in the company of hundreds of cheering fellow skeptics, but not everyone appreciated seeing their beliefs shattered.

"I get threats all the time. I don't answer the door unless I know who's there," he said.

His most famous adversary is Uri Geller, the Israeli psychic who became a celebrity in the '70s for bending spoons. Geller sued him for libel for his book "The Truth About Uri Geller." It has cost Randi a fortune in legal fees, but he has not yet been able to get the book removed from the shelves.

Randi demonstrated to a reporter how he too is capable of mystically mistreating cutlery, but as a magic trick.

He carefully pointed out that he does not deny Geller might have supernatural talent -- just as he does not rule out the existence of supernatural phenomena.

"If Geller does it by divine power, he does it the hard way," he said.

Randi said he would be happy to hand over the prize if presented with solid evidence.

"That would be such an advance for our knowledge of the universe that it would be well worth $1 million," he said. "The possibility is very, very small, but it's there."

The prospects for the mystically minded don't look too rosy, though. The James Randi Educational Foundation, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has tested hundreds of applicants. But no one has ever passed even the preliminary tests.

On the lapel of his jacket, Randi wears a pin with the mascot of the organization, a winged pig called Pigasus.

"We say that we will give away the million dollars when pigs can fly."

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