children

 News about the controversial pesticide Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate just keep coming. Roundup is the most heavily used pesticide in the world, and it is used as a herbicide or weed-killer throughout the USA. Its use is rapidly rising, especially due to its use for preharvest applications on crops, and for genetically modified Roundup Ready crops. The chemical giant Monsanto (manufacturer of Roundup) insists that Roundup is safe for humans and the environment, but studies are indicating otherwise (see posts on Roundup). And yes, the pesticide and its residues are found wherever its presence is looked for. So one very important question is: If this heavily used pesticide is found in the foods we eat, and is around us (thus we have chronic low levels of exposure), what is it doing to us, if anything? 

This month the results of a study of 69 pregnant women receiving prenatal care at an Indiana obstetric practice was presented at a Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN) conference. The researchers reported that they found the presence of glyphosate and its breakdown products (aminomethylphosphonic acid or AMPA) in the urine of 91% of pregnant women. They found that higher levels of glyphosate were associated with lower than average birth weights and shorter pregnancy length (gestation age). Also, women living in rural areas had higher average glyphosate levels than women in urban/suburban regions. The researches suggested that it was because the rural women lived close to corn and soybean fields where glyphosate is heavily used.

The researchers also pointed out that this is especially worrisome because low birth weights and shortened pregnancy length (gestation) are seen as risk factors for many health and neurodevelopmental problems over the course of an individual’s life - lower cognitive abilities (including IQ), diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity. Of course the researchers plan to expand this research on more women.

But unfortunately US government agencies such as the FDA are not testing for the presence of glyphosate residues in foods (a major way we are exposed to glyphosate), even though they test for many other pesticides. So testing for the most heavily used pesticide in the world  in foods is deliberately not being done! It doesn't matter whether one thinks that Roundup (glyphosate) is harmful or not - we should know what foods this pesticide in the world appears in and at what levels. So far, whatever conventional foods are looked at, glyphosate residues are found. Even foods that one does not expect it in, such as honey. On the other hand, organic foods or crops are not allowed to use Roundup or glyphosate, so eating organic foods is the only way to avoid the pesticide. And of course, by not using Roundup or other glyphosate products on the property where you live.

The researchers and CEHN (Children’s Environmental Health Network) have put together a web-site documenting the increase in Roundup (glyphosate) use in the United States in the past few decades and why we should be concerned. There are many links at the thorough and well-researched site. If one looks at only a few pages, then look at the introduction page - The Project, the Birth Outcomes section, and the Biomonitoring Data page - which discusses "biomonitoring" to track levels of chemicals such as pesticides in human urine and blood, and why we should be concerned. They also discuss 2,4-D - another popular pesticide (herbicide or weed-killer), which is also used in many lawn "weed and feed" products. 2.4-D has serious health concerns, but its use is also rapidly increasing on farms due the increase in genetically modified crops (which allow it to be sprayed on crops without killing the crops).

Bottom line: We are being exposed to chronic low levels of pesticides in our environment and foods - and we really don't know what this is doing to us. We don't even know the extent of our exposures because it is not being measured. This is especially worrisome because our exposure to some of these pesticides is rapidly increasing.

From the investigative journalism site FERN: Researchers find glyphosate in pregnant women, worry about impact on infants

A team of scientists this week released early results of an ongoing study spotlighting concerns about the rising use of pesticides and reproductive risks to women and children. The researchers tested and tracked, over a period of two years, the presence of the common herbicide glyphosate in the urine of 69 expectant mothers in Indiana.

The team – led by Paul Winchester, medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit at the Franciscan St. Francis Health System and professor of clinical pediatrics at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, Ind. – found glyphosate residues in 91 percent of the women, and high levels of those residues appeared to correlate with shortened pregnancies and below-average birth weights adjusted for age. The findings alarmed the researchers because such babies are at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and lower cognitive abilities. “Gestational age maximizes the size of your brain at birth, and any shortening is essentially a reduction of IQ points,” Winchester said in an interview with FERN’s Ag Insider. “It has not just health, but lifetime achievement implications.”

This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated glyphosate is present in pregnant women in the U.S., according to Winchester. However, the results were limited by a small sample size. He and his colleagues plan to submit their research to a peer-reviewed journal within the month and they hope to expand the study later this year. “The fact that we were able to find adverse effects on the small number of people we measured would imply a larger study is needed immediately to find out if this is prevalent everywhere,” Winchester says. “This is a critical piece of information that I think people should be concerned about.”

