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It turns out that we are unknowingly being exposed to toxic chemicals called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in cosmetic products. A group of researchers tested 231 cosmetic products in both the US and Canada and found that about half of them had high levels of PFAS. And most of the time they were not listed on the ingredients list. Yikes!

PFAS are man-made chemicals commonly called "forever chemicals" because of how they stick around or persist in both humans and the environment. They are found in many products, such as food packaging, non-stick cookware (Teflon), and products containing stain and water-repellents.

They are known endocrine (hormone) disruptors associated with all sorts of harmful health problems, including cancers, reproductive harm (e.g. poorer semen quality), lowered sex and growth hormones in children, thyroid disease, immune effects, and liver and kidney damage. Unfortunately, they are already found in the bodies of almost all Americans (at varying levels), so we should try to reduce our exposure.

Out of 8 categories of commonly available cosmetic products tested, the ones with the highest levels of PFAS levels were foundations, mascaras, and lip products. This was especially true of cosmetics advertised as “wear-resistant” to oils and water (e.g. waterproof mascara) or “long-lasting. This means that when a person applies the cosmetics, the chemicals are getting into the person through the skin, by inhaling the chemicals, or even through the tear ducts (for example - mascara).

The 8 categories of cosmetic products tested included: lip products, eye products, foundations, face products, mascaras, concealers, eyebrow products, and miscellaneous products. Unfortunately, the researchers did not list what products had high levels, low levels, or even no PFAS.

So, if it's not in the ingredient list, then how does a person know which cosmetics are safe and which are harmful? Right now the best thing to do is to go to Environmental Working Group (EWG), and go to their consumer guide page - click on "Skin Deep" for their cosmetic data base.

In addition, this past week Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the "No PFAS in Cosmetics Act". Collins said: “Our bill would require the FDA to ban the addition of PFAS to cosmetics products.”

From Science Daily: Use of PFAS in cosmetics 'widespread,' new study finds

Many cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada likely contain high levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a potentially toxic class of chemicals linked to a number of serious health conditions, according to new research from the University of Notre Dame. ...continue reading "Many Cosmetic Products Contain Harmful Chemicals"

We've known for a while that exposure to microbes during the baby's first year is important (and good) for the developing immune system. In addition, recent research suggests that during the second trimester of pregnancy the developing fetus already has microbes in its body which help "educate" the developing immune system.

An international team of researchers found that bacterial species are present in the fetus during the second trimester. They examined and found bacteria in the  gut, lungs, skin, and placenta of the fetuses. Gardnerella, Lactobacillus, and Staphylococcus species were found in most of the fetal organs. Streptococcus, Enterococcus, and Prevotella species were also frequently found, as well as other species. The view is that the microbes came from the mother ("vertical transmission of microbes").

What the researchers found exciting was not just that there were microbes living already in the fetus in the second trimester, but that these microbes "educate" the developing immune system, especially memory T cells. This prepares the newborn with all sorts of exposures (including harmful microbes) once it is born.

The researchers used genetic sequencing (16S ribosomal RNA sequencing) on fetal and placental tissues, which were obtained from second trimester (starting with week 13) abortions.

Excerpts from The Scientist: Microbes in Human Fetuses Spur immune Development

Over the last decade, scientists have shown that the fetal immune system comes online much sooner than was initially thought, but what type of antigens train nascent immune cells and how this affects subsequent development remain open questions. In a study published June 1 in Cell, researchers determined that second-trimester human fetuses harbor live bacteria in tissues all over their bodies that can activate fetal T cells.  ...continue reading "Bacteria Are In the Developing Baby By the Second Trimester"

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a new high in May 2021 - 419 parts  per million (ppm). This monthly average is the highest level in more than 4 million years! Yikes! (By the way, last year the highest level ever recorded occurred in May 2020.) Well...  we topped that number this year.

The carbon dioxide levels slightly fluctuate daily (they are measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory). But over the years they have been rising (an average of 2.37 ppm per year in the last decade), and each year the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air are enough to set a new record. Each year more carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) piles up in the atmosphere and oceans, where it remains for thousands of years.

This is of concern not just because the earth is warming (resulting in more extreme weather, wildfires, drought, flooding), but also what higher and higher carbon dioxide levels might do to our thinking processes (thinking gets worse at high levels - think of a stuffy room where it's harder to think). Yes, this is climate change.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory said:

“We are adding roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 pollution to the atmosphere per year,” said Tans. “That is a mountain of carbon that we dig up out of the Earth, burn, and release into the atmosphere as CO2 - year after year. If we want to avoid catastrophic climate change, the highest priority must be to reduce CO2  pollution to zero at the earliest possible date.”

The US has rejoined the Paris Treaty (good), but much, much more needs to be done to stop emitting carbon dioxide. Solar energy, wind energy, and other alternative fuels. We can do it if we really want to.

See latest reading of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels - watch it rise month by month. (Check out all the links, and be horrified.)

