Simple math – the dose makes the poison

If you spend any amount of time on the internet researching science and pseudoscience, you’ll find alarming claims about toxic or poisonous substances in our foods, vaccines, air, water, and so much else. And then you’ll find a lot of people (myself included) who try to present science-based evidence that these substances are neither toxic nor poisonous.

Generally, the pseudoscience argument proceeds along the lines of “this unpronounceable chemical is going to cause cancer.” And the science (read scientific skeptic) side says “wrong!” Or something like that.

Paracelsus, a 16th century Swiss German physician, alchemist, astrologer, is traditionally thought to have founded the discipline of toxicology, an important branch of medicine, physiology, and pharmacology. Paracelsus wrote one of the most important principles of toxicology:

All things are poisons, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes a thing poison.

In other words, if you’re speaking about substances in foods or vaccines or anything, the most important principle is that the dose makes the poison (or toxin). Everything that we can consume or breathe is potentially toxic, but what is the most overriding principle must be the dose.

Definition of toxicity


This is one of the major issues with throwing around the term “toxic” or “poisonous” so freely. If you drink pure water that was ultra-purified and taken from an ancient aquifer uncontaminated by man’s activities, you might think you are drinking the least toxic substance ever.

But once again, the dose makes the poison. Drink a few glasses, and you will be properly hydrated, and there’s probably nothing that’s going to happen to you (unless you’re doing so because of an underlying chronic disease, but let’s not digress).

On the other hand, there is a condition called water intoxication, also known as water poisoning or dilutional hyponatremia. Essentially, if one drinks too much water, it causes a sudden imbalance between water and sodium (along with other cations) which leads to unconsciousness and even death. But again, there’s a point in between the amount of water in a few glasses and the amount of water to cause water poisoning – the toxic dose.

But it’s more complicated than that. Some people have genetic or other adaptation to various compounds in the environment. Some toxic compounds can accumulate (although by doing so, there is some bio-availability of said compounds, which could eventually be toxic). Moreover, many compounds don’t stick around for a long period of time, being quickly cleared out of the blood through the kidneys.

As I’ve said many times, the human organism is vigorous and powerful. We are not weaklings that have evolved to live in enclosed chambers with purified air, food and water. We actually evolved with a robust and highly adaptive immune system and detoxification system that allows us to survive with a widely varied diet and environment.

Size matters


Back to the  dose makes the poison. One of the most important aspects of toxicity is that the size of the organism consuming the substance is critical. That’s why the toxic dose is almost always expressed as mg/kg weight (it also can be expressed in a volume amount for a liquid or gas per kg weight). So a fixed amount of a compound may be  toxic to a 10 kg child, and safe to a 100 kg man, because the man can tolerate 10X more of the compound.

Finally, and most importantly, toxicity does not necessarily mean death. A toxic dose may cause minor effects like bleeding or headache, or it could cause something more serious like depression or a coronary event – of course, some dose might cause death (like water poisoning can).

Generally, there is a clear transition in the dose from no effect to major effect (whether measuring efficacy or toxicity), there is usually not a point where it magically changes from non-poisonous to poisonous.

How do we determine the toxic dose


The fundamental tool in toxicology is the dose-response relationship, a statistical measurement that describes the change in effect on an organism caused by different doses of a chemical (anything from drugs to foods to environmental contaminants) after a certain exposure time.

For pharmaceuticals and almost any chemical, the dose-response relationship measures two key parameters – first, the proper dose that provides the most efficacy, and second, the dose that induces any toxic effects. Efficacy, in this case, means the effect that is claimed for the compound, so a new cancer drug needs to show at what dose it causes remission of the cancer, and for a new pesticide, how much is needed to cause the effect necessary. Some chemical compounds aren’t used for some biological effect, so we may just examine the toxicity.

Dose-response relationships are amongst the earliest studies done on any new drug, pesticide, and many chemicals. Cancer drugs require highly advanced statistical analyses of dose-response, because sometimes the best dose for efficacy is just below the toxic level dose. This is because cancer cells are really just corrupted versions of your own cells, so what kills them probably kills “normal” cells.