Glyphosate is the world’s most popular herbicide and the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. Globally, 9.4 million tons of glyphosate have been sprayed on crops, lawns, and gardens since the chemical was released on the market in 1974....Currently, concerns about the safety of glyphosate are at the center of a major national lawsuit. Monsanto is being sued by hundreds of U.S. consumers who say the company did not warn them, despite evidence, that the chemical can cause cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood disease. A key piece of testimony in the suit is a 2015 International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) report stating that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Monsanto contests the listing, citing rulings by the EPA, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Food Safety Authority that did not find cancer risks.

Winchester has long studied the risks posed by agrochemicals, finding in a 2009 study that high levels of the farming chemical atrazine in water was associated with increased risk of genital birth defects in children. In the glyphosate study, Winchester and his colleagues considered whether water might again be the exposure route for the pregnant women they monitored. After testing water samples, the scientists concluded that it was not the source. They suspect diet may play a role. The Food and Drug Administration, however, recently suspended the testing of glyphosate residues in food, citing the need for improved validation methods.

Experts say the spread of weeds resistant to glyphosate in the Midwest is triggering intensification of herbicide use over longer periods of time. “Until this year, most herbicides in the Midwest were sprayed during a six-week window, but now heavy herbicide spray season will last at least four months, placing more women and children at heightened risk,” Phil Landrigan, dean for global health at Mount Sinai Medical School and a member of the research team, said in a statement. As a result, he and his colleagues predict the risk of reproductive problems and adverse birth outcomes will rise among women and children living in rural areas.

Another article on this research is from Carey Gillam for Huffington Post: Moms Exposed To Monsanto Weed Killer Means Bad Outcomes For Babies

 The research finding of so many baby foods with elevated arsenic levels (above the legal limit) in the European Union made me wonder about arsenic standards in baby cereals in the US. It turns out that the US has "parallel" standards to the European Union. The EU has "maximum 0.1 milligrams of arsenic per kilogram of rice" (this standard has been in place since January 2016), and in  2016 the US the FDA proposed a "maximum allowed standard of 100 ppb (parts per billion)" in infant rice cereal.

Why is there so much arsenic in baby cereal? It's in the rice - rice plants absorb arsenic from the soil (it may be naturally occurring in the soil or in the soil because of arsenic pesticides that were used for years). And why should we be concerned about arsenic in food? The health effects of regularly consuming infant rice cereal — and other rice-based products —containing traces of arsenic are currently unclear. But...the researchers stated that early-life exposure to arsenic, even at low concentrations, is of particular concern because infants and young children are especially vulnerable to the adverse health effects of arsenic. Arsenic is a carcinogen (causes cancer), and can have "neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic" effects.

A Harvard Health Publication (Harvard Medical School) publication in 2016 stated: "In high doses it is lethal, but even small amounts can damage the brain, nerves, blood vessels, or skin — and increase the risk of birth defects and cancer." The FDA found that inorganic arsenic exposure in infants and pregnant women can result in a child’s decreased performance on certain developmental tests that measure learning, based on epidemiological evidence including dietary exposures.

So what should parents do? The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) encourages that babies and toddlers eat a variety of foods, and that this will decrease a child's exposure to arsenic from rice. They also encourage other options as first foods (rather than just rice cereal), such as oat, barley, and multigrain cereals - all of which have lower arsenic levels than rice cereal. From Science Daily:

New research shows illegal levels of arsenic found in baby foods

In January 2016, the EU imposed a maximum limit of inorganic arsenic on manufacturers in a bid to mitigate associated health risks. Researchers at the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's have found that little has changed since this law was passed and that 50 per cent of baby rice food products still contain an illegal level of inorganic arsenic. Professor Meharg, lead author of the study and Professor of Plant and Soil Sciences at Queen's, said: "....Babies are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of arsenic that can prevent the healthy development of a baby's growth, IQ and immune system to name but a few."

Rice has, typically, ten times more inorganic arsenic than other foods and chronic exposure can cause a range of health problems including developmental problems, heart disease, diabetes and nervous system damage. As babies are rapidly growing they are at a sensitive stage of development and are known to be more susceptible to the damaging effects of arsenic, which can inhibit their development and cause long-term health problems. Babies and young children under the age of five also eat around three times more food on a body weight basis than adults, which means that, relatively, they have three times greater exposures to inorganic arsenic from the same food item.

The research findings, published in the PLOS ONE journal today, compared the level of arsenic in urine samples among infants who were breast-fed or formula-fed before and after weaning. A higher concentration of arsenic was found in formula-fed infants, particularly among those who were fed non-dairy formulas which includes rice-fortified formulas favoured for infants with dietary requirements such as wheat or dairy intolerance. The weaning process further increased infants' exposure to arsenic, with babies five times more exposed to arsenic after the weaning process, highlighting the clear link between rice-based baby products and exposure to arsenic.

