Skip to content

An interesting study about exposure to household cleaning products (regular cleaning products compared to eco-friendly products) and the gut microbiomes of young children was recently published. Canadian researchers found that the use of household cleaning disinfectants in the home was associated with changes in gut microbial communities in infants (more of some bacteria and less of others) - when compared to infants living in homes where eco-friendly cleaners were used. These changes occurred in a dose dependent manner (the more they were used, the bigger the changes).

Also interesting was that the more disinfectants (which are antibacterial) were used in a home, the more Lachnospiraceae was found in the infant's gut microbiota in infancy (age 3 to 4 months), and this was associated with a higher body mass of the child at 1 and 3 years, and increased odds of being overweight or obese at age 3. Use of eco-friendly products was associated with decreased odds of the child being overweight or obese at age 3. What was heavy use of household disinfectants? Daily or weekly. Just keep in mind that these are associations - not a definite cause and effect. But animal studies find similar results. And I wonder - what is frequent use of disinfectants doing to adult gut microbiomes? From Medical Xpress:

Household cleaning products may contribute to kids' overweight by altering their gut microbiota

Commonly used household cleaners could be making children overweight by altering their gut microbiota, suggests a Canadian study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). The study analyzed the gut flora of 757 infants from the general population at age 3-4 months and weight at ages 1 and 3 years, looking at exposure to disinfectants, detergents and eco-friendly products used in the home. 

...continue reading "What Are Household Disinfectants Doing To Our Gut Microbes?"

All the seasons are beautiful here in the northeast US, but there is a dark side to  nature - ticks. Tick numbers, types of ticks, and diseases (including Lyme disease) that people are getting from tick bites are all increasing. Nothing seems to stop their spread and their increasing numbers. While deer ticks have been a huge problem for years, now two new tick species are concerning us here in the northeast: the longhorned tick and the lone star tick.

The scary species of longhorned tick (or Haemaphysalis longicornis) was discovered in NJ in 2017, and now it appears that it is spreading rapidly (Virginia, West Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, NY). This tick is a native of east Asia (japan, New Zealand, Australia, etc.), and transmits a number of diseases and infests livestock in eastern Asia. It is especially worrisome because females can clone themselves - so they can appear on animals in really large numbers in varying stages. (The photos are horrifying.) The lone star tick is an aggressive tick that can march across the lawn and up onto the deck to get to humans. And its bite is linked to red meat allergies!

How are ticks spreading so rapidly in the US? Many researchers say that with a warming climate ticks are more active for longer periods of the year and can now live in places long thought that they couldn't live (e.g. at higher elevations). But there's more to it. Yes, tick species and tick-borne diseases are now spreading across the US due to warmer winters (climate change!), but research also shows that they spread  due to migratory birds carrying (and depositing) ticks along migratory paths. The huge, huge increase of deer populations in suburban areas is also spreading ticks. As well as small mammals (especially mice!). And on and on.

What to do? There are many pesticides available that can reduce tick populations (spray or apply to lawns and vegetation), but it is questionable whether it really helps. One good 2 year study found that pesticide treatments reduced the number of ticks, but not the number of human-tick encounters and it didn't reduce the number of tick-borne diseases (e.g. Lyme disease). Also, ticks like to live in "leaf litter" at the edges of the lawn and under bushes, in woods - all places hard to treat. Plus, animals and birds visiting the yard are constantly bringing more ticks to the property.

Basically the advice has generally been that it is up to the individual to prevent tick bites by applying an insecticide, or wearing clothes that have the insecticide permethrin on them, checking yourself after going outside and removing any ticks, showering after going outside (even if it's at the end of the day), changing and washing clothes (and put into the dryer to kill the little suckers) after going outside. But there is some concern about some insect repellents (e.g. DEET), especially if used frequently, and many people don't want to apply pesticides such as DEET daily on their children or themselves.

The one question that I hear the most is - are there nontoxic insecticides that are safe to use daily, especially for children? The answer is YES - a good one is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE). My absolute favorite non-toxic insect repellent that I think is fabulous and also highly recommended by Consumer Reports as being effective against ticks (and mosquitoes) for at least 6 hours is: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent (comes in a pump spray). We found that it also repels other biting insects such as black flies, and washes well out of clothes, so a total win! My understanding is that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) does not recommend it for children under the age of 3 at this time because studies on this age group have not been done.

Others also suggest some non-toxic possibilities for the yard: raise free range chickens (they eat ticks!) or guinea fowl (eat ticks, but very noisy), encourage the presence of foxes (they eat the mice, and a study found they really reduce tick populations), can throw tick tubes such as Damminix (contain cotton balls with permethrin that mice carry back to nests) into the bushes or woods around your property. And a large study in NY state is investigating a new possibility for non-toxic tick control (as described in the last post) - whether tick bait boxes (The Tick Control System) and/or applying a non-toxic tick killing fungus (the product Met52) will lower tick numbers and tick diseases. The researchers are hoping tick reductions of at least 90%! Finally some encouraging news.