As you can see above, two curves are generated, the blue one measures the efficacy and the red one, the toxicity. One can then determine how much of margin of safety there might be between the effective dose and a toxic dose. This matters in biology.

Toxic chemicals

Dr. Cami Ryan, who holds her doctorate in biotechnology and agriculture, designed a brilliant and colorful chart about the toxic dose of numerous “natural” and man-made chemicals. You will be surprised.


First of all, “natural” compounds like nicotine, cyanide, vitamin D, and botulin (the favorite of wrinkle-removing plastic surgeons everywhere) are some of the most toxic and scary compounds on the planet. That’s why the appeal to nature is probably one of the most silly and illogical arguments that you can make.

One of the most important issues in determining whether a pharmaceutical or agricultural pesticide should or should not be on the market is examining not only the toxicity but also the efficacy.

For many, DDT is considered to be one of the big “science” mistakes of history.

DDT was used extensively during World War II by the Allies, in both the Pacific and Europe, to control the insect vectors of typhusdengue fever and malaria, nearly eliminating the disease in Europe. DDT was spectacularly successful in eradicating these diseases in Australia, the South Pacific, South America and other areas of the world after WWII.

In fact, DDT has eliminated malaria in the USA. Yes, the United States used to have a serious problem with malaria, something that is rarely remembered. In 1947, malaria was endemic to wide sections of the USA, mostly in the south, Mississippi Valley and California’s Central Valley. Within 5 years, through draining wetlands and widespread use of DDT, malaria was nearly eliminated in the USA.

In the 1920’s, there were thousands of outbreaks of malaria every year, with hundreds of deaths. Since 1963, there have been only 63 outbreaks of malaria, all as a result of one mosquito biting one person who carried the malaria parasite from an endemic area (South America, South Asia, or Africa). Here’s one infectious disease that was not prevented by vaccines, but it was stopped by DDT.

By the early 1960’s, upon publication of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, which described some scientific, but mostly anecdotal evidence that DDT had harmful and long-lasting effects on the environment, the tide turned against DDT and it was mostly banned or strictly controlled by the late 1960’s.

But if I look back in time, is there some margin of safety between the obvious deleterious effects on the environment compared to the thousands of lives saved from malaria? Maybe we used too much DDT and could have used it more safely, something we would do today. Of course, we also drained a massive number of wetlands, also an environmental disaster, to stop this disease.

But eliminating a dangerous disease that harms or kills? That should take priority.

Glyphosate, again


Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup)  is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops grown around the world. It has several advantages over many herbicides in that it breaks down in the soil into non-toxic organic molecules, reducing or eliminating contamination of groundwater and lower soils.

Monsanto has developed genetically modified (GMO) grains that are resistant to glyphosate, so that agriculture can apply the herbicide to kill the competitive weeds while not harming the crop. This allows farmers to suppress the weeds while allowing better production out of the grain crop. And use a lot less Round Up.

In fact, there is substantial evidence that GMO plus glyphosate corn crops provide higher yields under most conditions (especially when there are environmental stressors such as weather). So, there is some, relatively significant, positive effect from glyphosate use in producing more food. Productivity increases lead to both lower prices and more food for the world. Sounds good to me.

But glyphosate causes cancer


And once again, the dose makes the poison. Maybe drinking a glass of Round Up would be insane, since that’s definitely far above the toxic dose for glyphosate. But glyphosate isn’t really that toxic, because according to the graphic from Dr. Cami Ryan above, the LD50 (the dose at which 50% of test organisms die) is 5600 mg/kg. A 100 kg human would need to consume 560,000 mg (or 1.23 pounds for barbarians who refuse to use the metric system), a thoroughly ridiculous amount of that chemical.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the use of and environmental contamination from glyphosate. They concluded that:

EPA conducted a dietary risk assessment for glyphosate based on a worst-case risk scenario, that is, assuming that 100 percent of all possible commodities/acreage were treated, and assuming that tolerance-level residues remained in/on all treated commodities. The Agency concluded that the chronic dietary risk posed by glyphosate food uses is minimal.