In this new study, researchers at Queen's also compared baby food products containing rice before and after the law was passed and discovered that higher levels of arsenic were in fact found in the products since the new regulations were implemented. Nearly 75 per cent of the rice-based products specifically marketed for infants and young children contained more than the standard level of arsenic stipulated by the EU law.[Original study.]

A 2016 study done in New Hampshire also showed that babies eating rice cereals and other rice-based snacks had higher amounts of arsenic in their urine compared to infants who did not eat rice foods. From JAMA Pediatrics: Association of Rice and Rice-Product Consumption With Arsenic Exposure Early in Life

 Sooo.....what is going on here? Why are very early onset (5 years and younger) pediatric inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) in children increasing so rapidly in Canada? Inflammatory bowel diseases include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. In the last two decades there has been an increase of 7.2% per year- to the point that it is among the highest in the world (9.68 per 100,000 children). Only Norway has a similar incidence (10.6 per 100,000 children under the age of 16 years), with Sweden having an incidence  of 12.8 per 100,000. Research studies find that the microbial communities are out of whack (dysbiosis) in IBD.

But why is the rate of IBD increasing in these northern countries? The researchers mention that rates are also increasing in the northern states in the US. Currently the reasons for the higher rates in Canadian and northern European children are not known. Some environmental factors such as lack of sunlight exposure and high rates of vitamin D deficiency, antibiotic use, and diet have been hypothesized as contributing to the pediatric IBD increase. Stay tuned... From Science Daily:

Inflammatory bowel diseases on the rise in very young Canadian children

Canada has amongst the highest rates of pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the world, and the number of children under five years old being diagnosed increased by 7.2 per cent every year between 1999 to 2010, according to a new study by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute and the Canadian Gastro-Intestinal Epidemiology Consortium.

"The number of children under five being diagnosed with IBD is alarming because it was almost unheard of 20 years ago, and it is now much more common," says Dr. Eric Benchimol, lead author of the study, scientist at ICES and a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Inflammatory Bowel Disease Centre, in Ottawa. IBD primarily includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, which are lifelong conditions that cause inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to chronic diarrhea, blood in the stool, abdominal pains and weight loss.

Researchers say a change in the bacterial composition of the gut may be to blame for the increase in IBD cases but they don't know what is causing the change. They suspect a combination of environmental risk factors could be to blame, such as early life exposure to antibiotics, diet, or lower levels of Vitamin D in Canadians.

The researchers found that the incidence of IBD has stabilized in children over the age of five, but in children under five it continues to rise rapidly. The researchers estimate that approximately 600 to 650 children are diagnosed with IBD every year in Canada. [Original study.]

 More research supports that being exposed to pets during pregnancy or in the first months of life changes the gut bacteria, and in a way that is thought to be beneficial. The researchers found that infants exposed to pets prenatally or after birth (or both) had higher levels of two microbes that are associated with a lower risk of allergies and obesity. The two microbes are Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, but in case you're wondering - they are not (yet) available in probiotics.

And these differences in gut bacteria occurred no matter how the infants were born or fed (C-section, vaginal, breastfed, formula fed), or whether they received antibiotics at birth or not  - it was the pet exposure that was most important. The evidence is building that if one wants to avoid allergies in children - to have them exposed to furry pets in the first  year of life, and according to this study - perhaps before birth also. From Science Daily:

Pet exposure may reduce allergy and obesity

A new University of Alberta study showed that babies from families with pets -- 70 per cent of which were dogs -- showed higher levels of two types of microbes associated with lower risks of allergic disease and obesity.

"There's definitely a critical window of time when gut immunity and microbes co-develop, and when disruptions to the process result in changes to gut immunity," said Anita Kozyrskyj, a U of A pediatric epidemiologist....The latest findings from Kozyrskyj and her team's work on fecal samples collected from infants registered in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study build on two decades of research that show children who grow up with dogs have lower rates of asthma

Her team of 12, including study co-author and U of A post-doctoral fellow Hein Min Tun, take the science one step closer to understanding the connection by identifying that exposure to pets in the womb or up to three months after birth increases the abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been linked with reduced childhood allergies and obesity, respectively.

"The abundance of these two bacteria were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," said Kozyrskyj, adding that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly -- from dog to mother to unborn baby -- during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life. In other words, even if the dog had been given away for adoption just before the woman gave birth, the healthy microbiome exchange could still take place.

The study also showed that the immunity-boosting exchange occurred even in three birth scenarios known for reducing immunity, as shown in Kozyrskyj's previous work: C-section versus vaginal delivery, antibiotics during birth and lack of breastfeeding. What's more, Kozyrskyj's study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery. [Original study.]

