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Some good news for women who had a Covid-19 infection during pregnancy - one small study found reassuring results about the growth and development of the babies. The Northwestern University researchers found that at the 6 month checkup the babies overall had normal growth patterns and developmental milestones. This is great, great news!

Yes, it was a small study (33 low-income women and their babies). Three infants (10%) did receive development-related referrals (one had an underlying genetic diagnosis) - but the "referrals not higher" than what the physicians said they normally see. More good news: none of the babies tested positive for COVID-19.

From Science Daily: Normal 6-month outcomes in babies of women with COVID-19 during pregnancy

Babies born to women who had COVID-19 during pregnancy showed reassuring patterns of growth and development at 6-month follow-up, according to a study from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern Medicine in partnership with Erie Family Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that serves a diverse and low-income patient population.  ...continue reading "COVID-19 During Pregnancy and Some Reassuring News About the Baby"

Another study found that increased sun exposure in children and young adults is linked to lower levels of multiple sclerosis. This was the main finding of a study conducted at multiple centers in the United States by a team of American and Australian researchers.

The researchers in the study stated that not only does sunlight boost vitamin D levels, it also "...stimulates immune cells in the skin that have a protective role in diseases such as multiple sclerosis." In addition, they found an association with the intensity of sunlight and estimated that residents of Florida would be 21 percent less likely than residents of New York to have multiple sclerosis. Sun exposure appears to be dose dependent - the longer the exposure, the lower the risk of multiple sclerosis.

Earlier studies also found immune boosting properties of sunlight. Sunlight has low levels of "blue light" which energizes T cells that play a central role in human immunity. T cells are a type of white blood cell, are part of the immune system, and help protect the body from infection and cellular abnormalities (cancer). 

Bottom line: In this study getting at least 30 minutes (up to 1 hour) of sunshine daily, especially in the summer, seems to be key in terms of protective effects.

From Medical Xpress: Sunshine may shield children, young adults from MS

Living in sunny locations and spending time outdoors may raise the risk for skin cancer, but a new study led by UC San Francisco and the Australian National University shows that in children and young adults, sun exposure may protect against multiple sclerosis. The study follows previous work by other researchers that has demonstrated an association between increased ultraviolet exposure in childhood and lower odds of adult MS ...continue reading "Sunshine and Multiple Sclerosis in Children and Young Adults"

Breastfeeding
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

A recent small study confirms what many nursing mothers already suspect - that what the mother eats has an effect on the flavor of breast milk. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence of the taste of breast milk varying depending on foods eaten, but not much evidence. Earlier studies did find a taste effect from some foods (e.g. carrots, garlic), but not others.

Researchers at the Technical Univ. of Munich investigated whether dominant tastes of a curry dish (red chili, pepper, ginger) were transferred to the breast milk of 16 nursing mothers. They found that one hour after eating a curry dish, the breast milk of nursing mothers contained piperine (from pepper), but not substances from red chili and ginger. And it was still there in breast milk produced hours later.

Interestingly, while the researchers thought that even though the piperine could be detected with laboratory instruments, they doubted it could be tasted by infants. Hmm.. don't know if infants would agree. Humans are incredibly sensitive to tastes and odors. It is thought that early exposure to all sorts of different smells and tastes could have an effect on later food preferences.

Because only piperine (from pepper) was detected and not the other chemicals they looked for (curcumin, capsaicin, 6-gingerol, etc.), the researchers hypothesize that there is a barrier between the mother's circulation and the mammary glands - which only some compounds can cross (such as piperine). This would be comparable to the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which regulates and restricts compounds from getting to the brain.

They point out that caffeine and piperine both can cross the blood-brain barrier, and both have been shown to get into breast milk. [By the way, studies show other compounds also appear in breast milk such as lycopene (from tomatoes).] Bottom line: Eat a variety of foods when nursing.

From Science Daily: Spicy breast milk?