From their research, the EPA has determined that a maximum dose of about 2 mg/kg/day is very safe.

So, let’s put this in some sort of simple math.

  1. Generally, a farmer uses less than 450 grams of glyphosate (that’s 16 ounces for barbarians) per acre of corn.
  2. An average acre of corn in the USA produces approximately 9000 ears of corn.
  3. If every bit of glyphosate just stays on ears of corn (and it doesn’t), each ear would have around 50 mg of glyphosate. A 100 kg human could tolerate up to 2000 mg of glyphosate per day, so this is far below the toxic dose. You could eat 40 ears of corn and still not be harmed (of course, depending on your size). And remember, the dose-response depends on time, so glyphosate is probably not accumulating, and you could eat 40 ears every day.
  4. Even if every microgram of glyphosate is on your ear a corn, even a 25 kg child could probably safely consume that fully contaminated (and not realistic) ear of corn.
  5. But here’s the simplest of simple math–glyphosate is not sprayed directly on the ears of corn. Glyphosate suppresses weeds, and would kill corn if sprayed directly. So the amount on that ear of corn is basically undetectable.

So, the amount of glyphosate that you consume is almost nothing, but far below the 2 mg/kg/day limit that has been established as very conservatively safe. And mountains of research has shown that glyphosate and GMOs (often conflated in arguments) are safe at current environmental levels.

As I thoroughly deconstructed previously, a review from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), recently published in Lancet Oncology, an extremely high impact factor journal, probably one of the most respected journals in cancer research, seemed to indicate that glyphosate causes cancer.

And the IARC, one of the intergovernmental agencies within the World Health Organization, is widely respected for their research into the causes of cancer. According to the IARC, glyphosate was characterized as a Group 2A compound: Probably carcinogenic to humans. Oh no.

Do you know what else is a carcinogen? A common chemical  produced by fruits and your own body causes cancer – formaldehyde, the boogeyman of every antivaccine nut out there.  According to the IARC, it’s a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it’ll definitely cause a cancer. In other words, much more dangerous than glyphosate.

And formaldehyde occurs naturally everywhere. It’s in apples, up to 22 ppm (parts per million). Maybe that old saying about an apple a day should be ended, because each apple (and many other fruits) have fairly high levels of formaldehyde, but still below what is considered dangerous.

In other words, the dose response shows that the level of glyphosate consumed is far below what is considered even slightly dangerous, below the actual level to detect the first point on a dose-response curve.

Myths about vaccine ingredients


Just like glyphosate, there’s a world of myths about vaccine ingredients. But let’s boil it down to simple math, once again.

And we’re going back to that “dangerous” chemical that contaminates our vaccines (and apparently our apples)–formaldehyde. This simple biochemical is used in the purification of the vaccine (the last thing we want is contamination from viruses or bacteria)– 99.9% of the formaldehyde is removed during the final steps of manufacturing.

The package labeling of a typical vaccine does not include the amount of formaldehyde in the vaccines because it is so tiny, so minuscule, so veritably invisible, that the amount actually cannot be measured.

It’s possible that there is actually no formaldehyde in solution, because it cannot be measured, but the chances are good there is some because the manufacturing process can’t dilute out the vaccine sufficiently to guarantee that every picogram (that’s one trillionth of a gram) is removed, because it would dilute the vaccine’s antigen too.

So here’s some simple math:

  1. The normal blood level of formaldehyde is 2.74 +/- 0.14 mg/L. A normal child has a blood volume of 2-3 L, so a normal child has 5-9 mg of formaldehyde naturally floating in her blood.
  2. This level is about 1,000,000X more than found in a dose of vaccine. Is that math clear?
  3. It would take probably 10-20 million doses of vaccines to just slightly increase the formaldehyde level in your child.

