Let us look at the multivitamin that is most recommended by doctors and the one that has become the most popular multivitamin on the market (Source).
According to the most recent version of Centrum on Pfizer's (the company who produces Centrum) website, the following versions of Centrum contains one or more of the following: talc, trans fats, aluminum, nickel, vanadium, and tin in either the ingredients list or in the supplement facts:
- Centrum Adults (Source)
- Centrum Women's (Source)
- Centrum Men (Source)
- Centrum Silver Adults (Source)
- Centrum Silver Women (Source)
- Centrum Silver Men (Source)
Let Us Focus on Talc
The American Cancer society lets us know that there are two types of talc; one that has asbestos and one type that does not have asbestos (Source). They go on to inform us that the first type is certainly dangerous while information regarding the safety of the latter "is less clear." Unclear information is a common theme in the multivitamin industry.
By looking at those ingredient lists carefully, we can determine that there is more talc by weight than vitamin B1.
With that knowledge, we can use the Supplement Facts to find that B1 is found to be in the amounts ranging from 1.1mg to 1.5mg. Prepared with the awareness that there is at least 1.2mg of talc in each of the above versions of Centrum, we must ask ourselves the following questions: How much talc is too much? How much asbestos is too much? How much asbestos is in talc?
How Much Talc is Too Much?
I found a short warning by MedLinePlus.gov that offers the advice that we should call poison control if we ingest talc because of the possibility of talcum poisoning (Source). MedLinePlus.gov does not offer any specific amounts so I imagine we are to call poison control regardless of how much talc we have ingested. Should we call poison control everytime we consume Centrum? Perhaps we should. There seems to be no information on "safe levels" of talc anywhere at all.
The FDA only offers articles that cover the potential risks of talc but I know that I am missing a piece of the puzzle and I stand humbly prepared to be corrected. I know I am missing a piece of the puzzle because the FDA allows for up to 300mg of Talc to be used in tablets (Source-see pg 2). I would like to see the records showing that the FDA tests the talc in tablets for asbestos.
Is it safe to call talc dangerous? Is it dangerous to call talc safe? Is it ethical to allow millions of Americans to consume talc every day? Well, the U.S. FDA, is it?
How Much Asbestos is Too Much?
If nothing else, we can all agree that asbestos is very harmful to the body. Even the FDA calls asbestos a "known carcinogen" (Source). Asbestos harms the body in other ways I would rather not mention but feel free to explore for yourself (Source).
According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), "No amount of asbestos is considered safe." (Source). If we are to trust the MDH, then we can conclude that even the tiniest amount of asbestos may be harmful.
I have tried to find more information on how much asbestos is too much because "tiniest amount" is not a quantified number. All I can find is that the United States Environmental Protection Agency tells us that long-term exposure is one of the major risk factors (Source).
Multivitamins do not come with a statement that warns consumers not to take the product for an extended period of time. They also do not come with a warning that they may contain asbestos. Such warnings could be necessary if these companies are going to continue to use dangerous ingredients in their products. Please provide me with the evidence to suggest otherwise.
How Much Asbestos is in Talc?
No one actually knows how much asbestos is in talc. So, we are left with that time the FDA tested certain cosmetic products for talc. Their test is relevant because it shows the parameters used by the FDA and the results of the test are broadened to other industries since the FDA tested the mining company's' talc and not just the talc inside cosmetic products.
The FDA is a big and complicated organization with a lot of responsibilities and one of those responsibilities is that the "FDA monitors for potential safety problems with cosmetic products on the market." (Source) Indeed, that sounds comforting. It is comforting until we take a closer look at the survey.
I am glad to report that no asbestos was found... ...unfortunately, out of the tens of thousands of cosmetic products on the market, the FDA only tested 34. We must be careful not to fool ourselves into thinking that there are only 34 companies that have talc in their products.
When it comes to cosmetic products, the FDA writes that cosmetics, "...with the exception of color additives, do not have to undergo FDA review or approval before they go on the market." They add that, " ...the law does not require them [cosmetics companies] to share their safety information with FDA." (Source)
The FDA is letting us know that they do not know how safe or dangerous cosmetic products are. The FDA also does not know the what ingredients are in cosmetic products. It appears to be an honor system in which companies can decide for themselves whether or not to list harmful ingredients.
It is with common sense that we can determine that any company who is willing to put copious amounts of asbestos-talc into their product will not be eager to put talc on their ingredients list or willingly disclose the hazards of their product to the FDA.