 Another study has linked childhood behavioral problems to pesticide exposure, this time to pyrethroid insecticide exposure. Pyrethroids are synthetic pesticides (insecticides) that are increasingly used for personal use (mosquito repellents and treatments for head lice, scabies), on pets (for fleas), home use (e.g., Raid pesticides), and in agriculture.

Until recently, they have been viewed as "safer" and posing fewer risks to human health than older pesticides, but a growing body of research is finding that pyrethroid pesticides share similar neurocognitive health effects as older pesticides. Neurocognitive refers to the neural processes of the brain and central nervous system involved in cognitive functioning. Pyrethroids get into people various ways: through inhalation, absorbed through the skin, and ingested in food. And yes, they cross the placenta (they have been detected in the placental cord immediately after birth).

In this study, researchers looked at levels of pyrethroid metabolites (the breakdown products from pyrethroids) in the mother's urine during early pregnancy and in the child's urine when the child was 6 years of age. They looked at how social a child is (altruism), whether the child is inhibited and has difficulty sharing problems or asking for help (internalizing behaviors), as well as how defiant or disruptive a child is (externalizing behaviors, which can include hyperactivity and oppositionality).

Pyrethroids (the metabolites) were regularly detected in both mothers and children participating in the study. Internalizing disorders were associated with high levels of one pyrethroid metabolite (cis-DCCA, a breakdown product of permethrin, cypermethrin, and clyfluthrin) in pregnant mothers’ urine. Childhood exposure to pyrethroids (as measured in the child's urine) was linked to externalizing disordersResearchers hypothesized that the behavioral difficulties were due to changes in the child’s brain. The authors stated: “The current study suggests that exposure to certain pyrethroids at the low environmental doses encountered by the general public may be associated with behavioural disorders in children.” "Internalizing behaviors are inhibited and overcontrolled in nature, while children with

Other studies have also found negative health effects on children from pyrethroids -  for example, an association between synthetic pyrethroid exposure and ADHD hyperactivity and impulsivity. Recent research found that living near a farm field where pyrethroids are applied during a mother’s third trimester or just before conception corresponds with a greatly increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder.

What can one do? Main one: try to avoid using and ingesting (in food) synthetic pyrethroids. This means avoid routine "pesticide treatments" of your home and garden, and instead use least-toxic methods to control pests around the home and garden (such as baits for insects, caulk holes, etc.). Try viewing weeds in the lawn as native wildflowers and the flowers as bee habitats (yes, you'll also be saving bees!). Eat as many organic foods (especially fruits and vegetables) as possible - this will lower the amount of pesticides in your body. This is because synthetic pyrethroids are not allowed in organic farming.  The good news is that pyrethroid pesticides leave the body within days, so with some lifestyle changes you can really lower your pesticide levels.

From Medscape:  'Safe' Insecticides Tied to Neurobehavioral Problems in Kids

Prenatal and childhood exposure to pyrethroid insecticides may adversely affect neurobehavioral development in children up to age 6 years, new research shows. A group of French researchers led by Jean-François Viel, MD, PhD, and Prof Andreas G. Franke, MD, both of the University of Mainz, Germany, investigated the associations between exposure to pyrethroid insecticides and behavioral skills in 6-year-olds.

Using a longitudinal design, the researchers assessed pyrethroid exposure in children prenatally and at age 6 years. They found that in 6-year-old children, increased prenatal concentrations of the cis-dimethylcyclopropane carbolic acid metabolite were associated with internalizing difficulties. A positive association was also found between the presence of childhood 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3-PBA) and externalizing difficulties.

The researchers used a longitudinal design to assess the relationship between prenatal and childhood pyrethroid concentrations, using data from the French PELAGIE mother-child study. That study enrolled 3421 pregnant women from Brittany, France, between 2002 and 2006. Of this cohort, 287 randomly selected mothers agreed to participate in neuropsychological follow-up. Psychologists who were blinded to pyrethroid exposure levels in the study participants conducted neurodevelopmental assessments and maternal interviews to assess the home environment. They also collected children's urine samples as well as dust samples.

 A new study has summarized what we know about fungi that live in and on babies - and yes, we all have fungi both on and within us. It's called the mycobiome. In healthy individuals all the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc) live in balanced microbial communities, but the communities can become "out of whack" (dysbiosis) for various reasons, and microbes that formerly co-existed peacefully can multiply and become problematic. Or other pathogenic microbes can enter the community, and the person becomes ill.

