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Nano & Your Health

Since about 1981, scientists have been working alongside of product developers to develop new market opportunities for various nanoparticle applications. These nanomaterials (NM), also called Nano, have special qualities that offer distinct advantages over the commonly-used compounds of the day. Depending upon the type of nanoparticles used, qualities are demonstrated such as softening, strengthening, lubricating, whitening, illuminating, etc. are offered. In very competitive industries, Nano was cutting-edge. Now, Nano has become necessary for product manufacturers to stay ahead of the game.

The United States continues to remain unregulated in its relationship to Nano, unlike Canada and Europe. Food manufacturers are not required to list that nanoparticles are in the products they sell. It is assumed that medications are subject to more intense oversight before becoming available for public distribution, but this does not appear to be the case. Let’s just say that Nano can be found everywhere. It contaminates our food supply, pharmaceuticals, supplements, personal care products, waterways, …most everything. All the while there is no official safety-testing and study-after-study declares the ravages found by these unnatural compounds on human, animal and aquatic life.

According to the Center for Food Safety, nanoparticles in food or food packaging can gain access to the human body via ingestion, inhalation or skin penetration. Nanoparticles’ small size allows them to circulate through the body when ingested, reaching potentially sensitive target sites, such as bone marrow, lymph nodes, the spleen, the brain, the liver and the heart. After nanoparticles are in the body, some types may have the ability to translocate to various organs and the central nervous system. For example, silver and carbon nanoparticles show up in other parts of the body after inhalation exposure.

Is Nanotechnology Safe?
by Shelley Stonebrook
Mother Earth News

Yet still, most people believe that supplements are designed to promote health and vitality and an ideal world this would be true. However, it is unfortunate that not all of our modern supplement production methods are beneficial, including Nano. When in fact, some may be quite detrimental, neutralizing any benefit of the supplement at best, and at worst, harming the body. Let’s take a look.


In the past ten years or so, “Nano” has increasingly become all the rage. Fancy and cute terms like ‘quantum dots’ and ‘ENPs’ get us all excited while we lack true understanding. Quantum what’s? and ‘HUHs’? Many of us don’t really know what they mean, except perhaps that they’re really small bits of, well, something… that we just happen to be ingesting more of on a daily basis, almost blissfully, without much of a clue. Let’s look at this a little deeper…

To put it simply, nanoparticles are very, very tiny particles, less than 100 nanometers (nm) in size in a minimum of one dimension. They fall into one of three main categories:

  • Ultrafine Particles (UFPs) ~ Natural nanoparticles and aerosols which include the smallest particles found in air pollution, both indoors and outdoors. Sources of UFPs are: sea spray, viruses, “inorganic ash, soot, sulfur and mineral particles found in the air or in wells, to sulfur and selenium nanoparticles produced by many bacteria and yeasts.”1
  • Incidental (INPs) ~ Resulting from ‘anthropogenic’ (meaning, caused by humans) processes (i.e. industrial wastes, manufacturing and welding fumes, diesel exhaust, etc.). These particles have the ability to penetrate mammalian cells gaining a direct route to the brain. UFPs cause oxidative stress resulting in increased incidences of cardiovascular and cardio-respiratory mortalities.2
  • Engineered Nanoparticles (ENPs) ~ Intentionally created, (not natural) synthetics, using processes designed to meet very specific properties.3

At present, there are five subcategories of nanoparticles. All five categories can be engineered, but, the first two subcategories can also be found naturally. These are the carbon-based and metal-based Nanos. The three engineered Nanos are called quantum dots, dendrimers and composite nanomaterials.

Carbon-Based Materials

Carbon-based supplements are an exciting field of opportunity in Nano technology especially related to supplementation. Substances called bioactive carbons are made up of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen that create high-energy organic molecules. They also contain something called ‘poly-dispersed polyanions’ which contain multiple, negatively-charged sites, capable of binding and neutralizing positively charged molecules. In other words, polyanions put the “bioactive” into bioactive carbons.

