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It turns out that plastic baby bottles shed millions of tiny plastic particles (microplastics) into the breastmilk, formula, or water in them. At this point we don't really know what ingesting multitudes of microplastics every day does to a person, but assume that it is not beneficial and we should try to lower how much we ingest. (Microplastics are turning up in foods and water, especially bottled water - we are ingesting them, excreting them, and there is some concerning health research.)

Trinity College researchers found that the greatest number of microplastics are shed into the baby bottle contents when polypropylene bottles are heated, especially during bottle sterilization. The research team estimated that current guidelines for infant bottle sterilization and formula preparation result in an average daily ingestion by European and American babies of more than 2 million microplastics every day! Yikes!

What to do? Absolute best would be to use glass baby bottles - no plastic there. But if plastic baby bottles are used: 1) first sterilize the bottles. 2) Then rinse the sterilized bottles 3 times in water that has been sterilized (boiled and cooled) in a stainless steel or glass pot. 3) Same with the formula - heat in a non-plastic container (glass or stainless steel) and then pour it into the plastic baby bottle.

More guidelines: do not heat formula in plastic containers or microwave ovens. Do not vigorously shake the formula in the bottle at any time Do not use sonication to clean plastic baby bottles.

Keep in mind: shedding of microplastics is a property of plastic polypropylene bottles, and the hotter the bottle - the more is shed. Shaking also releases microplastics. The only way to avoid the problem of microplastics in the formula or other liquid is to use glass baby bottles.

From The Scientist: Baby Bottles Can Shed Millions of Microplastic Particles: Study

Plastic has long been a major source of pollution in landfills and in oceans, especially as it degrades into pieces smaller than 5 millimeters, termed “microplastics.” Experimental studies have shown that these particles and the cocktail of chemicals they carry can wreak havoc on physiology, reproduction, development, and behavior in a number of nonhuman species.  ...continue reading "Plastic Baby Bottles Shed Tiny Plastic Particles"

To boost the immune system of young children, as well as improve their skin and gut microbiomes - send them out daily to play in a natural environment. That means outdoors in a natural park-like setting with grass, plants, soil, and trees. Yes, germs and dirt!

Finnish researchers found that replacing the gravel and pavement in urban daycare playground areas with natural forest-type vegetation (forest plants, shrubs, sod, mosses, and peat blocks for climbing) resulted in beneficial changes to young children's immune systems, and skin and gut microbiomes. This happened in just one month!

The researchers studied 75 children (3 to 5 years old) at 10 daycare centers in 2 Finnish cities (urban areas). Four of the daycare centers had their gravel/paved playgrounds turned into a forest-type natural area (where the children played), 3 daycare centers weren't changed (kept the gravel/pavement), and 3 daycare centers were already nature-oriented with children visiting forests daily. All children spent the same amount of time outside each day.

An important finding was that after 28 days the skin and gut microbiomes (microbial communities) of children playing in the transformed forest-type playgrounds had shifted to become more similar to children attending nature-oriented daycares. This change was also reflected in their immune systems: they developed a higher ratio of anti-inflammatory proteins to pro-inflammatory proteins in their blood (this is good).

The researchers point out that getting exposed to all the microbes in a natural forest-type setting (environmental microbial diversity) is beneficial. On the other hand, playing outside on man-made landscaping materials does not result in beneficial changes. Translation: playing outside in the dirt and plants is good for you.

From Medical Xpress: Replacing asphalt with forest-type plants at daycare centers found to strengthen immune defenses in children

A team of researchers affiliated with multiple institutions in Finland and one in the Czech Republic found that replacing asphalt in play areas at daycare centers with natural vegetation can lead to stronger immune defenses in the children at the centers. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, the group describes removing asphalt from play areas at several daycare centers and replacing it with forest floor vegetation, and what they found when they tested the children who attended the centers.  ...continue reading "Playing Outside In Nature Is Healthy For Young Children"

Weetabix biscuits Credit: Wikipedia

Exciting research from the UK suggests that to prevent celiac disease in children, the answer may be to feed the child gluten in early childhood (starting at 4 months of age). Early exposure!