Breast milk is the first food that babies consume. Various studies have suggested that the "taste experience" in early childhood influences eating behavior in adults. Unlike standardized infant formula, natural milk does not taste and smell the same every day. The differences are largely due to the maternal diet.  ...continue reading "The Taste of Breast Milk Varies Depending On Foods Eaten"

Another recent study found an association with pesticide exposure (both herbicides and insecticides) and leukemia risk in infants and children. The study found that exposure prenatally or during childhood to pesticides increases the risk for leukemia. (Keep in mind that cancer in childhood is rare, but it does occur.)

Researchers at the School of Medicine (in Greece) did a review and analysis of 52 studies and found that preconception exposure to pesticides by either the father and mother can increase the risk, also childhood exposure. But the biggest risk was a mother's exposure during pregnancy, and this was linked to both infant and childhood leukemia. (Yes,  the developing baby is also exposed when the mother is exposed during pregnancy)

What to do? If thinking about conceiving a child, already pregnant, or have children - try to eliminate as much exposure to pesticides as possible. Many of us have chronic exposures to low levels of pesticides - whether in our homes, yards, workplaces, and food. So this is important.

This means avoiding pesticide treatments or flea collars in pet dogs, not routinely applying pesticides in residences or outdoors, which includes outdoor weed + feed  or mosquito treatments (toxic pesticides!). Eat organic as much as possible. Use least toxic integrated Pest Management (IPM) if need to deal with a pest problem. (Beyond Pesticides is a good resource site for pesticide information, organic approaches, and IPM)

From Beyond Pesticides (they frequently write about pesticide studies): In Utero and Childhood Pesticide Exposure Increases Childhouse  Cancer Risk

A study published in Environmental Pollution finds the risk of acute childhood leukemia (AL) increases with prenatal and newborn exposure to pesticides (i.e., insecticides and herbicides). The study results support the hypothesis that chronic environmental pesticide exposure increases childhood leukemia risk up to two times. Maternal exposure has a stronger association with leukemia than childhood exposure. Insecticides and herbicides are of particular significance in increasing leukemia risk, especially for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. ...continue reading "Pesticide Exposure and Increased Leukemia Risk In Children"

Credit: NSF

Once again it is summer – the weather is hot, flowers are blooming, and pesticide application signs appear on lawns throughout the United States.

Americans love their lawns, and there seems to be a national obsession for one that looks like a lush weed-free carpet. Lawns can be thought of as the largest crop in the country, since they cover more area than any irrigated crop, even more than corn.

This has led to Americans applying nearly 80 million pounds of lawn care pesticides each year. One of the most common weed-killers is 2,4-D, a chemical used in Agent Orange, and linked to several types of cancers. It is found in many weed and feed products.

There are different types of pesticides. Harmless sounding “weed-killers” are actually herbicides, and “bug-killers” and “bug sprays” are insecticides. The purpose of pesticides is to kill or repel whatever is viewed as a pest, whether insects or weeds. Lawn care pesticides are considered to be “cosmetic” or non-essential use pesticides – meaning they are only used for aesthetic purposes.

There is a dark side to pesticides

Unfortunately, pesticides have effects beyond whatever was targeted. We may not see or smell pesticides after they have dried, whether applied to our lawns, gardens, crops, or homes, but they are still there and getting into our bodies.

We can breathe them in, absorb them through our skin and eyes, and ingest them in food, water, and dust. When children and pets are walking or rolling around on the grass after a pesticide application, they are absorbing those chemicals into their bodies. As far back as the early 1990s, studies showed that pesticides such as 2,4-D get into people and pets walking on treated lawns, especially on the first day they are sprayed (applied).

Pesticides are found in our air, water, soil, “drift” from neighboring properties and farms, and even in rain and fog. We track pesticides into our homes from the outside, where they linger in house dust and carpets. Scary, isn’t it?

Every year more evidence accumulates that pesticide exposures have harmful effects on humans, pets, wildlife, birds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Even on microbes in the soil, as well as microbes in the human gut microbiome!

Exposure to pesticides can be acute – a big amount at once, such as when a toddler walks over a recently treated lawn and winds up severely ill and possibly hospitalized. Yes, that actually happened to a child in my town. Or exposure to pesticides can be continuous and at low levels (chronic exposure).

