Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Monday, June 23, 2014

All-Natural Mythology

Approximately 10 years ago I wrote an article discussing misconceptions about All-Natural Food.  Since then I have written numerous articles on the topic, and answered too many questions on All-Natural topics to discuss.  This will be my last article on the topic unless new research suggests findings that are incongruent with the current evidence.  That is, numerous, reliable, valid studies demonstrate the superiority of All-Natural.  It is time for Argumentum ad Naturam to R.I.P. 

Argumentum ad Naturam is a claim that something is better because it is natural or bad because it is unnatural.

Natural Toxins

Ricin, abrin, botulinum, and strychnine—highly evolved chemical weapons used by organisms for self-defense and territorial expansion- are just a few natural, but dangerous, toxins. Cicuta (Water hemlock)- another natural plant- is considered one of North America's most toxic plants, being highly poisonous to humans.  Every plant and microbe carries a variety of more or less toxic attack chemicals, and synthetic chemicals are no more likely to be toxic than natural ones (Silver, 2006; Hale, 2013).  Of course, many unnatural things are good- computers, medicines, vehicles, and so on.  The benefits that are afforded to us due to science and technology are often very unnatural.  I bet All-Natural proponents are not willing to give up these unnatural things.   

All Natural Inconsistency

The word natural is sometimes considered synonymous with the word good.   If one believes something is better BECAUSE it is natural, in order to demonstrate logical consistency one must assume natural is better than unnatural in each case.  Natural disasters or diseases are not your friends.  Nature is indifferent to you and I.  Natural diseases are often treated with synthetic treatments (unnatural treatments).  In many contexts (too many to mention) suggesting All Natural is better is considered absurd. Consider the following- When collecting water from a stream it is recommended that the water should be purified before drinking.  This purification of the water reflects chemical processes, and the water is usually purified using some type of tablet or water purifying device.  These processes change the natural condition of the water.  

Chemical Ignorance

The chemical reality is “everything is made of chemicals.”  Often man-made chemicals are safer than the so-called natural ones.  Every living molecule inside every living organism is created through chemical reactions. And the natural chemicals contained in organically grown coffee, pepper, mushrooms, apples, celery, potatoes, nutmeg, and carrots present a greater risk of cancer to people than DDT, DDE, or Alar, three pesticides that are banned in the United States and many other countries (Silver, 2006). 

You, your pet, your family, friends and so on are a combination of chemicals.  Consider the amount of chemicals making up a 60-kg person: oxygen- 39 kg, carbon- 11kg, hydrogen- 6 kg, nitrogen- 2 kg, and calcium- 1 kg (Timberlake, 1999).   Those chemicals make up approximately 98% of your body.  Oxygen is found in water, carbohydrates, fats and proteins.  Carbon is found in carbohydrates, fats and proteins.  Hydrogen is found in water, carbohydrates, fats and proteins.  Nitrogen is found in proteins, DNA and RNA.

The chemical reality is there is an extensive, systematic regulatory process involved with determining which chemicals can be used in foods, medicines, beauty products and other substances. 

Organic food

There is overlap between organic and All- Natural food concerns.  Would you be surprised to learn- aectaldehyde, benzaldehyde, benzene, benzo (a) pyrene, benzofuran, caffeic acid, catechol, 1,2,5,6-dibenz (a) anthracene, ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, furan, furfural, hydroquinone, d-limonene, 4-methylcatechol, styrene, toluene–are natural carcinogenic and DNA–damaging chemicals present in a cup of certified organic coffee. (Gold et al., 1992)?

The Institute of Food Technologists issued a Scientific Status Summary on the organic foods industry (Winter, 2006). Below are some of the key points from the Summary:

Organic fruits and vegetables possess fewer pesticide residues and lower nitrate levels than do conventional fruits and vegetables. In some cases, organic foods may have higher levels of plant secondary metabolites; this may be beneficial with respect to suspected antioxidants such as polyphenolic compounds, but also may be of potential health concern when considering naturally occurring toxins. Some studies have suggested potential increased microbiological hazards from organic produce or animal products due to the prohibition of antimicrobial use, yet other studies have not reached the same conclusion.

While many studies demonstrate these qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition.

This review illustrates that tradeoffs exist between organic and conventional food production. Organic fruits and vegetables rely upon far few pesticides than do conventional fruits and vegetables, which result in fewer pesticide residues, but may also stimulate the production of naturally occurring toxins if organic crops are subject to increased pest pressures from insects, weeds, or plant diseases. Because organic fruits and vegetables do not use pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, they have more biochemical energy to synthesize beneficial secondary plant metabolites such as polyphenolic antioxidants as well as naturally occurring toxins. In some cases, food animals produced organically have the potential to possess higher rates of bacterial contamination than those produced conventionally since organic production generally prohibits antibiotic use.


Natural is not safer or better than unnatural.  The belief that natural is better is a faith based belief.  Faith, implies belief in absence of evidence.  

Be sure to read the Recommended Readings given below.  I will probably receive a plethora of comments regarding this article.  However, as stated in the beginning of this article I plan on dedicating minimal time to addressing this topic further.  Please do not send comments such as:  I don’t care what anyone says All-Natural is safer than synthetic-  In fact, you do care what someone says, or why else would you believe this.  You really mean you don’t care about what science says, or what people that disagree with you say.  My opinion is- this is not an article dedicated to opinions.  Science is not always right- I agree, but it doesn’t claim to be.  My family member ate some  fruit (non-organic)  and it caused extreme sickness.  Causal claims can only be derived from experimental research, that has a high degree of internal validity, and even then those claims are not absolute.  Of course, members of the general public have no idea what internal validity is, nor are they expected to.  Researchers engage in systematic, painstaking research design in an effort to establish internal validity.  In short, causal claims based on personal experience are problematic and demonstrates a lack of knowledge regarding the criteria required for determining causation.  

The plethora of current scientific evidence does not indicate All-Natural is better.    

Coming Soon! All-Natural Mythology Seminar 

References available upon request

Recommended Readings

The Preference for Natural  

Knowledge and Nonsense: The Science of Nutrition and Exercise 

Organic Food: The Real Story

Why Natural Is Not Always Better

Challenging Nature

Chemical Illiteracy

Myth of Hormone-Free Meat