Polyanions put the “bioactive” into bioactive carbons

These electrons allow bioactive carbons to function as both a carrier and a binder. Their small size gives them access to places in the body that larger molecules from more traditional supplements cannot go. They have the ability not only to remove toxins but to increase the body’s retention, ability to absorb, and effective use of the nutrients in food, vitamins, minerals and supplements. Used appropriately, bioactive carbons have potential to be the shining light in this Nano-mess that has been thrust upon us.

Metal-Based Materials

Metal-based materials like carbon-based Nano have a high reactivity and can occur naturally or are commonly engineered into materials such as nanogold, nanosilver, titanium dioxide, zinc dioxide, cerium dioxide, and zero-valent iron.4

Quantum Dots

A quantum is the very smallest bit of a substance that contains electromagnetic radiation. Quantum Dots (QDs) are not found in nature and are strictly engineered with a reactive core made out of metals or semiconductors that are encased in an protective organic shell. The purpose of this shell is to protect the core from oxidation (breaking down).

Colloidal quantum dots irradiated with UV light.
QDs emit colors based on size.

These types of nanoparticles are used in “medical bioimaging, targeted therapeutics, solar cells, photonics and telecommunication.” These types of nanoparticles are considered useful as their small size allows them to travel in the body. Biomedical applications such as medical imaging, drug delivery or “targeted therapeutics”, biosensors, solar cells, photonics and telecommunication as being pursued. The “dots” or centers of these nanoparticles are made from materials such as “cadmium selenide, cadmium telluride, indium phosphide, and zinc selenide.5

Discovered in 2004, graphene is a material made of carbon atoms that are bonded together in a repeating pattern of hexagons which are arranged in a honeycomb pattern. In itself, graphene is not fluorescent (unlike cadmium). It “quenches the fluorescence of the quantum dots. However, when conjugated with bovine serum albumin (BSA or Fraction V”, a protein derived from cows) it “provides a novel highly fluorescent nano probe” with the potential for “non-invasive optical in vitro imaging. The graphene-QDs are used for in vitro imaging of live human carcinoma (Hela) cells. Graphene-QDs could be readily up-taken by Hela cells in the absence of specific targeting molecules, e.g., antibodies or folic acid, and no in vitro cytotoxicity is observed at 360 μg mL(-1) of the graphene-QDs. The results for the imaging of live cells indicated that the cell-penetrating graphene-QDs could be a promising nano probe for intracellular imaging and therapeutic applications.”6

No in vitro cytotoxicity. Doesn’t that sound great? Maybe, but not so fast. ‘In vitro’ simply means the test above was performed in a Petri dish, not within a human or even in an animal. The medium used was an immortal cell line called HeLa. HeLa is a line of ovarian cancer cells taken in 1951 that has been perpetuated for the last 70 years. These HeLa cancer cells do not contain normal human “karyotype”. Meaning that the number and appearance of chromosomes in these cells range from 76 to 80, of which 22 to 25 chromosomes are abnormal. A normal human cell has 46 chromosomes. It is important to note that while “HeLa cells resemble normal human cells in many ways, they are neither normal nor entirely human.”7

Now, to be clear the researchers did not claim that Nano graphene was not cytotoxic to humans, only to the non-human cell line they experimented upon in the Petri dish. In Toxicity of graphene-family nanoparticles: a general review of the origins and mechanisms, researchers compiled data from multiple sources to get an even bigger picture. Here is what they found:

Along with the application and production of GFNs increasing, the risk of unintentional occupational or environmental exposure to GFNs is increasing. And recently, there are some investigation on GFNs exposure in occupational settings and published data showed that the occupational exposure of GFNs had potential toxicity to the workers and researchers. GFNs can be delivered into bodies by intratracheal instillation, oral administration, intravenous injection, intraperitoneal injection and subcutaneous injection. GFNs can induce acute and chronic injuries in tissues by penetrating through the blood-air barrier, blood-testis barrier, blood-brain barrier, and blood-placenta barrier etc. and accumulating in the lung, liver, and spleen etc. For example, some graphene nanomaterials aerosols can be inhaled and substantial deposition in the respiratory tract, and they can easily penetrate through the tracheobronchial airways and then transit down to the lower lung airways, resulting in the subsequent formation of granulomas, lung fibrosis and adverse health effects to exposed persons… The toxicological mechanisms of GFNs demonstrated in recent studies mainly contain inflammatory response, DNA damage, apoptosis, autophagy and necrosis etc., and those mechanisms can be collected to further explore the complex signaling pathways network regulating the toxicity of GFNs. It needs to point out that there are several factors which largely influence the toxicity of GFNs, such as the concentration, lateral dimension, surface structure and functionalization etc.

