Before you head for the hills or plan your next outdoor BBQ, think twice about using DEET to keep the mosquitoes at bay. DEET has been recently linked to brain damage, and since there are many natural options that are as effective or more effective than DEET there’s no need to take the risk.
DEET, or diethyl-meta-toluamide, as its known in chemistry circles, has recently been linked to brain cell damage. Duke University research shows that regular use of chemical repellents like DEET may damage brain cells and interact with medications. The pharmacologist conducting the study observed brain cell death and behavioral changes in animals exposed to DEET after frequent and prolonged use. Another study showed that up to fifteen percent of DEET is absorbed by the skin into the bloodstream.
After more than 30 years of research on the effects of chemicals on the brains of rats, Mohamed Abou-Donia, Ph.D, discovered, in two separate studies, that the frequent and prolonged applications of DEET cause neurons to die in regions of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration. Moreover, rats treated
with a comparable human dose of DEET (40 mg/kg body weight) performed far worse than control rats when challenged with physical tasks requiring muscle control, strength and coordination. Such effects are consistent with physical symptoms in humans reported in medical literature, especially by Persian Gulf War veterans, claims Abou-Donia.
Even U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) toxicologist Michael Watson noted an instance “where exposure to DEET caused six cases of brain damage in girls aged one through six – and three of them died.”
So what do you do if you wish to avoid the potentially dangerous effects of DEET while still keeping the mosquitoes at bay? While Mother Nature offers dozens of different options, here are some of my top natural mosquito repellents:
- Citronella: The old standby—use only pure essential oil of citronella—not fragrance oil. Oils purchased in bulk for burning are not adequate for applying topically to your skin. For your skin it is best to get a high quality citronella essential oil from a natural food store.
- Soy oil: The New England Journal of Medicine reported that natural repellents made of soybean oil are just as effective as DEET-containing repellents. Soy oil is inexpensive and easy to find, making it an excellent choice. Plus, it is an excellent body moisturizer. As an aside, research shows that an ingredient in soy can slow the growth of body hair when applied topically.
- Catnip: An Iowa State University research group showed that the essential oil found in the herb catnip is about 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes in the laboratory.
- NEEM seed oil, or “neem oil”: It is extracted from a plant that grows in India. An ingredient in Neem seed oil has also been found to be more effective than DEET by researchers at the Malaria Institute in India. Both the US National Research Council and the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association have confirmed this finding.
- Lavender essential oil: It smells great and is a commonly used and effective mosquito repellent.
- Garlic: Eat lots of fresh garlic—mosquitoes can’t stand the stuff.
Choose a natural mosquito repellent to ward off both mosquitoes and the nasty effects of DEET.
Written by Michelle Cook: Click here to learn more about Michelle Cook.