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

Excerpts from NPR: Carbon Dioxide, Which Drives Climate Change, Reaches Highest Level In 4 Million Years

The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere reached 419 parts per million in May, its highest level in more than four million years, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Monday.  ...continue reading "Carbon Dioxide Levels Highest In 4 Million Years"

Some good news. A recent study found that eating just 2 servings (a cup) of fruit per day is associated with a 36% lower risk for type 2 diabetes after 5 years (as compared to those who eat less than 1/2 a serving) . Doesn't sound like so much fruit, but appears to have a big effect.

However, in this Australian study, the association did not hold for fruit juice. Only for eating whole fruits.

From Science Daily: People who eat a healthy diet including whole fruits may be less likely to develop diabetes

A new study finds people who consume two servings of fruit per day have 36 percent lower odds of developing type 2 diabetes than those who consume less than half a serving. The research was published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  ...continue reading "Eating Fruit Linked To Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes"

The evidence of harmful health effects from glyphosate is adding up. It's the most commonly used herbicide (weed killer) in the world, with nearly 300 million pounds of the pesticide (found in Roundup) applied each year in the United States! A recent study found that glyphosate is linked to preterm births in humans.

High levels of glyphosate and the glyphosate break-down product AMPA during late pregnancy (as measured in urine) are associated with preterm birth, according to recent research. This may be playing a role in why the United States has some of the highest rates of preterm birth rates among developed countries.

The study was conducted in Puerto Rico, where it is thought the high levels of environmental contamination (especially pesticides) plays a role in the especially high rates of preterm births (11.5%). Another study conducted in the United States (in rural Indiana with its high levels of glyphosate use on corn and soybean farms) also found shortened length of pregnancies.

Humans are exposed to glyphosate and glyphosate residues all sorts of ways, including in the foods we eat, soil, air, and water. Glyphosate is used not only as a weed-killer, but also applied to glyphosate resistant genetically engineered (GE) crops such as soy, canola, corn, and also right before harvest (preharvest) on many grain crops.

Besides preterm birth, glyphosate is linked to a number of other health problems (e.g. cancer, endocrine disruption). Studies also link glyphosate to disruptions of the human gut microbiome, with a recent study finding that glyphosate kills some key beneficial gut microbes.

Bottom line: Eat as many organic foods as possible, especially when pregnant. This is because organic farmers are not allowed to use glyphosate.

From Futurity: Team Links Popular Weed killer Chemical to Preterm Births

Exposure to a chemical found in the weed killer Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides is significantly associated with preterm births, according to a new study. ...continue reading "Common Weed Killer Linked to Preterm Births"

Oral microbes Credit: Wikipedia

We all have millions of microbes living in our sinuses – bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This is normal.

An amazing fact is that living together are beneficial, benign, and what we normally consider harmful microbes. And this is normal. This rich and diverse community of microbes living in the sinuses is called the sinus microbiome or microbiota.

OUR SINUSES: We have 4 pairs of sinuses in our heads, which are air-filled and lined with a mucus membrane with cilia. The cilia steadily beat (700 to 800 times a minute!) in order to move mucous into the nasal cavity. Microbes live in the mucous lining.

For years it was thought that the sinuses were sterile, and a sinus infection meant that a harmful microbe (pathogen) had invaded. In the 1990s a popular view was that fungi were the cause of chronic sinusitis. But with the development of new technologies (genetic sequencing) in the last 2 decades, it was discovered that millions of all sorts of microbes live in the sinuses in both healthy and sick persons. And yes, that it was normal to have fungi in the sinuses (so that theory was dropped).

THE CURRENT VIEW: Millions of microbes live in complex communities, interact with one another, and with us (we’re their host!). In healthy persons all the microbial species are in equilibrium, and potentially harmful species are kept in check. But sometimes the communities can become disrupted and imbalanced – this is called dysbiosis.

When there is disruption (e.g., from an infection, allergies), then there can be an overgrowth or a big increase in the potentially harmful microbes living in the sinuses. This can make you more susceptible to an infection or it can result in sinusitis symptoms. (In chronic sinusitis there is an imbalanced sinus microbiome and also inflammation of the sinus mucous lining.)

Staphylococcus Credit: Wikipedia

A HEALTHY SINUS MICROBIOME: It turns out that what is a healthy sinus microbiome varies from person to person. Yes, there is a “core” sinus microbiome of species that are shared throughout the world. (For example: Corynebacterium and Staphylococcus species) ...continue reading "Microbes Live In Our Sinuses"

Today is Rachel Carson's birthday! Rachel Carson (May 27, 1904 - April 14, 1964) was an extraordinary and courageous person, who is best known for exposing the harms of long-lasting pesticides. She was a marine biologist and author, who published several best-selling books about the environment.

Rachel Carson discussed health and environmental harms that synthetic pesticides, especially DDT, were causing to wildlife and our environment in the widely read book Silent Spring (published in 1962). Chemical companies fiercely opposed the book, but it spurred the American people to finally take action on pesticides. It led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other long-lasting pesticides, as well as helping inspire a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

After her death, President Jimmy Carter awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. (More about Rachel Carson) To this day, the book Silent Spring is considered an environmental classic, and one of the most significant publications of the last century.