Ou, L., Song, B., Liang, H. et al.
Toxicity of graphene-family nanoparticles:
a general review of the origins and mechanisms.
Part Fibre Toxicol 13, 57 (2016).

In general, the data that is known about the toxicity of graphene should be of great concern for anyone that considers undergoing any of the therapies that have been mentioned. There is simply not enough known to prove that exposure to this known toxin is safe for use in any form, internally or externally.


STM Image of First generation “CyanoStar” dendrimer

Dendrimers are engineered nano-compounds (branched nanomolecules) which are particularly useful to the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries for use as drug delivery systems, polymer materials (large molecules such as plastics to DNA and proteins), chemical sensors, and modified electrodes. They are “three-dimensional nanostructures engineered to carry molecules incapsulated in their interior void spaces or attached to the surface.”8

Here is an example for your consideration. When studying the natural cell membrane found in the blood of healthy donors, it was found that rises in the presence of engineered microparticles (MPs) circulating “in the blood [were] associated with diseases that damage blood vessels….Among the major potential adverse events are abnormal clotting and inflammation, particularly after administration of blood platelet products. In fact, moderate to severe reactions to transfusion of platelet products have been documented in more than 20% of recipients.”9

Composite Nanomaterials

Composite NMs are made “using two different NMs or NMs combined with larger, bulk-type materials. They can also be made with NMs combined with synthetic polymers or resins.” They “consist of multifunctional components and have novel electrical, catalytic, magnetic, mechanical, thermal or imaging features.”10

Safety Concerns

The common substances found in each of the supplement fillers listed below are all Engineered Nanoparticles (ENPs). Nano is everywhere. It is found in food as flavor and texture enhancers and preservatives, in the water supply, the air, medications, supplements, cosmetics and personal care products like suntan lotions, metal fabrication, auto parts, product packaging, aircraft engines, paints and coatings, plastics, technology, television screens, Nano-engineered organs and tissues, etc.

In an article entitled, “The Bad” the following health considerations are raised:

  Nanoparticles have been shown to be absorbed in the livers of research animals and even cause brain damage in fish exposed to them after just 48 hours.  If they can be taken up by cells, then they can enter our food chain through bacteria and pose a health threat like mercury in fish, pesticides in vegetables or hormones in meat.  The increasingly-popular carbon nanotube (20x stronger and lighter than steel) looks very much like an asbestos fiber – what happens if they get released into the air?  Being carbon-based, they wouldn’t set off the usual alarms in our bodies, making them difficult to detect.

The Nnanoethics Group

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Supplements are more than just a pill or a capsule. They are even more than the sum total of the active ingredients. There are other additives that require awareness. Some additives to supplements are also commonly known additives to food and cosmetics. Researchers are questioning the safety of these ingredients, although they have been labeled as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for years. Science is discovering scads of evidence that Nano is contrary to what is promoted as “safe”, but sadly, many are suffering from the adverse affects without knowing why.

It is so important for natural health professionals as well as consumers. All of us need to be “on-our-game” – making sure ingredients are indeed beneficial and the supplement quality is high. The best supplements are not available to people direct through retail outlets. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find supplements of the quality available to health professionals ina retail shop.

Still, health professionals have to look closely at the ingredient list for each supplement they buy. Professional supplement companies, even those that are very good, can offer supplements that have ingredients that the knowledgeable health professional should reject. Certainly, if you were not a label-reader before becoming aware of this information, we hope that you will become an avid label-reader as a result.