Celiac disease, which occurs in about 1 in 100 people, is a lifelong condition caused by an abnormal reaction to gluten - a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Eating gluten results in the body mounting an immune response that attacks and damages the small intestine, so that nutrients cannot be absorbed properly into the body. The only treatment for celiac disease is to strictly adhere to a gluten free diet.

The study included one group of children that had early exposure to high doses of gluten starting at 4 months (4 grams of wheat protein per week in the form of 2 Weetabix biscuits - wheat biscuits produced in the UK). They were compared to children who did not have gluten exposure until 6 months (standard dietary recommendations of breast milk only). At three years of age none of the early gluten group (0 out of 488 children) had celiac disease, while 1.4% (7 of 516 children) of the delayed gluten exposure had celiac disease.

This finding is along the lines of research suggesting that to prevent peanut allergies from developing feed small amounts of pureed peanut products (such as peanut butter or peanut puffs) to a child in the first year of life, starting as early as 4 months of age.

Another bit of interesting celiac disease research from 2019 found a link with higher fiber intake by the mother during pregnancy, especially of fruits and vegetables, and a lower incidence of celiac disease in the children. Also, gluten intake (high or low) by the pregnant woman had no effect on whether her child would later develop celiac disease.

From Science Daily: Early introduction of gluten may prevent celiac disease in children, study finds

Introducing high doses of gluten from four months of age into infants' diets could prevent them from developing celiac disease, a study has found. 
...continue reading "Introducing Gluten At 4 Months Of Age May Prevent Celiac Disease In Children"

A recent study found that giving daily vitamin D supplements to children with severe asthma and low vitamin D levels did not prevent severe asthma attacks, reduce the time to an asthmatic attack, or enable the children to reduce the maintenance dose of an inhaled corticosteroid. Very disappointing!

As of 2018, it is estimated that 5.5 million children in the US have asthma, and that asthma led to more than 546,000 emergency department visits and 80,000 hospitalizations. So the researchers started the study hoping that vitamin D3 supplements could help with asthma attacks.

The well-done year long study recruited children (6 to 16 years old) from 7 US medical centers. They were assigned randomly to different groups (vitamin D or placebo), and with no one knowing who got vitamin D and who didn't. The children took 4000 IU/day of vitamin D3 or a placebo for 48 weeks, and all were maintained with a low-dose of inhaled corticosteroid (fluticasone propionate).

The findings contrast with earlier observational studies (basically a snap-shot of  groups of people) that found a link with severe asthma and lower vitamin D levels. Meanwhile, other well-done studies (women assigned randomly to different groups, etc) have found no protective effect from vitamin D3 supplementation during pregnancy - that is, it did not protect children up to the age of 6 from asthma.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Compared to placebo, vitamin D has no benefit for severe asthma attacks, study finds

Contrary to earlier results, vitamin D supplements do not prevent severe asthma attacks in at-risk children, according to the first placebo-controlled clinical trial to test this relationship.  ...continue reading "Children With Severe Asthma Not Helped By Vitamin D Supplements"

Peanut allergies can be life-altering and life-threatening. But in the past year there have been welcome developments in both preventing peanut allergies and in treatment of peanut allergies in children.

The latest medical advice to prevent peanut allergy is to regularly feed tiny amounts of pureed peanut products to babies before their first birthday. Even as early as the 4th month! This is the total opposite of the old advice for preventing peanut allergies, which was to avoid, avoid, avoid giving peanut products to babies.  Oops.

Experts say this method of early introduction, and frequent feeding of small amounts of the food to babies, works best for preventing the development of peanut and egg allergies. [But even with this method, some will eventually develop the food allergies.]

What is a "small amount" of peanuts that should be fed the baby? Guidelines are: "Eight grams of peanut butter (1 heaped teaspoon or 1.5 regular teaspoon) or 17 g of peanut puffs should be consumed at least twice weekly to protect against peanut allergy." However, note that this intervention does not treat peanut allergy. Instead, it is a way to try to prevent a peanut allergy from developing in young children.

But what about older children who already have peanut allergies? What can be done? The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first ever oral immunotherapy to treat peanut allergies in children between the ages of 4 to 17 years. However, the goal of the therapy is to make children less sensitive and to decrease their allergic reactions. They are still allergic, but less so. For example, after 1 year of treatment - about 2/3 of the kids were able to tolerate 600 mg of peanut protein. Unfortunately, the other third could not.

