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Two recent studies, both done in California, looked at different aspects of pesticide exposure. They highlight how people can be exposed to pesticides in the air they breathe, especially if they live in areas where pesticides are heavily applied (such as farms). But keep in mind that even in suburbia, every time a neighbor applies pesticides on the lawn or trees - there is drift, and so you are also exposed (e.g., breathing it, droplets on the skin).

The first study found that pregnant women with high pesticide exposure (living in areas near farms using pesticides) had increases in adverse birth outcomes (low birth weight, shorter pregnancy length, preterm birth, birth defects or abnormalities). No effects were seen with low pesticide exposure. But note that these results are what could be seen at birth - they do not include effects that can only be seen later, such as delayed development, learning disabilities, lower intelligence, asthma, autism - all effects found in some studies.

The other was a California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) 2016 report on air monitoring results (from 6 sites) of 32 chemicals (pesticides and breakdown products) in California. Some pesticides were not detected, some were only at trace amounts, and some were detected at higher amounts  - and the amounts fluctuated over the year and from site to site. [NOTE: They did not monitor for 2 widely used pesticides: glyphosate, which is in Roundup, and 2,4-D. Hmm...]. A Kern County high school monitoring site showed levels of the pesticide chlorpyrifos more than 18 times higher than EPA's "level of concern for pregnant women" - but yet these levels are considered OK for the general public.

Chlorpyrifos is "controversial" in that scientists (including EPA scientists), medical professionals, and farmworker organiztions asked that its use be banned due to its serious health effects on humans, but this year EPA chief Scott Pruitt refused to do so (he gave in to pesticide industry lobbying). The bottom lineWhat effect do the mixtures of pesticides (at chronic low levels) that we're exposed to have on us? Unknown. 

From Medical Xpress: Researchers unravel the negative effects of pesticide exposure on birth outcomes

Although common opinion holds that exposure to pesticides increases adverse birth outcomes, the existing body of scientific evidence is ambiguous..... A new study by researchers at UC Santa Barbara addresses the issue in a novel way—by analyzing birth outcomes in California's San Joaquin Valley. With more than one-third of the country's vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts produced there, the San Joaquin Valley, not surprisingly, is a heavy pesticide-use region. The UCSB team investigated the effect of exposure during pregnancy in this agriculturally dominated area and observed an increase in adverse outcomes accompanying very high levels of pesticide exposure

"For the majority of births, there is no statistically identifiable impact of pesticide exposure on birth outcome," said lead author Ashley Larsen, an assistant professor in UCSB's Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. "Yet mothers exposed to extreme levels of pesticides, defined here as the top 5 percent of the pesticide exposure distribution, experienced between 5 and 9 percent increases in the probability of adverse outcomes with an approximately 13-gram decrease in birth weight."

Using individual birth certificate records for more than 500,000 single births between 1997 and 2011, coupled with pesticide use data at a fine spatial and temporal scale, the scientists were able to determine if residential agricultural pesticide exposure during gestation—by trimester and by toxicity—influenced birth weight, gestational length or birth abnormalities.

They found negative effects of pesticide exposure for all birth outcomes—birth weight, low birth weight, gestational length, preterm birth, birth abnormalities—but only for mothers exposed to very high levels of pesticides—the top 5 percent of the exposure distribution in this sample.... Numerous chemicals are used daily in close proximity to residential areas, making it difficult to ascertain a specific responsible agent. As a result, in this study, the researchers looked at the combined results from all pesticides used in the region[Original study.]

Excerpts from Beyond Pesticides: Neurotoxic Pesticide Detected in Air at High Levels in California County

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) released its 2016 air monitoring data where it was revealed that chlorpyrifos air concentrations for a one-month period at the air monitoring site on the campus of Shafter High School in Kern County was 39.4 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3) – more than 18 times higher than EPA’s level of concern for pregnant women (2.1 ng/m3).  Shafter High School is some distance from fields in an area where chlorpyrifos use is not as high as in other parts of Kern County or elsewhere in California. 

High chlorpyrifos levels at a school means that children and unsuspecting teachers and parents, especially those that may be pregnant, are breathing in unusually high levels of chlorpyrifos. Children exposed to high levels of chlorpyrifos have developmental delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorders.

