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Over-The-Counter Muscle-Pain Relieving Cream Blamed for Track Star's Death

On June 10th, 2007, the New York Times published a story about a high school track star who died after overusing an over-the-counter cream that is commonly used to treat sore muscles and joints. The official cause of death was determined by a New York City medical examiner after a two-month investigation.

The athlete died after her body absorbed toxic levels of methyl salicylate, a compound that is found in sports creams like Icy Hot and Bengay.

Methyl salicylate, also known as oil of wintergreen, is a natural substance that is produced by many species of plants. Today, commercial methyl salicylate is synthesized rather than produced through distillation of the natural compound from real plants. Methyl Salicylate is included in sports creams for its ability to open up blood capillaries and increase blood circulation.

There is no dispute over the fact that methyl salicylate is toxic to the human body. Exposure to as little as 4 mL can cause death in small children.

Please be aware that anything that you put on your skin can enter your bloodstream. This is especially true for substances that are applied around large pores, like your mouth and eyes. Heat and intense exercise can increase absorption rates, so you should take care not to apply creams with toxic ingredients on your skin before a workout or before you know you have to be out in hot weather for a prolonged period of time.

My experience has been that some practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine recommend using rubbing alcohol as a base through which their patients can apply various herbs to their skin; the alcohol is used to facilitate absorption of herbs into the skin and bloodstream. My opinion is that this is a dangerous practice, one that can quite easily lead to alcohol poisoning if the patient is not acutely aware of the potential dangers of applying rubbing alcohol to skin around large pores.

Bottom line: Unless deemed absolutely necessary to your well-being, do not apply products with methyl salicylate or other components that are made with alcohol to your skin, especially around your mouth, nose, eyes, anus, and reproductive organs.


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