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Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > Brew Science > Urea - Carcinogen Precursor
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Old 07-01-2013, 11:38 PM   #11
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Everything is toxic at the right doses. But the dose makes the poison.

As has been mentioned in this thread, urea is produced by your body. It's an extremely common metabolic byproduct found in all species on Earth, and unless you're eating gram quantities of the stuff straight, you won't have any problems with it.

It also doesn't make ethyl carbamate at any appreciable rate without heat, so you almost certainly won't get toxic (carcinogenic) doses of urethane in beer. And if you really, really don't want any urea in your beer at all - tough titties! Your yeast will make some for themselves whether you like it or not. So adding urea (at a teaspoon per five gallons) is not gonna make a difference.

By the way, all food contains carcinogens. Any cooked food contains benzo[a]pyrene. If you like a little bit of char on your hamburgers, that char is full of carcinogens. Any deep-fried food contains acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin. But again, the dose makes the poison - you can detect all these compounds on fancy instruments, but unless you're burning your burgers to a crisp and eating ten a day, the odds that you're going to get cancer from a burger are less than one in a million. Your body has lots of ways of dealing with carcinogens.


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Old 07-02-2013, 01:29 AM   #12
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Everything is toxic at the right doses. But the dose makes the poison.

As has been mentioned in this thread, urea is produced by your body.

It also doesn't make ethyl carbamate at any appreciable rate without heat

By the way, all food contains carcinogens.
Agreed. However, if you can easily reduce the amount of exposure you have to carcinogens (I'm talking chronic, not acute exposure...I'm not afraid of toxicity, I'm concerned about developing cancer), then why not do so? How difficult is it to switch from my current DAP + urea to an all-DAP or otherwise formulated nutrient? Why not try our best to store our beverages at lower temps to reduce the conversion to urethane?


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Old 07-02-2013, 01:46 AM   #13
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I believe in the concept of triage. There's no evidence that doses of urea as small as what we're talking about could ever result in even the tiniest noticeable elevation in cancer risk, even if you drink 10 homebrews a day. There are a thousand small adjustments you could make to your lifestyle that would do far more to protect you from cancer. Why worry about this one thing?
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Old 07-02-2013, 01:55 AM   #14
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Why not try our best to store our beverages at lower temps to reduce the conversion to urethane?
Well you should do this for the good of your beer anyway.
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Old 07-02-2013, 02:12 AM   #15
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I believe in the concept of triage. There's no evidence that doses of urea as small as what we're talking about could ever result in even the tiniest noticeable elevation in cancer risk, even if you drink 10 homebrews a day. There are a thousand small adjustments you could make to your lifestyle that would do far more to protect you from cancer. Why worry about this one thing?
Okay, don't worry. But why sit next to the smoking man when you can just as easily sit in the clean air?
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Old 07-02-2013, 02:30 AM   #16
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Looking out for potential risks and avoiding them as you see fit is applaudable.
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Old 07-02-2013, 04:18 AM   #17
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Looking out for potential risks and avoiding them as you see fit is applaudable.
Within reason. But in general, it's not a good idea to go looking at the basic chemistry of substances and then extrapolating on ways they might impact your health. That's how crackpot theories and urban legends are born and propagated. It's why the Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project exists, which started as a joke to catalog all such crackpot theories based on flimsy evidence that have appeared in that tabloid (sadly, it is no longer updated).

Human biology is complicated. It takes rigorous, controlled trials to know what effects things have on our health. Unless actual medical experts have advice one way or another on a substance, it's probably not a good idea for a layperson to make too many inferences.
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Old 07-02-2013, 07:48 AM   #18
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Within reason. But in general, it's not a good idea to go looking at the basic chemistry of substances and then extrapolating on ways they might impact your health. That's how crackpot theories and urban legends are born and propagated. It's why the Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project exists, which started as a joke to catalog all such crackpot theories based on flimsy evidence that have appeared in that tabloid (sadly, it is no longer updated).

Human biology is complicated. It takes rigorous, controlled trials to know what effects things have on our health. Unless actual medical experts have advice one way or another on a substance, it's probably not a good idea for a layperson to make too many inferences.
This type of stuff has been showing up so much recently (not just in HBT) that I figured I'd humor someone for once.