 A new study that analyzed other studies (a meta-analysis) found that the class of flame retardant chemicals called PBDEs (commonly found in furniture and household products) has an effect on children's intelligence, so that it results in a loss of IQ points. Most of the studies looked at the child's exposure to flame retardants during pregnancy and then later IQ. They found that the child's IQ was reduced by 3.70 points for each ten-fold increase in flame retardant levels (thus, the higher the PBDE levels, the greater the effect on the child's IQ). This is of concern because flame retardants are in so many products around us, both in and out of the home. 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.

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. The California Childcare Health Program has an information sheet on how to lower exposure to fire retardants. From Medical Xpress:

Flame retardant exposure found to lower IQ in children

A hazardous class of flame retardant chemicals commonly found in furniture and household products damages children's intelligence, resulting in loss of IQ points, according to a new study by UC San Francisco researchers. The study, published Aug. 3, 2017, in Environmental Health Perspectives, included the largest meta-analysis performed on flame retardants to date, and presented strong evidence of polybrominated diphenyl ethers' (PBDE) effect on children's intelligenceDespite a series of bans and phase-outs, nearly everyone is still exposed to PBDE flame retardants, and children are at the most risk," said UCSF's Tracey Woodruff, professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences..... 

The findings go beyond merely showing a strong correlation: using rigorous epidemiological criteria, the authors considered factors like strength and consistency of the evidence to establish that there was "sufficient evidence" supporting the link between PBDE exposure and intelligence outcomes. Furthermore, a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences endorsed the study and integrated evidence from animal studies to reach similar conclusions that PBDEs are a "presumed hazard" to intelligence in humans.

Researchers examined data from studies around the world, covering nearly 3,000 mother-child pairs. They discovered that every 10-fold increase in a mom's PBDE levels led to a drop of 3.7 IQ points in her child." "Many people are exposed to high levels of PBDEs, and the more PBDEs a pregnant woman is exposed to, the lower her child's IQ," said Woodruff. "And when the effects of PBDEs are combined with those of other toxic chemicals such as from building products or pesticides, the result is a serious chemical cocktail that our current environmental regulations simply don't account for." The researchers also found some evidence of a link between PDBE exposures and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but concluded that more studies are necessary to better characterize the relationship.

PBDEs first came into widespread use after California passed fire safety standards for furniture and certain other products in 1975. Thanks to the size of the Californian market, flame retardants soon became a standard treatment for furniture sold across the country..... Mounting evidence of PDBEs' danger prompted reconsideration and starting in 2003 California, other states, and international bodies approved bans or phase outs for some of the most common PBDEs. PBDEs and similar flame retardants are especially concerning because they aren't chemically bonded to the foams they protect. Instead, they are merely mixed in, so can easily leach out from the foam and into house dust, food, and eventually, our bodies. [Original study.]

Image result for human sperm, wikipedia The last post discussed the steep ongoing decline in sperm counts and sperm concentration in men from North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. It mentioned a number of environmental causes that could be contributing to this, including the huge increase of chemicals, especially endocrine disruptors (chemicals that disrupt our hormones) over the past few decades.

But another study was also just published that showed (in mice) that effects of chronic exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals are amplified over 3 generations - and each generation has even lower sperm counts, sperm concentration, and reproductive abnormalities. So each generation gets progressively worse with continued exposure.

As the researchers state: "Our findings suggest that neonatal estrogenic exposure can affect both the reproductive tract and sperm production in exposed males, and exposure effects are exacerbated by exposure spanning multiple generations. Because estrogenic chemicals have become both increasingly common and ubiquitous environmental contaminants in developed countries, the implications for humans are serious. Indeed, it is possible effects are already apparent, with population-based studies from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and China reporting reductions in sperm counts/quality and male fertility within a span of several decades." Yikes...

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers an impairment in ability to fertilize an egg at 40 million sperm per milliliter or below, and the level where WHO considers fertilization unlikely is 15 million sperm per milliliter. This is why the sperm count study discussed in the last post is so frightening: North American, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand men  whose partners are not yet pregnant nor do they have children (i.e., they are not confirmed fertile men) have experienced a drop in average sperm count of about 50 percent over four decades, to 47 million sperm per milliliter. Niels Skakkebæk, a Danish pediatrician and researcher working on this topic said: "Here in Denmark, there is an epidemic of infertility."and "Most worryingly [in Denmark] is that semen quality is in general so poor that an average young Danish man has much fewer sperm than men had a couple of generations ago, and more than 90 percent of their sperm are abnormal." Uh-oh...What will it take for governments to address this serious issue?