The following are a some of the most common nanoparticles found in supplements:


One of the most common additives is stearic acid. This is a substance (a part of the magnesium molecule) that that benefits manufacturers in a few different ways. First, as a lubricant it acts as a “flow agent” to keep the product moving nicely through the machine so it doesn’t get clogged up. It also has a softening property which makes the supplement more pliable to fit into a form. Stearic acid also causes the ingredients in pills to stick together making a nice, firm tablet.

It is able to do this because stearic acid is a naturally-occurring type of fat found in animal and vegetable fats, such as coconut and cocoa fats. It is a precursor to oleic acid which is found in coconut oil, palm oil and shea butter.  While this natural form of stearic acid is known to be a potent anti-inflammatory, there appears to be a dangerous difference between consuming a healthy fat that naturally contains stearic acid and a supplement that contains a commercially isolated stearic acid molecule that has been mechanically processed two or three times.

Hydrolysis is a chemical process that destroys the chemical bonds of a substance. In the case of stearic acid, hydrolysis reduces it to an isolated fat molecule. It is sticky so that it sticks the pill together and emollient so that it aids in the flow through the machines. Science assumes that it is okay to do this because the stearic acid molecule looks the same if it is in a healthy fat or in an isolated form. What is not known is whether it is the hydrolyzation process or the loss of synergy that causes hydrolyzed stearic acid to become destructive in the body.

Plants and animals are not made up of isolated chemicals, rather, they are made up of a multitude of complex chemical interactions. Some of these interactions aid in the proper absorption and bioavailability of its components, others act as buffers which reduce the likelihood of side-effects. There are many different factors involved.

Researchers have found that commercial stearic acid does cause problems. It “selectively inhibits T-dependent immune responses in vitro.” It does this by enhancing “membrane rigidity to an extent that plasma membrane integrity is significantly impaired, leading to a loss of membrane potential and ultimately cell function and viability.”12 In other words, steric acid works to suppress T-cells by breaking down cell membranes. In a world where we need as much natural immunity as possible, this is not good.

The network of membranes inside of a cell that proteins and other molecules move through is called the endoplasmic reticulum. As stearic acid accumulates within the cells of the endoplasmic reticulum, the stress that it causes creates inflammation and cell death.13 Furthermore, formaldehyde has been found to be a metabolite of stearic acid. Both steric acid and formaldehyde are substances listed as contact allergens.14, 15


Similar in action to stearic acid, magnesium stearate is a compound of stearic acid plus a magnesium ion. It is 6-8 percent magnesium oxide bound to stearic acid. Like stearic acid, magnesium stearate is a common manufacturing lubricant and adhesive that holds pills together and keeps capsules from sticking together.

A product that is bound (coated) with magnesium stearate keeps the body from absorbing the whole product. This dramatically reduces the absorption of nutrients and the intended therapeutic effect of the supplement. As magnesium stearate is not a natural substance, it uses up additional resources in the body as it attempts to detox these molecules. There is also a cumulative effect as various supplements containing magnesium stearate are multiplied and ingested.

~The supplement that doesn’t work, soon becomes the most expensive one.~


Titanium dioxide is an industrial chemical that is white and without taste or odor. It is used as a whitener and is added to food, toothpaste, cosmetics, sunscreens, paints and plastics as well as pharmaceuticals and supplements. It has never been consumed in traditional diets and the addition to food and supplements is a modern-day contrivance.

“Titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO(2)-NPs, <100 nm) are increasingly being used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics due to the unique properties derived from their small sizes. However, their large surface-area to mass ratio and high redox potential may negatively impact human health and the environment. TiO(2)-NPs can cause inflammation, pulmonary damage, fibrosis, and lung tumors and they are possibly carcinogenic to humans. Because cancer is a disease involving mutation, there are a large number of studies on the genotoxicity of TiO(2)-NPs.”16 (A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer.)

