Originally formulated for the US Army, this chemical is now used in one-third of American households and was used during the Vietnam War alongside the now banned chemicals Agent Orange and DDT.
The chemical, N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET, was used as a bug deterrent for soldiers serving in the jungles of Vietnam. Now commercially available, DEET is coming under scrutiny for causing acute toxicity, allergic reactions, scarring, and even brain swelling that leads to death.
DEET's number one manufacturer, Morflex Inc., estimates that over 200 million people now use the war-time chemical in their household bug repellents.
Agent Orange herbicides more readily absorbed in the presence of DEET
Herbicide 2,4-D, one of the main components of Agent Orange, acts as an endocrine disrupter in humans. 2,4-D is more readily absorbed by the body in the presence of DEET. It was the chemical 2,4,5-T that led to the banning of Agent Orange, but it is DEET that makes Agent Orange more pervasive in the human body.
DEET passes through placenta of rabbits, pervasive in US water streamsIn EPA field tests, DEET was found at small concentrations in 75 percent of water streams tested in the US. The chemical breaks down in sunlight but breaks down very slowly in soil. On tests involving rabbits, DEET entered the mammal's skin and even passed through the placenta of the pregnant rabbits!
The American Academy of Pediatrics is concerned about DEET being used on children and warns parents not to expose young ones less than two months old to the chemical.
DEET's adverse reactions include brain swelling that leads to death
The National Institutes of Health warns that even adults, especially military personal and game wardens, can develop severe skin reactions including blisters, burning and scars. Long term use in these careers may elicit mood changes and insomnia.
In some documented cases, DEET has caused death after eliciting certain adverse reactions. The EPA warns that DEET can cause acute liver problems and brain swelling in individuals with ammonia metabolism problems. In these urea cycle disorders, which occur in about 1 in 20,000 births, an individual's brain may swell when exposed to DEET, causing death.
Seven companies distribute more than 225 DEET products in AmericaIn the US, there are at least 225 products containing DEET. Just seven companies pump the market full of the chemical, with SC Johnson, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon leading the way. The 225 bug sprays are really a corporate illusion of choice that mass distributes the same toxic chemical. The good news is - there are other safe options for bug deterrents that do not pose a threat to human health.
Should DEET be commercially available?While avoiding mosquito borne diseases like Lyme's and malaria is important, is a toxic chemical like DEET the answer? How might the natural essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, neem, cedar, and citronella be more effective and safer? These plant oils can be used at higher concentrations without posing life threatening reactions.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has banned combinations of sunscreen containing DEET and restricts bug spray products from containing more than 30 percent DEET.
Should DEET be commercially available at high concentrations when it has been documented for causing adverse reactions that lead to death? Are DEET-containing products ethical at all?
Sources for this article include:
Briassoulis, G., et al. 2001. "Toxic encephalopathy associated with use of DEET insect repellents: a case analysis of its toxicity in children." Hum. Exp. Toxicol. 20(1):8-14.
Parasitic infections like malaria are serious, especially in countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Equador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil, where mosquitoes transmit the deadly disease at will. There are an estimated 3.4 billion people who live in an area that has a high risk of malaria transmission. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 198 million cases of malaria were treated clinically in 2013. WHO estimated there were about 500,000 deaths attributed to malaria that same year.
Malaria is a curable disease, if detected early. It is most commonly transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito. After being bit, a subject goes through a seven- to 30-day incubation period. When the parasitic infection takes hold, it may last one to three days or more. An uncomplicated case lasts six to 10 hours. The patient goes through sensations of shivering, leading to a hot stage of fever, headache, and vomiting, and finally climaxing to a stage of sweating and fatigue. If the parasitic infection complicates, it can cause organ failure and abnormal blood coagulation. This can lead to destruction of red blood cells, seizures, inhibited oxygen exchange, or acute kidney failure, among other fatal consequences.
Interestingly, two effective treatments for malaria are derived from plants. Artemisinin is derived from the Qinghaosu plant (Artemisia annua) and Quinine comes from the cinchona tree (Cinchona spp).
Similarly, natural essential oils from plants can be used to deter the mosquitoes that transmit malaria parasites. One very effective essential oil for mosquito repellent is lemon eucalyptus oil. This safe, natural plant oil contains p-menthane-diol, a plant compound that has been proven to be more effective than the leading chemical alternative, DEET (diethyltoluamide).
This is great news for those who want to repel mosquitoes without poisoning their own bodies. (DEET is a chemical poison in itself and can cause severe allergic reactions.)
Study shows lemon eucalyptus essential oil more effective than DEET In the eye-opening study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, four mosquito repellents were put to the test. One was a mixture of several essential oils believed to have repellent properties. Another repellent was based in Neem essential oil, a natural plant compound. They also tested a repellent containing 15 percent of the controversial DEET chemical. The final product was a lemon eucalyptus-based repellent containing 30 percent p-menthane-diol, a natural compound. All repellents were applied at the same dose.
Both the Neem repellent and the compound essential oil mixture did not provide significant protection from the Anopheles mosquitoes. DEET, however, gave 84.81 percent protection in a four-hour period. In the same amount of time, the eucalyptus-based repellent provided 96.89 percent protection. This study debunks the theory that chemicals like DEET are more effective and necessary to stop mosquito-transmitted disease. Safer repellents containing lemon eucalyptus oil can be used effectively in place of DEET.
In another study, researchers found similar results. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil was just as effective as DEET in repelling Anopheles gambiae and Anopheles Funestus mosquitoes for at least six hours.
These studies prove that botanical mosquito repellents can be used with confidence. They can also be made right at home using ingredients as simple as lemon eucalyptus essential oil mixed in a medium like witch hazel and a botanical carrier oil like castor, olive, or jojoba.
Live Pure News
Lance D. Johnson, founder of Live Pure Body Care, is also the managing editor for all studies represented on this site. Lance has published hundreds of articles for top health news site NaturalNews.com and dozens of other syndicated publications.