In the meantime, see the last post for some tips on how to reduce your own exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Just note that you can reduce exposure, but you can't totally eliminate exposure. Excerpts from Environmental Health News:

Science: Are we in a male fertility death spiral?

Margaret Atwood's 1985 book, The Handmaid's Tale, played out in a world with declining human births because pollution and sexually transmitted disease were causing sterility. Does fiction anticipate reality? Two new research papers add scientific weight to the possibility that pollution, especially endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are undermining male fertility.

The first, published Tuesday, is the strongest confirmation yet obtained that human sperm concentration and count are in a long-term decline: more than 50 percent from 1973 to 2013, with no sign that the decline is slowing. "The study is a wakeup that we are in a death spiral of infertility in men," said Frederick vom Saal, Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri and an expert on endocrine disruption who was not part of either study.

The second study, published last week by different authors, offers a possible explanation. It found that early life exposure of male mouse pups to a model environmental estrogen, ethinyl estradiol, causes mistakes in development in the reproductive tract that will lead to lower sperm counts. According to vom Saal, the second study "provides a mechanistic explanation for a progressive decrease in sperm count over generations." What makes this study unique is that it examined what happened when three successive generations of males were exposed—instead of just looking only at the first. Hunt, in an email, said "we asked a simple question with real-world relevance that had simply never been addressed."

In the real world, since World War II, successive generations of people have been exposed to a growing number and quantity of environmental estrogens—chemicals that behave like the human hormone estrogen. Thousands of papers published in the scientific literature (reviewed here) tie these to a wide array of adverse consequences, including infertility and sperm count decline. This phenomenon—exposure of multiple generations of mammals to endocrine disrupting compounds—had never been studied experimentally, even though that's how humans have experienced EDC exposures for at least the last 70 years. That's almost three generations of human males. Men moving into the age of fatherhood are ground zero for this serial exposure.

So Horan, Hunt and their colleagues at WSU set out to mimic, for the first time, this real-world reality. They discovered that the effects are amplified in successive generations. They observed adverse effects starting in the first generation of mouse lineages where each generation was exposed for a brief period shortly after birth. The impacts worsened in the second generation compared to the first, and by the third generation the scientists were finding animals that could not produce sperm at all. This latter condition was not seen in the first two generations exposed. Details of the experimental results actually suggested that multiple generations of exposure may have increased male sensitivity to the chemical[Original study.]

Image result for pills wikipedia Sometimes there is a need to take antibiotics during pregnancy. A recent study of 182,369 pregnant women found that the use of certain antibiotics during early pregnancy was linked with a higher rate of miscarriage before 20 weeks. These antibiotics included quinolones (Avelox, Cipro, Levaquin, Tequin), tetracyclines, sulfonamides (Septra, Bactrim), metronidazole (Flagyl), and macrolides (such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, but not erythromycin).

Certain antibiotics were not associated with spontaneous abortions. These antibiotics were penicillins, cephalosporinsnitrofurantoin, and erythromycin. The researchers pointed out that nitrofurantoin is a good antibiotic option for urinary tract infections - which is one of the most common infections in pregnancy. From Medscape:

Antibiotics During Pregnancy May Increase Miscarriage Risk

Use of certain antibiotics early in pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for spontaneous abortion, the authors of a new study report. Macrolides (except erythromycin), quinolones, tetracyclines, sulfonamides, and metronidazole all were associated with a greater risk, compared with penicillins, cephalosporins, or no antibiotic exposure at all, Flory T. Muanda, MD, and colleagues write in an article published in the May 1 issue of CMAJ. 

To assess the potential effect of antibiotics on miscarriage risk, Dr Muanda, from the Faculty of Pharmacy, Université de Montréal, Quebec, Canada, and colleagues analyzed data from the Quebec Pregnancy Cohort on pregnancies that occurred between January 1998 and December 2009....Women who experienced a clinically detected spontaneous abortion before gestational week 20 were considered cases, with the calendar date of the spontaneous abortion designated the index date.  Antibiotic exposure was defined as "having filled at least 1 prescription for any type of antibiotic either between the first day of gestation and the index date, or before pregnancy but with a duration that overlapped the first day of gestation," the authors explain. 

Antibiotic exposure occurred in 12,446 (13%) of those pregnancies, including 1428 that ended in spontaneous abortion (16.4% of all pregnancies ending in spontaneous abortion). Among the control patients, 11,018 (12.6% of all controls) were exposed to antibiotics.