Did you know that over 90% of all Americans, including pregnant women, have pesticide residues in their bodies? Pesticides can be measured in our blood and urine, breast milk, and even meconium (an infant's first feces). Studies show that while we are being exposed less to some now banned pesticides, other pesticide levels, such as glyphosate (which is used in Roundup), are rapidly increasing in human bodies.

The bad news is that we don’t really know what all the chronic low-level pesticide mixtures that we are exposed to are doing to us. Studies are finding health problems such as cancers, endocrine (hormone) disruption, reproductive problems, effects on mental development and behavior, and even effects on semen quality. Being exposed to pesticides at certain times of development can have the biggest effects, especially during pregnancy when the fetus is developing and during childhood.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in December 2012 warning of the dangers of pesticide exposure (including in the home) to children and during pregnancy. They stated that this includes common pesticides considered by many as “safe”, such as pyrethroids.

Our pets are at risk too. Dogs exposed to lawn pesticides develop the same cancers as humans. Researchers consider them early warning systems for human health because cancers take only a few years to show up in dogs, but many years in humans. ...continue reading "Are Lawn and Garden Pesticides Harming Us?"

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"

The millions of bacteria, fungi, viruses (human microbiome) that live on and within us are extremely important for our health in all sorts of ways. The birth experience (as the baby travels down the birth canal) is one way that a mother's microbes get transmitted to the baby ("seeds" the baby's microbiome). But babies born by Cesarean delivery start out picking up different species of microbes - from dust in the operating room.

Thus there has been concern with the possibility that a baby born by C-section, as compared to a vaginal delivery, will have life long microbiome differences. Swedish researchers studied this issue in 471 children and determined that by 5 years of age that the microbiome differences at birth and first year of life have generally disappeared. The differences in microbial composition had decreased to less than 2% in the 2 groups. This is good news!

Over the 5 years everyone had a great increase in the number of microbial species that live in the gut. The gut microbiome became more "adult-like", but it wasn't yet like that of adults. A conclusion was that not only does it take years to develop adult microbial complexity, but there is also individual variation in how long this takes. A person's diet, especially the introduction of solid foods, and environment all have an effect on species diversity and composition.

By the way, another way mothers transmit hundreds of species of microbes to their babies is during nursing in the breast milk (this is great!), and these species change over time. This is a good reason to breast feed - it's not just the nutrition, but also the microbes.

From Science  Daily: Gut microbiota in Cesarean-born babies catches up

Infants born by cesarean section have a relatively meager array of bacteria in the gut. But by the age of three to five years they are broadly in line with their peers. This is shown by a study that also shows that it takes a remarkably long time for the mature intestinal microbiota to get established.  ...continue reading "Five Year Olds Have Similar Gut Microbes, No Matter the Type of Birth"

Evidence is building that caffeine should be avoided during pregnancy because it harms the developing baby. A recent study found when caffeine (coffee!) is consumed during pregnancy, then structural changes occur in the brain of the developing baby. These changes can be seen years later in brain scans, and these appear to result in behavioral changes in the children. The minimal, but noticeable behavioral changes were behavioral issues, attention difficulties, and hyperactivity.

The Univ. of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry researchers  found subtle changes in brain pathways ("alteration of the microstructure of critical fiber tracts") between brain regions that could be seen in the children at age 9 to 10 years. They analyzed brain scans (from MRIs) of 9157 children, of which 4,135 had mothers that reported consuming caffeine more than once a week.

Other studies find that health problems associated with caffeine (coffee) intake during pregnancy are miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, and childhood leukemia. There is a dose-response effect - the more caffeine is ingested, the more negative health effects.

Other human studies looking at this issue are observational, but negative health effects are supported by animal research going back more than four decades. Caffeine crosses the placenta and goes to the baby. Negative health effects occur because the fetus can not clear the caffeine well because it lacks an enzyme that metabolizes caffeine.

Unfortunately, medical guidelines in both the US and Europe are that moderate (up to 200 mg) ingestion of caffeine during pregnancy is OK, which means about 2 cups of regular coffee a day. Since studies show it's not OK, it's time to revise the guidelines!

