Pick Up the Toothpaste

The new year hasn’t been short any outrageous headlines, and you may have seen a few claiming an additive in toothpaste can cause cancer.

You can probably guess where we’re going with this.

According to media reports, titanium dioxide, a naturally occurring compound used to make foods and products like makeup, sunscreen, and toothpaste whiter and brighter, causes cancer in rats.

But the study in question took a more restrained approach in its evaluation. Precancerous lesions only developed after rats were fed a carcinogen to – get this – give them cancer. Rats that were fed titanium dioxide in addition to the carcinogen didn’t even develop more precancerous cells than other rats not fed titanium dioxide.

What the study does indicate is that titanium dioxide can be absorbed by the intestine, which isn’t a very radical claim considering the intestine is responsible for absorbing essential nutrients and minerals like vitamin B12 and iron.

After discovering small levels of absorption, the researchers took the logical next step to determine whether absorbed titanium dioxide was causing damage. No DNA damage was observed, which is a promising sign considering mutations in our genes are one of the many factors that promote cancer development.

But even this study isn’t infallible. Only a small number of rats were observed for health effects, so any result, positive or negative, could have been due to random chance.

Titanium dioxide is nothing new – it has been the eighth most common compound in the Earth’s crust billions of years before ever being used in toothpaste, and used in consumer products since the early 1900’s. It just goes to show – even though a scientific study mentions the word “cancer,” it doesn’t mean the sky is falling.