One tribute to her work is the Silent Spring Institute, a national environmental health research organization dedicated to uncovering the links between chemicals in our everyday environment and women's health. Another focus is on breast cancer prevention (by lowering exposure to harmful chemicals, as well as encouraging companies to develop safer products). (Yes, Rachel Carson died of breast cancer.)

Some quotes from Rachel Carson. They still apply decades later:

"A Who's Who of pesticides is therefore of concern to us all. If we are going to live so intimately with these chemicals eating and drinking them, taking them into the very marrow of our bones - we had better know something about their nature and their power.”

"It is also an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged."

"These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes - nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the 'good' and the 'bad,' to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil-all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called 'insecticides,' but 'biocides.' (Silent Spring, 1962)

It has long been known that children living in congested cities have higher rates of asthma. All those vehicles, all that pollution. A recent study found that prenatal air pollution exposure is also important in asthma development.

Pregnant women exposed to high levels of tiny ultra-fine particles (UFPs, <0.1 µm) in the air were more likely to have children who developed asthma in the preschool years. Both boys and girls were affected, but high levels seemed to be especially harmful for girl babies exposed late in pregnancy.

Many of the women lived near major roadways with high traffic density - exposure to ultra-fine particles is greater there.

Ultra-fine particles are so small (<0.1 µm) that they can be considered nanoparticles. Their small size makes them so harmful - they can enter the lungs easily and from there travel throughout the body (including the organs), where they cause inflammation and other health effects. Unfortunately, ultra-fine particles are not regulated or routinely monitored in the United States.

From Science Daily: In utero exposure to tiny air pollution particles is linked to asthma in preschoolers

Women who were highly exposed to ultra-fine particles in air pollution during their pregnancy were more likely to have children who developed asthma, according to a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in May. ...continue reading "Pregnancy and Air Pollution Linked to Asthma in the Children"

Today is Endangered Species Day! It is a day to think about the beauty (and fragility) of life. Support efforts to protect and save endangered species and their habitats!

Back in 1966 Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and then in 1973 a more comprehensive law - the Endangered Species Act. The purpose is to protect and recover imperiled species, and to preserve the ecosystems upon which these species depend. Under the act, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened.

There are over 1600 species of plants and animals currently listed as either threatened or endangered in the United States. We (humans) are the main reason for species being threatened, endangered, or becoming extinct in the United States.

Some ways humans have contributed to this: killed off the species (e.g. passenger pigeons killed for sport, dodo bird), pesticides (DDT made bird shells too weak, and many pesticides kill off pollinator species), loss of habitat (e.g. from development or polluting of habitat), and introducing nonnative or invasive species. [See EPA comments] And then there is climate change which is altering ecosystems... also caused by humans.

Some things you can do: 1) reduce pesticide use in your yard and garden (to save pollinators, beneficial insects, birds), 2) don't litter, 3) reduce use of plastics (plastic winds up in animals, birds, fish), 4) oppose development that destroys critical habitat, 5) support conservation efforts, and 6) support groups that work on the issue of endangered species. 7) You can even create a backyard wildlife habitat!

It has long been known that eating oily fish (e.g. salmon, sardines) has health benefits for the heart. But it also looks like regularly eating sardines may be a good way to lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, as well as improving heart health.

In a study (conducted in Spain) 152 persons at risk for developing type 2 diabetes ("pre-diabetes") were randomly assigned to one of 2 groups for 1 year: Group 1 regularly ate sardines +  followed a diabetes preventive diet, or Group 2 ate the same diabetes preventive diet, but without sardines. All participants were 65 years or older.

They found that after 1 year, the sardine group had greater health improvements than the non-sardine group. Fewer in the sardine group were still in the prediabetes group, and fewer had developed type 2 diabetes. The sardine group also had decreased triglycerides (good), greater increases in healthy HDL cholesterol, reduced insulin resistance, and lower blood pressure, as compared to the non-sardine group.

The sardine group also had higher taurine levels in the blood, as well as increases in nutrients linked to health benefits, including omega-3 EPA and DHA, vitamin D, and fluorine. Taurine has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

What was their weekly consumption of sardines? They consumed 200 g of canned sardines in olive oil per week - eaten as 100 g servings twice per week. Which is a little less than eating two of the little 125 g cans of sardines in olive oil available at the grocery store. It was recommended that they eat the entire sardine, including bones, due to their rich content of calcium and vitamin D. [By the way, while the researchers don't discuss this - increased extra virgin olive oil consumption also has health benefits.]

Medscape article: Sardines Linked to Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Eating sardines regularly helps prevent type 2 diabetes

The health benefits of sardines and oily fish are widely known: their high levels of unsaturated fats help to regulate cholesterol levels and prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases. However, the benefits don't end there.  ...continue reading "Eating Sardines Linked to Lower Diabetes Risk"