From Science Daily: Brain changed by caffeine in utero

New research finds caffeine consumed during pregnancy can change important brain pathways that could lead to behavioral problems later in life. Researchers in the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) analyzed thousands of brain scans of nine and ten-year-olds, and revealed changes in the brain structure in children who were exposed to caffeine in utero.  ...continue reading "Avoid Caffeine During Pregnancy"

Breastfeeding
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

For years it has been known that breast milk transfers hundreds of microbial species to the baby -  which is very important and beneficial for the baby's microbiome (community of fungi, viruses, bacteria, and other microbes) and health. A recent study found that the bacteria in breast milk varies over time, which is a good reason to breastfeed for at least 6 months - the baby ingests all these beneficial species in the breast milk.

Breast milk samples were collected from 76 breastfeeding (lactating) mothers living in 8 villages in the remote Western Highlands of Guatemala during "early lactation" (6–46 days postpartum) or after months of breastfeeding or "late lactation" (109 to184 days postpartum). Modern technologies (genetic sequencing) were used to analyze the breast milk.

The researchers found a bacterial or microbiome shift from Staphylococcus and several Streptococcus species in early lactation to Sphingobium and Pseudomonas species in late lactation, along with other bacterial shifts. The changing bacterial species have different roles in the body. There were even species never before reported in breast milk, such as: Janthinobacterium agaricidamnosum, Novosphingobium clariflavumm, Ottowia beijingensis, and Flavobacterium cucumis.

Of course much is still unknown about the breastmilk microbiome, and even what is a "core" breast milk microbiome - that is, what species are the core species in all breast milk. But it's clear what the baby gets from the breast milk changes over time.  It's still early days in this research!

Note that all these hundreds of species are not those found in probiotic supplements or formula - a baby must breastfeed to get them. Unfortunately, it is estimated that only 26% of North American mothers breastfeed their babies for at least 6 months (Unicef data).

From Futurity: Breast Milk Offers Different Bacteria Over Time

This bacterial cocktail could act like a daily booster shot for infant immunity and metabolism. ...continue reading "The Bacteria In Breast Milk Change Over Time"

Many people don't realize that the plastic toys our children play with may contain harmful chemicals. Children get exposed to these chemicals by touching the toy (absorption through the skin), or ingesting chemicals (e.g. when a baby mouths the toy, or child ingests dust from the toy), but also from breathing in chemicals leaching out of all the plastic toys in the room into the air. This has been known a long time, yet here we are...

An international team of researchers looked at 419 chemicals and found 126 chemicals of concern (chemicals known to be harmful) in plastic toys - chemicals that they felt should no longer be used in children's toys. Many are endocrine disruptors, while others are linked to cancer. In this group were 31 plasticizer chemicals (including phthalates and BPA [bisphenol]), 18 flame retardants, and 8 fragrances. These chemicals can be measured in the urine. [Note: they did not look at some chemicals, such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc.]

The researchers conclude: "Nowadays, existing regulations mainly prioritize a small set of chemicals, and regulators struggle to keep up with the thousands of new chemicals entering the market every year." They stress that we need to avoid "regrettable substitution" (substituting a dangerous chemical with another equally dangerous related chemical - such as replacing BPA with BPS). We need to identify safer substances that can be used in toys.

The more plastic toys in a room, the more exposure. They are outgassing all the time - even if you can't smell it. Soft plastic toys emit (outgas) the most chemicals. Children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. Currently there is no international agreement over which chemicals to ban or regulate, and not enough chemicals are regulated or banned in toys and children's products.

There is no way right now to know which plastic toys contain dangerous chemicals and which don't. Toy manufacturers do not tell us what chemicals are in the toys. So... yes, we absolutely need (global) regulations to totally ban the use of certain chemicals in plastic toys, especially because so many toys are produced in countries with weak environmental regulations. We need to use safer chemical alternatives in plastic toys.

Bottom line: Try to have fewer plastic toys, especially soft plastic toys. Try to ventilate rooms frequently (every day) by opening windows, even if only for a short while.

From Science Daily: Potentially harmful chemicals found in plastic toys

It has long been known that several chemicals used in plastic toys in different parts of the world can be harmful to human health. However, it is difficult for parents to figure out how to avoid plastic toys containing chemicals that may cause possible health risks to their children.   ...continue reading "Plastic Toys May Contain Harmful Chemicals"