The reality is that we are exposed to thousands of industrial chemicals in our daily lives - in our foods, products, even in dust. Chemicals can get into us through ingestion (food and contaminated water), through inhalation (in dust and contaminated air), and can even be absorbed through the skin. Blood and urine tests can measure the chemicals that we have been exposed to - this is called biomonitoring. Of course, each of us has different levels of these unwanted chemicals - but yes, even those living off the grid and eating all organic foods will have some unwanted chemicals in their bodies. Studies are finding that these chemicals have negative health effects - some effects we know about, but many, many are still unknown.

Of big concern is a pregnant woman's exposure to chemicals because they can have health effects on the developing baby, including life-long effects (e.g. neurological effects, endocrine disrupting effects, immunological effects). Yes, this is scary stuff, especially because we know so little about their effects.

A group of University of California researchers figured out a new way to measure these chemicals in the blood (it's called liquid chromatography-quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry), and looked for the presence of 696 chemicals in a group of 75 pregnant women in California. They found an average of 56 chemicals in each woman (the number of chemicals ranged from 32 to 73 chemicals per woman), and also found a number of chemicals never monitored before. Yikes.

What to do? We can't totally avoid unwanted chemical exposure, but we can lower our exposure to some chemicals. Look at the last post for ideas on how to minimize exposures in our foods. Try to avoid pesticides - both in your home, yard, and in food (eat organic food as much as possible). Avoid fragrances and products containing fragrances. Avoid dryer sheets, air fresheners, and scented candles. Read labels and avoid products with fragrances, parabens, stain protectors, flame retardants, and antibacterials , anti-odor, or anti-mildew products.  Avoid non-stick or Teflon cookware. Avoid BPA and also the replacement chemicals (yes, they're as bad). Don't microwave plastic containers (glass dishes are OK). Glass & stainless steel for foods is fine. Wash hands before eating. Yes, it's a lifestyle change, but one worth doing.

From Medical Xpress: Study finds 56 suspect chemicals in average pregnant woman

Each year, tens of thousands of chemicals are manufactured in or imported into the United States—more than 30,000 pounds of industrial chemicals for every American—yet experts know very little about which chemicals may enter people's bodies, or how these substances affect human health. Now, scientists at UC San Francisco have found a way to screen people's blood for hundreds of chemicals at once, a method that will improve our ability to better assess chemical exposures in pregnant women, and to identify those exposures that may pose a health risk. 

...continue reading "Study Finds An Average of 56 Suspect Chemicals In Pregnant Women"

The American Academy of Pediatrics (representing 67,000 pediatricians) has come out with a statement expressing serious health concerns about the Food and Drug Administration's  (FDA) lax regulation of chemicals added to food and food packaging - such as additives, BPA, colors, flavors, nitrates, nitrites, etc. They also list ways that this problem could be fixed (Congress needs to pass legislation!), and also give some steps on how people can lower their exposure to these chemicals.

A panel of experts representing the group issued both a technical report and a statement which talked about the scientific evidence (which grows yearly) against such compounds such as bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) used in grease-proof paper, certain colors (dyes), and preservatives. These chemicals can enter into the body and cause harm or health problems, for example  by disrupting crucial biological processes such as the endocrine (hormone) system and immune system. A number of these chemicals are thought to mimic or suppress natural hormones - they are endocrine disruptors. Children and developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to long-term effects. They also expressed concern with nonpersistent pesticides.

Many of the chemicals currently in the food supply "have not been tested at all, while others have not been tested for endocrine disruption or their impact on brain development, and their effect on children's health is still unknown," said Trasande, the paper's lead author and an associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine in New York. This is because the old required tests are too simplistic, too crude, using old out-dated technology and knowledge.

The American Academy of pediatrics points out in the statement that currently: "more than 10 000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and food contact materials in the United States, either directly or indirectly, under the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)". Many of these were grandfathered in for use by the federal government before the 1958 amendment, and an estimated 1000 chemicals are used under a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) designation process..."  Whew.... so many chemicals...

Is there a problem with GRAS? Of the approximate 1,000 GRAS compounds added to food and food packaging, the large majority were designated as such by either the company that manufactures them or a paid consultant. (Do you see a problem here? The conflicts of interest are huge - the fox is guarding the chickens.)

How can you personally lower your exposure to all these chemicals? 1) Eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, and avoid eating canned foods (the can lining has BPA or other just as worrisome chemicals - bisphenols), 2) Avoid processed meat, especially during pregnancy (nitrates, nitrites, etc), 3) Avoid microwaving food or liquids in plastic containers (chemicals leach out) - including infant formula and breastmilk, 4) Avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher (chemicals leach out), 5) Use alternatives to plastic such as glass and stainless steel, 6) Avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols) unless plastics are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware,” indicating that they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols, 7) Wash  hands before eating, and wash fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled. 8) Also - read the ingredients on all labels, and look for "real" ingredients ...continue reading "Pediatricians Have Health Concerns About All the Additives In Food"

The last few days a number of articles appeared in the news about the official US government's opposition to a WHO (World Health Organization)  resolution supporting breastfeeding. Huh? Apparently this was because the US government decided that supporting formula companies was more important than the health of mothers and babies. The US government went so far as to threaten other countries if they supported the resolution.

