Mouthwash cancer study could see shift in ethanol use

13 January 2009 12:43  [Source: ICIS news]

By Rachel Howat

LONDON (ICISnews)--A study claiming that mouthwash containing alcohol may have carcinogenic effects could prompt a shift from synthetic to agricultural ethanol in the oral hygiene industry, UK ethanol market participants said on Tuesday.

The research, led by Professor Michael McCullough, chair of the Australian Dental Association's therapeutics committee, found that alcohol in mouthwash increased the permeability of the mouth’s mucous membrane to other carcinogens.

"We see people with oral cancer who have no other risk factors than the use of (mouthwash containing alcohol), so what we've done is review all the evidence,” said Professor McCullough.

According to the British Dental Health Foundation, however, there was no cause for public concern.

Chief executive Dr Nigel Carter, said: “A recent, and more thorough review of all available evidence carried out by leading experts on behalf of the foundation concluded there were no proven links between alcohol-containing mouthwashes and increased incidence of mouth cancer.”

While participants in the UK ethanol market were unified in their agreement with the British Dental Health Foundation, saying that the levels of the potential carcinogen acetaldehyde were exceptionally low - between 0.001-0.005%  - the study has given new strength to the ongoing argument that mouthwash producers should use agricultural rather than synthetic ethanol.

Agricultural ethanol is produced from crops whereas synthetic ethanol comes from crude oil derivative ethylene. The two are largely chemically identical, however legislation has tended to promote the use of agricultural product where human health is concerned.

Regulation 110/2008 of the EU parliament states that: “Alcoholic beverages shall not contain alcohol of synthetic origin, nor other alcohol of non-agricultural origin within the meaning of Annex I to the Treaty.”

This is specific to alcoholic beverages with over 15% alcohol content. However, it is usually taken to cover all products which will come into contact with the mouth.

“It is very surprising that mouth wash producers use synthetic ethanol,” said Ed Coenen of Royal Nedalco, a European producer of ethanol. “As it goes in the mouth it seems to make sense that the ethanol would have to be agricultural.”

An ethanol trader in the UK concurred, saying: “Mouthwash ought to come from fermentation ethanol - it goes in the mouth, and so should come under the regulations for drinks.”

The UK ethanol market is still heavily biased towards the use of synthetic rather than fermentation ethanol, whereas in the rest of Europe the situation is reversed.

A number of UK buyers of ethanol for the manufacture of products including mouthwash said that they had been looking into switching from synthetic to fermentation product recently, largely due to economic considerations as fermentation product has been less expensive than synthetic in the past year.

($1 = €0.75)

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By: Rachel Howat
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