Titanium(IV) oxide
Titanium Dioxide

Researchers have found that titanium dioxide nanoparticles can be translocated and accumulated in the brain causing oxidative stress and an “overproliferation of all glial cells, tissue necrosis” (irreversible tissue death caused by a lack of blood and oxygen) and apoptosis (genetically regulated cell self-destruction marked by the fragmentation of nuclear DNA) of the cells of the hippocampus. Additionally, “…numerous studies have described the accumulation of titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO(2) NPs) in the liver, kidneys, lung, spleen, and brain, and the corresponding damage…”17 “Therefore, these genes may be potential biomarkers of brain toxicity caused by TiO2 NPs [Titanium Dioxide nanoparticles] exposure…”18

Multiple studies have recorded changes in the regulation of multiple genes that are associated with the following (in mice): 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24

By Aaron Logan CC BY 1.0 from www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php
  • Oxidative stress
  • Immune Dysfunction/Autoimmune Disease
  • Apoptosis
  • Altered Memory & Learning
  • Altered Brain Development
  • Signal Transduction
  • Disrupted Metabolic Process
  • DNA Repair
  • Response to Stimulus
  • Cellular Toxicity
  • Ovarian Injury
  • Imbalanced Mineral Elements
  • Imbalanced Sex Hormones
  • Decreased Fertility & Rate of Pregnancy
  • Increased Estradiol Biosynthesis & Corresponding Decreased Progesterone
  • Kidney Toxicity, Inflammation & Cellular Apoptosis
  • Liver Toxicity, Inflammation & Cellular Apoptosis Resulting in Autoimmune & Inflammatory Disease
  • Colon Microinflammation & Susceptibility to Colon Cancer
  • Neurogenic Disease States
  • Apoptosis in the spleen
  • Spleen Injury Reducing Immune Capacity
  • Severely Altered Gene Expression Involved in Immune/Inflammatory Responses


Silicon dioxide or silica has many uses. In the construction industry it is used in the production of concrete, fracking, semiconductors, on microchips, glass production, fiberglass, foods like spices and non-dairy creamer (to reduce caking), cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Due to its ability to bind to nucleic acids, it is used in the extraction of DNA and RNA.25 Silica is also be used to increase the weight of supplements and medications causing them feel more ‘substantial’ to the consumer.

Silicon when processed into nanoparticles becomes dangerous to the human n body. “Silicon-based materials and their oxides are widely used in drug delivery, dietary supplements, implants and dental fillers. Silica nanoparticles (SiNPs) interact with immunocompetent cells and induce immunotoxicity.”26

While studying the effects of silicon dioxide nanoparticles on mice, researchers happened upon the finding that neurotoxic affects may become apparent through changes in the gut-brain axis. They said, we “demonstrated for the first time that the neurobehavioral impairments and brain damages induced by SiO2NPs [silicon dioxide nanoparticles] might be distinctively associated with the disruption of gut-brain axis by specific chemical substances originated from gut…”27 [Silicon Dioxide] “..SiO2NPs significantly caused the spatial learning and memory impairments and locomotor inhibition. Although SiO2NPs did not trigger evident intestinal or neuronal inflammation, they remarkably damaged the tissue integrity.”28

Silicon dioxide also appears to cause severe inflammation and cytokine imbalances which leads to lung hyperresponsiveness (allergic asthma).29, 30, 31, and lung cancer (from the inhaled nanoparticles).32

Be Proactive!

The importance of selecting supplements with safe ingredients cannot be overstated. It is the utmost priority for one to regain and maintain their vitality. One can easily find studies outlining the damaging effects of additives like silicon dioxide, while at the same time slick-looking websites are promoting products such as ‘digestive system cleanses’ made of this same damaging substance. How can this be? How should someone select quality supplements with the least amount of harmful ingredients?

The answer is multifaceted. First read the labels and know what it is them. Then learn to identify particularly harmful ingredients. Next, realize that a majority of supplements available to the public are owned by or manufactured by pharmaceutical companies (although the brand of the supplement may have a different or previously-trusted company name).

Natural health professionals have access to high-quality, clean supplements, but you will always want to know the ingredients as it is those “other” ingredients that are particularly troublesome.

Natural health professionals, especially those who are herbalists, are willing to encapsulate ingredients or provide what you need in an alternative form that is beneficial. They should never add fillers or binders because they are not using high-output machinery. Seek out relationships with people like this or better yet, become one yourself!