In healthy adults, approximately 0.1% of the microbes in the adult intestine are fungi, from approximately 60 unique species. Most species live peacefully in the body, and some fungi even have health benefits (e.g., Saccharomyces boulardii prevents gastrointestinal disease). Some fungi that many view as no good and involved with diseases (e.g., Candida and Aspergillus) are also found normally in healthy people. Studies show that normally infants also have fungi. Some fungi that live in the baby's gut (thus detected in fecal samples) are Candida (including C. albicans), Saccharomyces, and Cladosporium. The researchers (from the Univ. of Minnesota) point out that the study of fungi in babies has been neglected and much more research needs to be done.

Whether an infant is born vaginally or through cesarean delivery (C-section) affects the composition of the baby's bacterial communities over the first 6 months of life. And similarly, it looks like when the baby passes through the birth canal, the baby is exposed to the mother's mycobiota (fungi), and then these colonize in the infant's gut. Babies born by C-section have some differences in their fungi, such as being colonized by the mother's skin fungi (such as Malassezia fungi). After birth, a parent kissing and touching the baby (skin to skin contact) also transmits microbes, including fungi, to the baby.

Whether a baby drinks breast milk or formula strongly affects the infant's bacteria within the GI tract. For example, breast-fed infants have more Bifidobacteria and Labctobacilli in their gut compared to formula-fed infants. One study found about 700 species of bacteria in breast milk. Thus, scientists think that human breast milk also influences the infant gut mycobiota (fungi), although this research still needs to be done.

Whether a baby is born prematurely or at term (gestational age) is important. For infants born prematurely, intestinal fungi can cause big problems, such as an overgrowth in the gut. For example, 10% of premature babies get invasive, systemic Candidiasis, and about 20% die. Some factors leading to this are: a naïve immune system, bacterial communities out of whack (dysbiosis) due to antibiotic exposure, and use of parenteral nutrition (because this doesn't contain all the microbes from the mother that are in breast milk). In premature infants, beneficial fungi such as S. boulardii, may help to regulate the growth of opportunistic fungal colonizers such as Candida.

it is clear that whether the baby received antibiotics is important. The bacterial community of infants is altered by exposure to antibiotics in both term and preterm infants. For example, in a lengthy study over the first 3 years of life, infants receiving multiple courses of antibiotics had bacterial community changes following antibiotics and their gut bacterial microbiome became less diverse (fewer species). Although most commonly used antibiotics do not directly act on fungi, anti-bacterial antibiotic exposure is associated with alterations to the mycobiota (fungi) -  such as increased rates of fungal colonization, fungal overgrowth, and changes in the fungal community. For ex., premature infants exposed to cephalosporin antibiotics have an increased risk for invasive Candidiasis (a fungal overgrowth).

Out of whack (dysbiotic) microbial communities, incuding fungi, are found in IBD (intestinal bowel diseases) in children. They have more of some fungi (e.g. Pichia jadinii and Candida parapsilosis) and less of Cladosporium cladosporiodes, and an overall decrease in fungal diversity in the gut, as compared to healthy children.

From BMC Medicine: Infant fungal communities: current knowledge and research opportunities

The microbes colonizing the infant gastrointestinal tract have been implicated in later-life disease states such as allergies and obesity. Recently, the medical research community has begun to realize that very early colonization events may be most impactful on future health, with the presence of key taxa required for proper immune and metabolic development. However, most studies to date have focused on bacterial colonization events and have left out fungi, a clinically important sub-population of the microbiota. A number of recent findings indicate the importance of host-associated fungi (the mycobiota) in adult and infant disease states, including acute infections, allergies, and metabolism, making characterization of early human mycobiota an important frontier of medical research. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge with a focus on factors influencing infant mycobiota development and associations between early fungal exposures and health outcomes. We also propose next steps for infant fungal mycobiome research....

Image result for black licorice Avoid eating licorice during pregnancy? That licorice is a food to avoid during pregnancy (or only eat in tiny amounts) will be news to many. Most people think of licorice (or liquorice) as a candy, but it can also be used as a herbal medicine that can have negative health effects, especially in large doses (e.g, high blood pressure, loss of potassium). The licorice flavor comes from the root of the plant (licorice root). Licorice contains glycyrrhizin, which is in black licorice candy, and in some chewing gums, ice creams, syrups, soft drinks, supplements, herbal teas, and other products.

In 2016, the government of Finland warned against consuming licorice (including black licorice and salty licorice) during pregnancy. In the United States, the FDA does not warn pregnant women about eating licorice or licorice root. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that pregnant women avoid consuming large amounts of licorice root in food or taking it as a supplement. But how about small amounts of licorice? And what are possible effects during pregnancy?

