Is Talc ok to eat?
April 6, 2006 2:47 AM   Subscribe

Talc is an ingredient in TUMS? This says the talc is "different", or it's not talc at all that's harmful, depending on how you read it. But people are told to use cornstarch and not baby powder because of inhaling the talc, and women shouldn't use it around their nether regions, as per this contrary article. Does this make sense to anyone? I avoid baby powder, but I don't know what I'd do without my TUMS.
posted by Iamtherealme to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
It seems as though the difference lies in what you are doing it. If you crushed up tums into powder and inhaled it, it would probably be just as bad for you as baby powder. The issue seems to lie in the "minute fibers" that are similar to asbestos, which I presume get lodged in your lungs (this would be bad). When you chew up and swallow a tums, there's very little chance of you inhaling talc fibers into your lungs. IANAD, but this seems like the most reasonable explanation.
posted by antifuse at 3:22 AM on April 6, 2006

Maybe not.
A. Talc is closely related to the potent carcinogen asbestos. Talc particles have been shown to cause tumors in the ovaries and lungs of cancer victims.
From here.
Seems unlikely that inhaled talc would wind up in the ovaries.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:37 AM on April 6, 2006

Response by poster: When I have TUMS, I do indeed get bits of "dust" as I thought of it that I end up inhaling through my nose. I've mentioned it to my family and they all knew what I was talking about. It sounds strange here, but not so strange if you're eating a TUMS. Maybe it's just us, but if it's not just us then it seems terribly irresponsible. If it were an occasional thing, no big deal, but I'm really wondering about the ramifications of going through, say, a medium bottle of tums a week over the course of years.

These are thoughts I should've put in the "more inside," but didn't realize I'd forgotten until reading your answer, antifuse.
posted by Iamtherealme at 4:03 AM on April 6, 2006

Best answer: I am not a chemist, but I did work for 15 years for a company that took an aggressive stance to elimminate asbestos from its products because of a proactive stance in anticipation of OSHA and EPA regulations. None of these products were for human consumption, but we learned a lot about the relative risks about hydrous magnesium silicates; the fibrous version of this mineral is commonly known as asbestos. The platelet version is commonly known as mica, and the expanded (popped like popcorn) version of mica was vermiculite, which has largely disappeared from the market because of the concern that some percentage of mica included asbestos.

Breathing talc can be considered a risk, but rating it as a risk versus the amount of other potential carcinogens present in the air in any urban environment renders the amount present in a roll or bottle of antacids extremely low.

Here's an example--we used bags of asbestos in the manufacture of gasketinng materials--the closed bags were similar to the cellulose shopping bags and sewn across the top like a bag of dog food or charcoal. Although the bags remained closed as they were put in a water based pulper, in storage there was always a little bit of dust around. This is "pure" asbestos remember. Now, we had OSHA come in and assess our levels of exposure and they were 1/1000 of the most stringent proposed regulations. The asbestos exposure from just walking around in NYC at that time (1979-1987) at any instant reading--not cumulative mind you, but spot readings, was over 7 times the then current OSHA regulations.

When we replaced asbestos in our formulations, we needed some mineral to mimic asbestos's heat resistant and load bearing abilities. While fiberglas offered some moderate heat resistance, ultimately it proved to be an allergen and potentially inhalable product that was considered to be at some risk. Talc was used as the load-bearing material. It has "pillar" strength, meaning that under compression it becomes columnar and resists crushing. This is why it is used as a filler in pills and tablets.

We had a corporate attorney advise us that we could not call our products "asbestos free" while using talc, but could call them "non-asbestos" formulations. The level of asbestos in talk was thought to be in the area of .002%. In other words, if you eat 1000 lbs of talc, the amount of asbestos ingested might be around 0.2 lbs. And the ingestion into the alimentary tract of asbestos has not been the problem--it is inhalation.

Again, I am not a chemist, but I think that the amount you have incidentally inhaled, you would have a hard time exceeding the amount of crap you take in just being a human being on this planet. In other words, you have bigger things to worry about than your prized tums.

As far as the articles--both are relatively sound and relatively correct, but the amount ingested by the rats to induce tumors wouuld require you to have a diet of pounds a day of talc to come anywhere close to their exposure.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:35 AM on April 6, 2006

And re-reading your post, I wonder if there is some undiagnosed condition that reuslts in a mdium bottle of tums per week. We like spicy food around casa de bubba, and I think that we've used two bottles of tums in 20 years--throwing away one because it was years out of date. If I were mainlining tums like that, I'd wonder if there was some symptom I swhould be paying attention to. Worrying about talc is not gonna help.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:38 AM on April 6, 2006

An aside: cornstarch actually isn't recommended for babies either because the particles are small enough that the fast breathing of a small child will also result in inhalation. Or so I recently read somewhere on the web, probably elsewhere on AskMe.
posted by mikeh at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2006

Kind of OT, but if you're using tums that much, you might look at Pepcid. I got a bottle of that after needing almost a bottle of tums over a month or six weeks and Pepcid worked way better for me.

/not a shill
posted by sugarfish at 7:00 AM on April 6, 2006

Um, guys, I think she's taking it for the calcium, not for reflux.

If not, please get yourself to a doctor!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:21 AM on April 6, 2006

Kirth Gerson writes "unlikely that inhaled talc would wind up in the ovaries."

But the version of lung cancer it causes could migrate.

mikeh writes "cornstarch actually isn't recommended for babies either because the particles are small enough that the fast breathing of a small child will also result in inhalation."

But because it is an organic it doesn't have the staying/scarring power of talc and asbestos.
posted by Mitheral at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2006

Kirth Gerson writes "Seems unlikely that inhaled talc would wind up in the ovaries"

Dang it should have read more: Your article further on says "Talc particles are able to move through the reproductive system and become embedded in the lining of the ovary. Researchers have found talc particles in ovarian tumours and have found that women with ovarian cancer have used talcum powder in their genital area more frequently than healthy women"

So the vector is exactly the same. The sharp cancer causing particles of talc are travelling up the reproductive system (labia > vagina > cervix > uterus > fallopian tubes > ovaries) and lodging on the surface of the ovaries where they cause cancer the same way they do when embedded in the lungs.
posted by Mitheral at 8:57 AM on April 6, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, and thanks for the concern about the underlying cause of my Tums use. Unfortunately, I've tried just about every other medication for reflux, and diet control, with no real luck. When it flares up, a few Tums get things under control like nothing else I've tried. And with my lack of insurance and limited income, it's better for me to stick with what I know will work for now.
posted by Iamtherealme at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2006

Gaviscon tablets kick Tums on their talc. Chew them up and swallow, always take water. They foam, the foam is the cure.

But, what others said: if you need that many Tums, you have a problem that needs attending. Something isn't being friendly with your system. 'Spicey' isn't the only threat.
posted by Goofyy at 5:01 AM on April 7, 2006

I believe calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in Tums. Why not try taking plain calcium supplements that contain calcium in the form of calcium carbonate (which is the most common form)? The NatureMade calcium carbonate tablets that I have do not contain talc. If you can't chew them, and swallowing them whole doesn't help, you can try dissolving them in water.
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2006

Response by poster: Goofyy, do Gavistcon tablets taste as good as Tums?
posted by Iamtherealme at 12:18 AM on April 10, 2006

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