In other words; why would a company put contaminated talc into their product and then volunteer to send it off to the FDA for testing? It would not matter even if they did send it to the FDA for testing; I will soon explain why.
Poorly Designed Parameters
Apart from testing a mere 34 products on the market, the FDA was only able to obtain talc samples from four out of the nine mining companies from which they requested it. The FDA is effectively saying it has no idea how much asbestos is being sent out by 56% of the mining companies who mine and distribute talc. Hmm.
It should also be noted that the FDA did not test the products themselves. Instead, they had a third party do it for them (Source). The third party was used because the "FDA’s cosmetic laboratories do not have the equipment needed to perform the analyses."
If their facilities are not sufficient to test a measly 34 products for asbestos, then we what for what are they sufficient? Not much.
The FDA Could Not Find A Tree in the Forest
The mission of the FDA is as follows, "The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation."
(If you are wondering why dietary supplements are not included, it is because they are considered food.)
How can the FDA accomplish any of those tasks if they are not equipped with the proper tools to monitor or check for harmful ingredients? How can they accomplish that mission if the parameters of their own study, on a chemical as deadly as asbestos in products that are used in every household in America, were so limited (Source)?
Limited in Many Ways
Even the FDA writes that their "results were limited" by the very few number of tested companies. They conclude that all the products tested were safe and without talc.
This information may leave consumers thinking that their makeup has been checked by the FDA for asbestos or that the FDA has tested enough cosmetic products that we can take comfort in the information they gained and go to the store to purchase cosmetic products with confidence. Yikes! That's not at all what their test determined!
The FDA has left me with more questions than answers because they do not claim to have any plans for a follow-up test nor do they mention that they have plans to contact the remaining five mining companies.
Thanks for Nothing, FDA
What I have just described can be summed up like this: The FDA did a survey that gave us limited results and therefore we can draw from it only very uncertain conclusions. We simply do not know how much asbestos is in the talc that is currently on the market.
The FDA's Double Standard
The parameters used by the FDA would not be permitted to be used by a supplement or pharmaceutical company in order to prove an ingredient safe.
- It seems that the FDA is not being held to the same standards by which it holds other companies.
- It is clear that the FDA would intervene if its own testing methods were used by the companies it regulates.
- The FDA does not play by any rules (nor does Centrum for that matter).
If you ask the FDA about the safety of cosmetics they could accurately say, "Yeah, we did a study on that... ...we sent a handful of eyeliners off to a doctor, it's fine. Go away."
If you ask the FDA about the safety of multivitamins they could accurately say, "...We have no idea..."
When I sent the FDA an email outlining issues with Centrum, they did not respond. Maybe I am giving them too much credit considering that in reality, they respond to concerned citizens with silence.
Friendly Drug Association
I will try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the cosmetic sector of the FDA is lacking in their laboratory technology and other areas of the FDA have fantastic cutting-edge equipment but are all too busy to help out with the asbestos-talc testing.
Perhaps the FDA simply had better things about which to worry. For example, they have to figure out how to actively ignore asbestos-talc levels in multivitamins without drawing attention to themselves...
What was the question again?
We were trying to figure out the answer to this question: "How much asbestos is in talc?" Instead, we learned that the FDA does not know, the mining companies do not care to share, and the American public is potentially consuming copious amounts of asbestos.
In the end, we learned that the amount of asbestos in Centrum is as mysterious as the FDA's lack of ability to test products. There are some things we will simply never know.
Final Thoughts on Talc
So, I have answered three very important questions using primarily government documents. The final answers are as follows:
- Humans should never consume talc.
- Humans should never consume asbestos.
- We have no idea how much asbestos is in talc (and neither does the FDA).
Oh, I Almost Forgot!
My opinion of Pfizer (makers of Centrum) has improved this week. I appreciate that they have done my job for me and told us that talc is harmful. Please consider the following quote by a head employee at Pfizer: "There could be a number of harmful ingredients in counterfeit medicines – boric acid, rat poison, brick dust, talc and wallboard have been found in counterfeit medicines before." (Source).
If you read it carefully, you will notice that Pfizer's website is letting us know that an ingredient in Centrum is just as dangerous as boric acid, rat poison, brick dust, and wallboard.
The quote, which was taken from John Clark (Pfizer Global Security), can also be viewed in a video by Pfizer (Source).
They make no effort to clarify as to the quality, source, amount, or purpose for using talc. Therefore, we are left with the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from such a statement: 'Centrum should not be consumed by humans.'
This is part four in a series of articles. Here is part five.
Thanks for reading!