Now one  might wonder how a child, even one that consumes nothing but “organic” foods (obviously glyphosate free) and has never been vaccinated, got 9 mg of formaldehyde floating in her blood.

The body produces formaldehyde as a byproduct of metabolizing alcohols (not necessarily just from a beer, but the alcohol that is produced in the body and in other foods). And lots of foods contain formaldehyde, including fruits, nuts, and other yummy things. Apples have hundreds of thousands times more formaldehyde than one vaccine.

But more than all of that, formaldehyde is filtered from the blood rather quickly (because animals evolved to remove it), and its half-life, that is the average time one-half of the molecules of formaldehyde stay in the blood, is around 1 minute. It does not accumulate, so even if you got that 10-20 million doses of vaccines, the tiny amount of formaldehyde injected would be gone in 1-2 minutes. It is simple math.

Yes, formaldehyde is a carcinogen, it can cause cancer. Let’s go back to simple math:

  • The reference dose (that is the maximum daily dose over a lifetime that would be considered safe) for formaldehyde is around 0.2 mg/kg weight/day.
  • An average child, let’s say 20 kg (about 48 lbs for the barbarians amongst us), could consume 4 mg of formaldehyde a day safely.
  • Once again, about 1 million times more formaldehyde than in a single dose of vaccines.

Let me keep repeating it – it’s all simple math.

The dose makes the poison

I know, after 2500 words, your eyes are glazing over. But let me reduce all my verbiage about the dose makes the poison into a few key points:

  1. For any particular chemical on this planet, whether naturally occurring or manufacture by humans, there is some level, called a dose, at which it is toxic.
  2. For those same chemicals, there is some level, also called a dose, at which it is effective.
  3. The proper dose that makes it effective should be way below the dose that makes it toxic.
  4. Glyphosate levels on foods and in the environment are safe. Consumption of glyphosate in foods is far far below the level that is considered unsafe.
  5. Vaccine ingredients that sound scary are also far below the level that is considered toxic, sometimes by at least 6-7 orders of magnitude (slightly less simple math).
  6. One cannot consider any so-called chemical as being toxic, unless the dose is considered – once again, the dose makes the poison.

Key citations


The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor

Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!

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  • Heather Vanderweide

    Unfortunately, the whole “scary toxin” ploy has become pervasive, with no regard to dosage or route of exposure. I have a friend who recently held a house party for selling Ava Anderson Non-Toxic (the company sells personal care and cleaning products through an MLM scheme). After looking at the website, I knew I wouldn’t be buying anything with all their claims about “toxins” in products causing cancer, acting as enocrine disrupters, having nanoparticles that penetrate the brain . . . all kinds of unsupported nonsense. Some of it even overlapped with the vaccine ingredient myths – formaldehyde as a carcinogen, aluminum as a neurotoxin, etc. I ended up sending my friend some links that debunked a few of the claims, basically telling her to be wary of companies trying to sell a $14 stick of deodorant because it had natural, organic essential oils instead of aluminum (and, oh by the way, the essential oils in the deodorant are toxic at much smaller doses than aluminum).

    It irritates me greatly that companies like Ava Anderson play off of mommy-fears and mommy-guilt in selling their products.

  • kurzweilfreak

    How do you rebutt people who talk about glyphosate or other chemicals being “endocrine disrupters” (which glyphosate isn’t) and then having “non-linear dose responses”, especially when they say that sometimes the biggest responses happen at the lower dosages? It sounds like bullshit to me and reeks of homeopathy, but I don’t have a good source to debunk this crap.

    • Science isn’t built to “prove the negative.” If we debunk one thing, then another thing shows up, a perfect example of the Argument from Ignorance.

      But sticking with “extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence,” where’s the peer-reviewed, high quality evidence? I’m not finding much. But maybe it’s out there.

      I’ve long ago realized I don’t have the time to debunk every ignorant claim. And this is one.