But here too, continued exposure is important. Researchers found that after 1 year, those who could tolerate the peanut protein have to continue ingesting tiny amounts of peanut. If they stop - the children will lose their tolerance within 2 months.

Treating peanut allergies. From March 2, 2020 article in Medscape: Treating Peanut Allergy With Oral Immunotherapy: Insights From an Insider

Preventing peanut allergies. From August 28, 2019 article in Medscape (the medical site): Pureed Peanuts Advised for Infants to Stave Off Allergy

Feeding pureed peanut products regularly to babies before their first birthday could reduce their risk of developing peanut allergies later on, doctors advise.  ...continue reading "Preventing and Treating Peanut Allergies In Children"

We all know that lead exposure is harmful, especially to developing babies and children. But what about eating meat (e.g. venison) from an animal that has been shot with lead bullets? Does the lead contaminate the meat? This is an important question because hunters provide game not only for their families, but also donate meat (such as venison) to food pantries.

A number of studies over the years have examined this issue and the finding is that YES - using lead-based bullets contaminates the meat. Bullets can fragment into hundreds of small pieces (many are microscopic fragments only detectable with x-rays or chemical analysis), especially if they hit large bones of the animal. These fragments are still there and detectable after processing.

So yes, people wind up ingesting meat with tiny lead bullet fragments, even if they cut away several inches of meat from the bullet's path in the animal. Tiny bullet fragments travel more than 6" inches away, and even 11" away from the bullet path. Studies find that eating meat from animals shot with lead based ammunition results in a spike in blood lead levels - which gradually goes down over months, but also migrates to the bones where it stays.

In 2013 a group of 30 nationally and internationally recognized scientists with lead and environmental health expertise collaborated to create an evidence-based consensus statement called Health Risks from Lead-Based Ammunition in the Environment—A Consensus Statement of Scientists 2013. Along with listing scientific evidence, they ask for the reduction and elimination of lead-based ammunition, in order to protect human and environmental health.

Unfortunately hunters usually do not know this information. It's not publicized, and doctors don't mention it. But hunters should be informed. One can't imagine anyone wanting to deliberately eat meat containing lead fragments. Or wanting to feed it to children or pregnant women.

What can you do? Don't use any lead-based ammunition. Only eat game shot with non-lead ammunition (e.g.copper). The evidence is there that if lead-based ammo is used to kill the animal, then the person eating the animal will ingest some lead bullet fragments.

Excerpts from Environmental Health News: Lead in hunted meat: Who’s telling hunters and their families?  ...continue reading "Do Lead Bullets Contaminate Hunted Meat?"

Air pollution is a killer, but it also does damage in subtle ways - such as having effects on the brain. A recent study found that early childhood exposure to high amounts of traffic-related air pollution (city life, living next to a highway) resulted in the brain having structural changes (differences in brain volume and cortical thickness) at the age of 12 when compared to children who did not have such high exposure to traffic-related air pollution. This means that the changes were permanent.

The study was conducted in Cincinnati, Ohio, but traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) is a problem throughout the world. This type of air pollution has all sorts of gaseous pollutants, fine and ultrafine particles, heavy metals, carbon, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Diesel exhaust may be even worse - it has more than 40 toxic pollutants. When people breathe in the pollutants, the pollutants then can travel to the brain where they can cause damage.

What will it take for governments to really accept the dangers of air pollution and to take the hard steps necessary to toughen standards? Instead of loosening all sorts of pollution standards, which is what is going on in the United States today.

[More studies about air pollution and the brain, including higher risks of dementia, millions of ultra-fine particles getting to the heart and brain and lodging there, and shrinking of brain volume.]

From Science Daily: High air pollution exposure in 1-year-olds linked to structural brain changes at age 12   ...continue reading "What Is Air Pollution From Traffic Doing To Your Brain?"

Please, only buy or use sofas and upholstered chairs that do NOT contain any flame retardant chemicals. Be sure to look at the tags attached to the furniture that are required by a California law since 2015 (called Technical Bulletin 117-2013) to be on each new sofa and upholstered furniture. It will tell you if it contains flame retardant chemicals or not.

