No Such Thing as Poison

The following thoughts were taken in their entirety from the Blog of Doug Wilson at

Let me begin with the modest observation that there is no such thing as a poison. By this I mean that nothing is harmful to the human body in small enough amounts, and everything is harmful in large enough amounts. Different substances vary in potency, to be sure, so that some things will reach dangerous levels of toxicity sooner than others, but nothing is harmful in itself. Everything depends on frequency and amount. Use your head, and don’t panic just because you read a scientific name for something on the label.

I am given to understand that apple seeds have cyanide in them. If you eat apples as I sometimes do, core and all, you are ingesting cyanide. If you grind the whole thing up in a cider mill to be organic and healthy-like, you are feeding your family cyanide. And all this is no problem whatever. Yay for cyanide. But if you saved the seeds from a bushel of apples, and then ate them all at once, then you would have a pretty big problem. Now, are apple seeds “poison” or not? Do apples have a poisonous center?

But to think about amounts, frequency, ratios and so forth is far too complicated for those who want the world of food and health to be simple. This is the mentality that wants to know if any “chemicals” are in the food or not. Well, what’s the alternative?

And lest this be taken as a mistake made only by health nut rubes, it should be added that whenever an agency like the FDA pronounces a particular substance suspect, the chances are good that this mistake is lurking in the background. You see, what they did was take the substance in question (something found, for example, in diet cola), and they fed it to lab rats in such amounts that the cases had to be brought into their testing center with fork lifts. Well, if I drank 52 cases of Dr. Pepper a day for three months running, I would be astonished if I didn’t get cancer.

But getting this point across can be pretty difficult. Ronald Deutsch stated the problem well — he referred to “the perennial complication that everyone believes himself an expert on the relationship between foods and health.”


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