    • JaneCDonaldson

      ✸✸✸✸✔✸✸✸✸✔ $83 /h0ur @mi30//



    • Noteasilyswayed

      Glyphosates aren’t endocrine disrupters? That’s not the only problem it has now been known to cause cancer as well. Most European countries have banned the use (64) so why do we have to struggle to ban it here? Guess they’re more informed than the US. Our own country is poisoning our food supply, soil and fresh water all due to big AG and Corporations! And fracking being “safe” too? Yeah! Right! BULL!!!!!

      • Chris Preston

        Well firstly, glyphosate is not known as an endocrine disruptor

        Secondly, the evidence for glyphosate being a carcinogen in humans is fairly thin and restricted to a small number of epidemiology studies, whereas larger studies find no effect

        Thirdly, there are fewer than 64 countries in Europe.

        Fourthly, the only country to ban glyphosate is the Bahamas.

        I don’t often see the claim that the Bahamas politicians are more informed than regulatory agencies across the World, so congratulations.

        • kurzweilfreak

          Whoever this person Noteasilyswayed is has absolutely no critical thinking or research skills for themselves and can only parrot what they’ve read on other anti-GMO blogs. Don’t waste your time throwing facts at his or interrupting his/her Dunning-Kreuger tirades, as he will simply label you as a paid shill and attempt to insult you with ad-hominems about your age due to the fact that he/she has no actual argument of substance. Also he may not be able to read our comments properly because he’s not used to reading paragraphs that aren’t INTERSPERSED WITH ALL CAPS. Typing something in all caps obviously enhances its truthiness value, don’cha know?

          • Noteasilyswayed

            Caps are bc a person is pissed off! I’ve read enough for months about GMO’S and ppl like u come along and try to make ppl believe it’s safe or safer than the organics. What a crock of BS!!! You think the millionaires or elites of this world eat this GMO garbage? ?? Believe it…they MOST CERTAINLY DO NOT!!!! So go and preach to others which you most certainly will your pro stance bc ppl are waking up that it isn’t good for health nor our soil. Hawaii is upsetting Monsanto ‘ s test fields with regards to this issue and hope they win. Ppl are waking up!!!

            • kurzweilfreak

              [major citations needed for that crap]

              So you’ve been reading for months huh? Months! Pray tell, where can you obtain an advanced degree in genetics and toxicology in mere months that makes you qualified to make the statements you do? Google University?

              Please realize you’re deluded and you really don’t know squat but are really good at repeating propaganda.

            • Noteasilyswayed

              Ok now I’ll be blunt….ur an A..hole and “pro” GMO so go and push all u want BUT don’t try to convince ppl that GMO’S are the way…ok? Because ur still wrong on which foods are healthier and still have the best flavor. Go crawl into ur hole of ignorance. ..please!

            • kurzweilfreak

              Me being an asshole doesn’t make your arguments any more right. You’re still wrong. And you still haven’t provided any citations for any of your assertions. Non-GMO foods are not healthier or tastier.

              I’d rather be an asshole than continually be shown to be wrong without reconsidering my position.

            • Noteasilyswayed


            • kurzweilfreak

              Super compelling logical argument, and a stalker to boot! My anti-GMO bingo card is filling up quickly. Can you also call me a shill and cite Seralini and Seneff so you can hit all the usuals?

            • Noteasilyswayed

              Done done and done. ..exit stage left.

        • Noteasilyswayed

          Sorry you’re a troll and pro. Enough said.

          • Sullivan ThePoop

            What? So you give a bunch of information that completely false and when someone calls you out on it you call them a troll and a pro? Why don’t you stay in your echo chamber where you can all lie to each other unfettered.

            • Noteasilyswayed


            • kurzweilfreak

              He just came out of nowhere two months later to randomly post “TROLL” to my comments above. I’m pretty sure the anti-GMO movement is made up of not much more than poorly programmed bots with limited responses at this point.

        • Noteasilyswayed

          Ur another troll for big AG! Don’t believe a word or ur sources.