Label Blunders: Navigating the Ingredient Landscape
Jul06

Label Blunders: Navigating the Ingredient Landscape

SeeArrOh ponders advertising trickery in a chemical world. SeeArrOh is a Ph.D. chemist working in industry. This morning, I was reading over Carmen Drahl’s Storify collection of “chemical-free” discussions (#altchemicalfree) on Twitter. The recent backlash against the moniker has been covered extensively by ScienceGeist, RSCBlogs, and PLoS Speakeasy Science. After a brief chuckle, I went over to the sink to brush my teeth and happened to glance over at the mouthwash bottle. The top proudly proclaimed “Alcohol-Free!” in large green letters, so I naturally flipped it over: Propylene glycol, sorbitol, and menthol were listed among the ingredients. I understand the company should say “contains no ethanol,” but maybe someone should inform IUPAC that product packagers want to remix the chemical lexicon. Mass marketing of consumer goods plays on human perception but not always on chemical intuition. Thus, companies will often use a trivial name for a compound to drive sales, without informing the consumer that the definitions don’t paint the whole picture. Take “sugar-free,” which commonly means a product made with no sucrose, or common table sugar. Biologists and chemists name sugars with the suffix “-ose,” which means that fructose, glucose, maltose, and a host of other substitute sweeteners still fall under the category of “sugar.”  Ever see products that claim “No MSG”?  Check the label: It’s likely that they instead contain monopotassium glutamate, which generates the same umami taste but without the pesky sodium ion. Same for “low salt” foods that still taste salty, thanks to a variety of calcium and potassium substitutes—which themselves are salts!  “Fat-free” chips and baked goods still contain palmitates and stearates, and “100% juice” has vitamins and additives in quantities you wouldn’t see if you actually squeezed the oranges yourself. Food producers aren’t solely to blame because the easy packaging half-truths extend to other products. “Nitrogen-enhanced” gasoline, which admittedly contains nitrogen-derived detergents, probably hasn’t had actual N2 bubbled into it.  Similarly, look for pet sprays and bleaches with “oxygen- power” derived, most likely, from hydrogen peroxide. So read those labels carefully.  Anything that sounds too chemically convenient should be taken with a grain of, well, sodium...

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Blood Thinner Marketing, Soap Opera-Style
Sep22

Blood Thinner Marketing, Soap Opera-Style

Let's say your blood thinner got a unanimous thumbs-up from an FDA panel. And now, in anticipation of the drug's possible approval, you'd like to raise awareness about atrial fibrillation, one of the conditions your drug candidate will treat. Why not send out some well-respected cardiologists or researchers to spread the word to the people? Not sexy enough, you say? OK, then, how about a soap opera star? Yes, this internal monologue may sound implausible, but it pretty much describes the latest news on the blood thinner Pradaxa's front. Boehringer-Ingelheim, the maker of Pradaxa, has announced it is sponsoring a press conference in Rockefeller Center this Thursday, and the featured speaker is none other than longtime "All My Children" star Susan Lucci. Her husband, Helmut Huber (love that name!) has atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that increases the risk of stroke, so the two of them will be on hand to tell their story while the company trots out a study about atrial fibrillation and stroke. Here's how atrial fibrillation can lead to stroke. The heart muscles in the atria normally coordinate their contraction to pump blood efficiently. But if you have atrial fibrillation, those muscles flutter around in an uncoordinated fashion instead. That leads to less efficient pumping, and what can happen is that blood will pool around in the atria. If that blood clots, and the clots end up traveling to the brain, then bam- you get a stroke. So using a blood thinner, which prevents clots, might reduce that stroke risk. I wish I could be on hand to see this event for myself. But I guess I'll have to do with seeing Lucci on YouTube instead. Below is a video of Lucci finally winning a Lead Actress Emmy Award. She was snubbed at the Emmys 18 times before finally winning in 1999. I suppose we'll see whether Lucci's track record at marketing blood thinners turns out to be better than her track record at awards ceremonies. And thanks to Cardiobrief for pointing me to this event. I agree with Cardiobrief's assessment- if Pradaxa is approved it's a guarantee that it will be more expensive than warfarin (coumadin), the drug that it would be replacing. So Boehringer needs to convince folks Pradaxa is worth plunking down the extra...

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