In some instances, these findings support data from other studies, the authors point out. The class effect observed of tetracyclines and quinolones "supports current guidelines used in obstetrics that do not recommend use of these drugs in early pregnancy." Their finding that metronidazole was associated with a 70% increase in the risk for spontaneous abortion is similar to that of a study among Medicaid patients showing a 67% increased risk.... No increased risk was associated with nitrofurantoin, erythromycin, penicillins, or cephalosporins.

 Stop using the damn antibacterial products! Yes, stop using stuff that says "antibacterial", "antimicrobial", "germ-killing",  or "anti-odor". Whether in personal care items, or bedding, or socks, or hand wipes, or wherever else you see those labels - don't buy them and try to avoid using them. Plain soap works just as well for cleaning hands (see FDA page). The "antibacterial" chemicals in soaps, toothpastes, body washes, etc. are absorbed by the body where they may do harm. Yes - HARM. The harms may not be known initially, but over and over, at some later point, the various chemicals are shown to cause harm - whether in humans or the environment, or both.

A case in point is the antimicrobial triclosan. It has been used for years in soooo many products, and religiously used by those concerned with "killing germs". It is now finally banned by the FDA from soaps and body washes because of the harms it causes. These include various health effects - and also because it's an endocrine disruptor (disrupts hormones).  And yes, it also crosses the placenta and has been associated with effects on the developing baby. For example, a recent study found an "inverse relationship" - that higher levels of triclosan in the mothers' urine during pregnancy (meaning they had used and absorbed more triclosan products) were associated with lower birth weight, length, head circumference, and gestational age (length of pregnancy). Of special concern to us at Lacto Bacto is that it also disrupts our microbes - remember that antimicrobial products (whether Triclosan in soap or antibiotics) kill off both beneficial and harmful bacteria.

As a recent study shows - triclosan is absorbed by pregnant women (and can be measured in their urine) and, it is absorbed and found in the urine of children who washed their hands or brushed their teeth with products containing triclosan.  And the higher the socioeconomic status, the more triclosan in the body - after all, people pay a premium for products that are "antimicrobial". While triclosan is now banned from being used in certain products (soaps and body washes), it is still allowed in many, many other products. And there are all those other antimicrobials that also should NOT be used. So please read the labels, especially the ingredient lists, and try to avoid antimicrobial, antibacterial, germ-killing, and anti-odor products. From Environmental health News:

Hygiene leaves kids with loads of triclosan

Levels of a controversial chemical meant to kill bacteria spike in the bodies of young children after they brush their teeth or wash their hands, according to a new study. U.S. manufacturers are phasing triclosan out of hand soaps after the Food and Drug Administration banned it effective last year amid concerns that the compound disrupted the body's hormone systems. It remains in Colgate Total toothpaste, some cleaning products and cosmetics. Health experts say exposure is best avoided for babies in the womb and developing children.

The latest study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is one of the first to show that children’s levels rise through their first few years of life. Hand washing and teeth brushing have speedy, significant impact on levels, the researchers found. Braun and colleagues tested the urine of 389 mothers and their children from Cincinnati, collecting samples from the women three times during pregnancy and from the children periodically between 1 and 8 years old.

They found triclosan in more than 70 percent of the samples. Among 8 year olds, levels were 66 percent higher in those that used hand soap. And more washing left the children with higher loads—those who reported washing their hands more than five times per day had more than four times the triclosan concentrations than those washing once or less per day. Children who had brushed their teeth within the last day had levels 2.5 times higher than those who had a toothpaste-free 24-hour span.

Braun said the levels of triclosan rose as the children aged, eventually leveling off. “Their levels were almost to moms’ levels by the time they reached 5 to 8 years of age.” This, he said, is likely due to more frequent use of personal care products as the kids aged. Despite the hand soap ban, triclosan remains on the market because it is effective at fighting plaque and gingivitis. Colgate uses 0.3 percent of the antibacterial to “fight harmful plaque germs.”.

Braun, however, said there is “quite compelling” evidence from animal studies that triclosan decreases thyroid hormone levels. Properly functioning thyroid hormones are critical for brain development. Just last month, using the same mothers and children, Braun and others reported that mothers’ triclosan exposure during pregnancy was linked to lower birth weights, smaller heads and earlier births. In addition, Pessah and colleagues reported triclosan hinders proper muscle development. The researchers used mice and fish, finding that triclosan affects the process responsible for muscle contraction.

 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

 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.]