A recent study in Finland compared children (average age of 12 1/2 years) whose mothers had either consumed little to no licorice during pregnancy or had consumed large amounts of licorice (high glycyrrhizin levels were calculated as more than 500 milligrams per week). Note that 500 mg glycyrrhizin is equal to 250 grams or 8.8 oz licorice. The researchers found that children whose mothers ate large amounts of licorice during pregnancy  were about 7 points lower on IQ tests, had poorer memory, and had higher rates of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems than those whose mothers had eaten little or no licorice during pregnancy. High-consumption group girls had earlier and more advanced puberty, and were taller and heavier than those in the low-licorice group.

The researchers wrote that glycyrrhizin results in "glucocorticoid overexposure", which may affect the developing fetus, and the effects persist into early adolescence. The study researchers concluded that pregnant women should be informed that consumption of licorice and other food products containing glycyrrhizin may be associated with harm to their developing baby. A little licorice candy here and there during pregnancy seems to be OK (so don't panic!), but licorice or licorice root is not something that should be eaten or drunk (e.g.,in a tea) regularly. From Science Daily:

Pregnant women should avoid liquorice

A new Finnish study supports food recommendations for families with children in that women should avoid consuming large amounts of liquorice during pregnancy. The limit for safe consumption is not known. In the study, youths that were exposed to large amounts of liquorice in the womb performed less well than others in cognitive reasoning tests carried out by a psychologist. The difference was equivalent to approximately seven IQ points. Those exposed to liquorice also performed less well in tasks measuring memory capacity, and according to parental estimates, they had more ADHD-type problems than others. With girls, puberty had started earlier and advanced further.

The Glaku study carried out by the University of Helsinki, the National Institute for Health and Welfare and the Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital districts compared 378 youths of about 13 years whose mothers had consumed "large amounts" or "little/no" liquorice during pregnancy. In this study a large amount was defined as over 500 mg and little/no as less than 249 mg glycyrrhizin per week. These cutoffs are not based on health effects. 500 mg glycyrrhizin corresponds on average to 250 g liquorice.

Researchers suggest that pregnant women and women planning pregnancy should be informed of the harmful effects that products containing glycyrrhizin -- such as liquorice and salty liquorice -- may have on the fetus. In Finland, this is already reality. In January 2016, the National Institute for Health and Welfare published food recommendations for families with children, in which liquorice was placed in the 'not recommended' category for pregnant women. According to the recommendations, occasional consumption of small amounts such as a portion of liquorice ice cream or a few liquorice sweets is not dangerous.

As a result of animal experiments, the biological mechanism of the effects of liquorice is well known. Glycyrrhizin intensifies the effects of stress hormone cortisol by inhibiting the enzyme that inactivates cortisol. While cortisol is essential to the development of a fetus, it is detrimental in large amounts. It has long been known that glycyrrhizin causes higher blood pressure and shorter pregnancies in humans, but such long-lasting effects on the fetus have not been proven before. [Original study.]

Image result for fast food wikipedia  Another study is adding to the evidence that food packaging  is frequently coated  with harmful chemicals - called perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs. The chemicals are used because they resist grease and stains, but unfortunately they then leach into the food, and when people eat the food - it gets into them. The evidence is also growing that these chemicals have all sorts of harmful health effects, including endocrine disruption (they are hormone disruptors) - even in low doses. They are linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high blood cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, development and immune system problems, low birth weights, and decreased sperm quality. (See earlier post) The list keeps growing each year.

Researchers tested about 400 pieces of food packaging from 27 fast food chains,  including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, Quiznos, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts (see how they scored). Overall, about 33 percent of the packages contained fluorine (a chemical not found in paper, but is an indicator of perfluorinated chemicals present to make the packaging grease and stain resistant). What is even more disturbing is that when the researchers more closely examined 20 samples to find out exactly what fluorinated compounds they contained - they found that 6 of the more rigorously tested packages contained PFOA (which was used in Teflon). PFOA was phased out for use in the USA years ago due to it being so long-lasting in the environment and its serious health effects, but other countries still produce it. Unfortunately, even the replacement chemicals  seem to be similarly harmful (not surprising because of the chemical similarities), and they also persist in the environment.

It should be pointed out that perfluorinated chemicals are also used in products such as stain and water resistant coatings on clothing, upholstery, carpeting and floor waxes. They are in non-stick coatings in pots and pans. The chemicals leach or migrate out of products and degrade very slowly — thus showing up in air, household dust, water, dirt, wildlife, and people. Yes, studies show that almost everyone in the U.S. has these chemicals in their blood, and unfortunately some of them can stay in the body for years. PFCs pass from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, and in breast milk after birth. Exposure to perfluorinated chemicals from fast food packaging is of big concern for children, because one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily, and children may be especially susceptible to the adverse health effects.