Forming urea derivatives isn't anything I would expect to happen in the very mild conditions of a fermenter. I've tried to do reactions on urea before for different things but it wasn't reactive enough for my purposes.

Urea's actually used to produce my favorite compound - melamine. Melamine was figured to cause an outbreak of milk poisonings due to crooks trying to adulterate milk with nitrogen-rich melamine and sell it off at higher prices as higher protein milk. Whatever was added to cheat the system contained what researches now think is a combination of melamine and a similar compound that together form dangerous kidney stone-like crystals.

People have been spooked by melamine showing up in the milk supply since then. But resins of melamine and formaldehyde are used in cookware like bowls and utensils and it's used in food contact surfaces for machinery that processes foods. It's endemic when you really look at it and it hasn't caused any of the personal damage attributed to the isolated milk cases. Melamine's actually pretty inert, low hazard while being a good flame retardant and possessing very neat properties.

Now I could cause trouble and go around saying that dioxane looks awfully similar to two ethanol molecules combined...

And now that I've gone back a re-read OP's post: a 'source on the internet' doesn't qualify anything in itself. These references just look like people feeding into a cycle of conjecture, a snake eating it's own tail. At least someone put the effort to format a PDF and host it on a Comcast site. The homebrewing community probably won't get into the New England Journal of Medicine but I haven't heard of an article on urea/carbamate danger in Zymurgy either.

90% of everything crap, especially online sources. Look at Youtube. This is my source saying that the world experiences four days within a single day. Because I have a link it must be true.
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Old 07-02-2013, 11:29 AM   #19
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Forming urea derivatives isn't anything I would expect to happen in the very mild conditions of a fermenter.
Thank you for your informed perspective on this subject. However, the US FDA has published warnings about Ethyl carbamate in fermented beverages. Also, the Ethyl carbamate preventative action manual was published by UC Davis professors of viticulture and enology (one of whom I was fortunate enough to have taken a class under). It seems unlikely that they would go so far as to have BATF prohibit the use of urea as a fermentation supplement (pg. 5) if there was no cause for concern.

Of course, the government and the universities do silly things all the time, so...
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Old 07-02-2013, 03:48 PM   #20
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My opinion is less than full informed since I don't do any biology and enzymes have a habit of producing things a chemist couldn't do except under relatively extreme conditions. Go Nature.

That data's from 1995 so I did some searching into quantification of ethyl carbamate (EC) within recent scientific literature.

This paper is on a study of several Hungarian wines. They found that EC was present in concentrations of 4.9 to 39.9 micrograms/L in 33 wine samples.

One microgram/L is equal to 1.310^-7 ounces/gallon.

The average content was 17.7 ug/L + 52%. Three wine samples exceeded the 30 ug/L maximum for Czech/Canadian regulations. Arguably, one of the 'failed' samples was within experimental error of being below the limit. Two were commercial wines and one was domestic. They couldn't attribute the levels of EC to any specific style of wine.



Now if you look at this report by the European Food Safety Authority:

"For almost 93% of the beer samples, 42% of the wine samples, but fewer than 15% of the spirit samples, the results were below the limit of detection. Median levels of ethyl carbamate in alcoholic beverages of up to 5 g/L for beer and wine, 21 g/L for spirits other than fruit brandy and 260 g/L for fruit brandy were calculated. From these data, a dietary exposure of 17 ng/kg per day was estimated from food for an average 60 kg person who does not consume alcohol, whereas this would increase up to 65 ng/kg for consumers of a variety of different alcoholic beverages. The highest exposure to ethyl carbamate can be expected for persons exclusively consuming fruit brandy with exposure at a 95th percentile consumption level of 558 ng/kg per day."

As of 2007, the US regulation is on 15 ug/L on wines and 60 ug/L on fortified wines. Elsewhere, distilled spirits are set at 150 ug/L, sake 200 ug/L, and fruit brandy 400 ug/L.

WHO as of 2006 in that report, says that the levels of EC in wine can range from 4 - 10 ug/L. In beer, you're looking at undetectable levels to up to 1 ug/L on average.



Now if you look at that, any food product resulting from fermentation - breads, yogurt, soy sauce, even vinegar according to similar reports - contain somewhat measurable levels of EC. And in a few instances the average of those exceeds what you'd find in beer.

This has to be coupled with information of whether EC at these levels is harmful before anyone decides to give up alcohol for life.


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