This is especially important if at some point you are thinking of having a child, if you are pregnant, or if you have children. The problem is that the flame retardant chemicals, which were added for decades to the foam in upholstered furniture, migrate out and so get into us (through the skin, inhaling, or by swallowing). Unfortunately, almost all of us have flame retardants in our bodies.  Where they can cause health problems.

Two new studies were published recently showing harms from exposures to flame retardants. The first found an association between flame retardant chemicals before birth (when the pregnant woman is exposed, it gets to the developing baby) and later reading problems.

The second study found that exposures to pesticides and flame retardants have overtaken  lead and mercury as leading contributors to IQ loss in children.

The researchers looked at exposure to major groups of endocrine disrupting chemicals during pregnancy and effects on the children. Yes - once again, chemicals frequently found all around us are hormone disruptors, and these chemicals also negatively affect neurological development. One result with higher exposure is that it lowers IQ. The 4 groups are: flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs), certain pesticides (organophosphates), mercury (methymercury), and lead. Exposures to the first three have the biggest effect during pregnancy (they cross the placenta and so get to the baby).

The researchers found an interesting result: organophosphate pesticide (such as chlorpyrifos) exposure and IQ loss attributed to it has increased since 2003. And that since the EPA did not ban chlorpyrifos (widely used on crops), then organophosphate pesticide "levels will continue to climb in the United States population due to ingestion of chlorpyrifos-treated crops". NOTE: these pesticides are allowed on conventional crops, but NOT organic crops.

How to avoid exposure? Hard to totally avoid exposure to these chemicals, but you can lower your exposure. Eat as many organic foods as possible. Try to avoid buying or having flame retardant sofas, upholstered chairs, and other upholstered furniture in your home. [Note: if they say that they use "safer" replacement chemicals - still avoid that furniture. The replacements are similar chemicals and may be just as bad or worse.] Frequently open windows to "air out" the home.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Prenatal exposure to flame retardants linked to reading problems   ...continue reading "Flame Retardant Chemicals Have Harmful Effects Before Birth"

There may be another unexpected benefit to having a pet dog in childhood - a lower risk of developing schizophrenia later in adulthood. A recent study (conducted in the Baltimore, MD area) found the lowest risk of developing schizophrenia was in individuals who were exposed to a pet dog from birth or before the age of 3. So... early childhood exposure to household pet dogs is best.

On the other hand, there was no significant link between pet dogs and bipolar disorder, or between pet cats and either psychiatric disorder (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder).

Interestingly, the lower risk of schizophrenia in those having a household pet dog before the age of 3 matches research finding a lower incidence of allergies and asthma in those with early childhood exposure to pet dogs (and also pet cats). There could be a number of reasons, but one popular one is that the exposure to the dog microbes  in early childhood influences the child's gut microbes and affects the immune system in a beneficial way.

From Science Daily: Early-life exposure to dogs may lessen risk of developing schizophrenia  ...continue reading "Early Life Exposure To Pet Dogs and Lower Risk of Developing Schizophrenia"

Adding fluoride to municipal drinking water has been controversial for years, with much debate over benefits (prevention of tooth decay) vs health concerns. Especially worrisome are recent studies finding that fluoride in drinking water may have negative effects on children's IQ, whether the fluoride exposure occurs during pregnancy or infancy.

Canadian researchers found that babies that drank formula mixed with fluoridated water had a lower IQ at age 3 to 4 than exclusively breastfed children. [Breastfeeding results in much lower levels of fluoride exposure, even when the mothers drink fluoridated tap water. This is because only limited amounts wind up in breast milk.]

As in the USA, some Canadian communities fluoridate their water while others don't. Exposure to increasing levels of fluoride in tap water (even at government recommended "optimal" levels) was associated with lower IQ scores (especially non-verbal intellectual abilities) in the children. The more the fluoride exposure, the bigger the effect. In other words, studies suggest that fluoride is a neurotoxicant in that it negatively affects the developing brain.

What to do? Try to breastfeed your baby for 6 months. But if using formula and your municipal water has added fluoride - try to mix the formula with unfluoridated bottled water, especially water in glass bottles (because plastic leaches and has more microplastics in it.

From Beyond Pesticides: Fluoride In Science News Again, This Time For Effects On Children's IQ  ...continue reading "Time To Reconsider Adding Fluoride To Drinking Water?"