Yes, we are surrounded by a sea of harmful chemicals that are tough to avoid, but we should at least try to minimize our exposure. Fast food restaurants should be encouraged to use nontoxic alternatives (e.g., aluminum foil or wax paper) - after all, the study showed that there is packaging out there without these chemicals.

What can we do to avoid PFCs? 1) Try to avoid or eat less fast food and food that comes in "grease-proof" containers. 2) Don't use non-stick pots and pans - use stainless steel instead. 3) Try to avoid clothing, upholstered furniture, and carpets with stain and water-resistant coatings. 4) Don't use microwave popcorn bags, and try to avoid microwaving foods in their packaging - use a glass dish instead. 5) Don't use dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (uses PFC), and use unwaxed or natural wax floss instead. 6) Avoid personal care products that contain ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro". *Please check out the Environmental Working Group site for more information (here and here).

From Science Daily: Extensive use of fluorinated chemicals in fast food wrappers: Chemicals can leach into food

Americans may be consuming fast food wrapped in paper treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) -- the same chemicals used in stain-resistant products, firefighting materials and nonstick cookware, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers tested more than 400 samples of packaging materials, including hamburger and sandwich wrappers, pastry bags, beverage cups and French fry containers, and found evidence of fluorinated compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Of the materials tested, these chemicals were found in 56 percent of dessert and bread wrappers, 38 percent of sandwich and burger wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard.

Previous studies have shown that these PFASs can migrate, contaminating the food and, when consumed, accumulating in the body....Previous studies have linked PFASs to kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children, among other health issues. The chemicals have an especially long half-life and take many years before just 50 percent of the intake leaves the human body. The results are concerning when considering the role of fast food in the American diet. The National Center for Health Statistics reported one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily.

Samples were collected from a total of 27 fast food restaurant chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, Panera and Chick-Fil-A, in and around Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The study did not include takeout containers, such as Chinese food boxes or pizza boxes. [Original study]

ez-2016-00435z_0002 Credit: From L. Schaider et al., Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Fast Food Packaging.

 For years it has been known that most children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have all sorts of gastrointestinal (GI) problems (e.g., constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, food intolerance), and the more severe the autism, the more severe the GI problems. Recent studies suggested that a major factor in this are abnormal gut bacteria, with the gut microbial community out of whack (dysbiosis). Previous studies looking at the gut microbiome of children with autism have shown lower diversity and lower amounts (abundances) of certain bacteria in children with autism compared to neurologically normal (neurotypical) children.

A recent study of children with autism spectrum disorder found that giving the children a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) led to significant and lasting improvements in both gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms and autism-related behaviors and symptoms. A fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) is a transplant of fecal matter from a healthy donor to the recipient. A fecal microbial transplant contains approximately a thousand bacterial species that live in a healthy gut, as well as other microbes such as viruses and fungi. FMTs have so far been an amazingly successful treatment for recurrent Clostridium difficile infections, and are now being looked at as promising treatments of chronic inflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.

The researchers were surprised to see an 80% improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, especially abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation. They also saw about a 25% improvement in autism related behaviors and symptoms which persisted for 8 weeks after treatment stopped, which is when the study ended. One measurement of adaptive behaviors (such as communication, daily living skills, and socialization) found that the average developmental age increased by 1.4 years after treatment. The researchers also found that there was a "rebalancing" of the gut microbes following treatment. They found evidence of "successful partial engraftment of donor microbiota and beneficial changes in the gut environment" - meaning they could see that donor microbes were living in the gut. Also, overall bacterial diversity increased (which is good) and the abundance of certain bacteria increased (including Bifidobacterium, Prevotella, and Desulfovibrio), and these changes persisted until the end of the study.

The researchers caution that this was a small trial, that there could be placebo effects, and so the results should be "cautiously interpreted and viewed as preliminary." But nonetheless, the results are exciting. Really exciting. From Science Daily:

Autism symptoms improve after fecal transplant, small study finds

Children with autism may benefit from fecal transplants -- a method of introducing donated healthy microbes into people with gastrointestinal disease to rebalance the gut, a new study has found. Behavioral symptoms of autism and gastrointestinal distress often go hand-in-hand, and both improved when a small group of children with the disorder underwent fecal transplant and subsequent treatment. In the study of 18 children with autism and moderate to severe gastrointestinal problems, parents and doctors said they saw positive changes that lasted at least eight weeks after the treatment. Children without autism were included for comparison of bacterial and viral gut composition prior to the study.

