Cocktail effect makes chemicals more toxic

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The knowledge we have about the effects of various chemicals is based on studies of one chemical at a time. Mixing different chemicals might alter their effect. This is commonly known as the cocktail effect and is the subject of increasing discussion among researchers.

This may partly be due to different chemicals having either the same or the opposite effect, which then strengthens or weakens the other's effect, and partly due to a chemical being able to influence how another chemical is absorbed, spread or eliminated in the body. It may result in negative effects being added so that 1+1=2, but it can also be amplified even more so that 1+1=3 or greater.

Doses previously considered safe suddenly become unsafe. For example, it has been shown that mixtures of low levels of environmental toxins in fish can double the toxic effect on human cells compared with the effects of those chemicals separately, that is, 1+1=4.

Text: Fredrik Hedlund. First published in Medicinsk Vetenskap 2/2013.