Previous research has established that children with autism typically have fewer types of some important bacteria in their guts and less bacterial diversity overall -- a difference that held true in this study. That could be because many of them are prescribed a lot of antibiotics in the first three years of life, the research team wrote in the study.

Parents of the children not only reported a decrease in gut woes including diarrhea and stomach pain in the eight weeks following the end of treatment: They also said they saw significant changes for the better when it came to behavioral autism symptoms in their sons and daughters, who ranged from 7 to 16 years old....One of those tools showed the average developmental age increased by 1.4 years after treatment. 

Researchers also were able to document a rebalancing of the gut following treatment. At the end of the study, the bacterial diversity in the children with autism was indistinguishable from their healthy peers. The study also included a unique viral analysis by Ohio State scientists, made possible because of previous work in the world's oceans. Gregory, who is particularly interested in the interplay between viruses and bacteria, used genetic testing to examine the viral diversity in the guts of the treated children. It rebounded quickly, and became more similar to the donor's microbiome. "Those donor viruses seemed to help," she said.

Fecal transplantation is done by processing donor feces and screening it for disease-causing viruses and bacteria before introducing it into another person's gastrointestinal tract. In this study, the researchers used a method called microbiota transfer therapy, which started with the children receiving a two-week course of antibiotics to wipe out much of their existing gut flora. Then, doctors gave them an initial high-dose fecal transplant in liquid form. In the seven to eight weeks that followed, the children drank smoothies blended with a lower-dose powder[Original study.]

Image result for household dust  Flame retardants are in many products around us, both in and out of the home, but there is much concern over their health effects on humans. Older flame retardants (PBDEs) were phased out by 2013, but it turns out that the newer replacements (TBB and TBPH, including Firemaster 550) also get into people and also have negative health effects. So it shouldn't be a surprise that every single toddler tested in a study in New York City showed evidence of flame retardants on their hands (both the old kind and newer replacements), and that they had more on their hands than their mothers. Flame retardants were also found in all house dust samples. Since they are linked to many negative health effects, you really, really want to minimize the amounts in your body.

More and more research is finding health problems with flame retardants because they are "not chemically bound" to the products in which they are used - thus they escape over time. and get into us via the skin (dermal), inhalation (from dust), and ingestion (from certain foods and dust on our fingers). And because flame retardants are persistant, they bioaccumulate (they build up over time). They can be measured in our urine and blood. Evidence suggests that flame retardants may be endocrine disruptors, carcinogenic, alter hormone levels, decrease semen quality in men, thyoid disruptors, and act as developmental neurotoxicants (when developing fetus is exposed during pregnancy)  so that children have lowered IQ and more hyperactivity behaviors.

Where are flame retardants found? All around us, and in us. They are so hard to avoid because they're in electronic goods, in upholstered furniture, polyurethane foam, carpet pads, some textiles, the foam in baby items (car seats, bumpers, crib mattresses, strollers,nursing pillows, etc.), house dust, building insulation, and on and on. What to do? Wash hands before eating. Try to use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. Try to avoid products that say they contain "flame retardants". Only buy upholstered furniture with tags that say they are flame retardant free. From Science Daily:

NYC toddlers exposed to potentially harmful flame retardants

Evidence of potentially harmful flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers has been uncovered by researchers. The study also found that on average toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers.

Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH) within the Mailman School of Public Health report evidence of potentially harmful flame retardants on the hands and in the homes of 100 percent of a sample of New York City mothers and toddlers. The study also found that on average toddlers in New York City had higher levels of common flame-retardants on their hands compared to their mothers. The Center's previous research has linked early life exposure to a common class of flame-retardants called PBDEs with attention problems and lower scores on tests of mental and physical development in children.

Beginning in the 1970s, manufacturers added PBDEs, persistent brominated flame-retardants, to couches, textiles, electronics and other consumer products to comply with flammability standards. They began phasing out PBDEs in 2004 and started using newer alternative flame-retardants, including TBB and TBPH, which are components of the commercial mixture Firemaster 550®. TBB and TBPH are brominated flame retardants for which little is known about their health effects in humans, though they have been linked to reduced fertility and endocrine disruption in animal models.

Researchers visited the homes of 25 mother-child pairs enrolled in the CCCEH Sibling-Hermanos birth cohort, which began in 2008. When children were 3 years old, dust was collected from their homes and hand wipes were collected from the mother and child; these samples were analyzed for flame retardant compounds....Results are consistent with other studies, which demonstrate that toddlers tend to have higher exposure to flame retardants when compared with adults, likely because of the amount of time they spend on the floor.