Medical and scientific studies have clearly established that breast milk is best for a baby for numerous short and long-term health benefits. There are also health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding (e.g. lower incidence of breast and ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes). Of course there are many women who can't or won't breastfeed for various reasons (including they can't because of lack of maternity leave or support at their workplace) and their babies will drink infant formula and do well. But .... in general women should be encouraged to breastfeed because of the numerous health benefits, and they shouldn't just hear nonsense (e.g.lies)  from infant formula companies. Below are links to articles explaining what happened in the US vs the WHO and other countries in the breastfeeding controversy, and some reasons why breast milk  is better than formula.

But what these news articles didn't mention is another really important health benefit: mothers transmit hundreds of species of microbes to their babies in breast milk. Yes, hundreds of microbial species which help "seed" the infant's microbiome (microbial communities). [Some research posts: more than 700 species of bacteria in breast milk, and gut microbiota development,]

From Quartz:  All the scientific support for breastfeeding that the US apparently didn’t read  ...continue reading "Why Are Formula Company Profits More Important Than the Health of Babies?"

A recent large study (using health data from the United Kingdom) found that children and adults who took five commonly prescribed types of antibiotics had an increased risk of developing kidney stones, compared to people who didn't take these antibiotics. The five types of antibiotics were sulfas, cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, nitrofurantoin, and broad-spectrum penicillins. The antibiotics were taken orally (by mouth).

However, not all antibiotics were associated with an increased risk of kidney stones. The study examined 12 types of antibiotics, and found seven types that didn’t appear to influence the risk of kidney stones.The strongest risks for kidney stones were in children and adolescents, and with more recent exposure. The risk of kidney stones decreased over time, but remained elevated several years after antibiotic use.

The researchers pointed out that recent studies have found differences in the gut microbiome (community of microbes) between patients with kidney stones and those without kidney stones. And that studies find that the use of antibiotics disrupts the microbiome. (here and here) Another reason to only take antibiotics when absolutely necessary. From Science Daily:

Oral antibiotics may raise risk of kidney stones

Pediatric researchers have found that children and adults treated with some oral antibiotics have a significantly higher risk of developing kidney stones. This is the first time that these medicines have been linked to this condition. The strongest risks appeared at younger ages and among patients most recently exposed to antibiotics ...continue reading "Antibiotics and Kidney Stones"

When I was growing up, it was quite fashionable for children to have their tonsils removed. A few sore throats, and BOOM - they were taken out. But what are the long term consequences of having the tonsils or adenoids removed in childhood? Are there any?

An interesting large study from Denmark, using Danish public health data, examined this issue and found a higher long-term risk of certain diseases. In those who had either tonsils or adenoids or both removed during childhood (up to the age of 9), years later there were higher rates of respiratory, infectious, and allergic diseases. Tonsil removal (for recurrent sore throats) is a tonsillectomy, adenoid removal (due to frequent middle ear infections) is an adenoidectomy, and removing both at once is a adenotonsillectomy. However, both adenoids and tonsils are parts of the immune system, have roles in pathogen detection and defense, and during childhood the immune system is still developing. From Science Daily:

Tonsil and adenoid removal associated with respiratory, allergic and infectious disease

Removing tonsils and adenoids in childhood increases the long-term risk of respiratory, allergic and infectious diseases, according to researchers who have examined -- for the first time -- the long-term effects of the operations. The researchers suggest renewed evaluation of alternatives to these common paediatric surgeries that include removal of tonsils (tonsillectomy) to treat chronic tonsillitis or adenoids (adenoidectomy) to treat recurrent middle ear infections.   ...continue reading "Are There Any Long Term Risks From Tonsil or Adenoid Removal in Childhood?"

New research published in The Lancet estimates that lead exposure results in about 400,000 deaths every year in the USA - which includes about 250,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. The study looked at "historical exposure" to lead, which means they looked at a person's lead exposure years ago (which could have been from many sources, such as breathing lead contaminated dust, drinking water from leaded pipes, from lead paint, leaded gas, or eating from cans that have been soldered with lead). What was noteworthy in this study following over 14,000 adults was that there were increased death rates even from low lead blood levels (concentrations of lead in blood lower than 5 μg/dL).

Lead exposure has been declining since the 1970s after lead was eliminated (banned) from paint and gasoline, but this study looked at adults born in the years when lead exposure was higher during childhood and adulthood. Baseline data (blood lead levels) was collected between 1988 and 1994 and then individuals were followed for the next 2 decades. The researchers found that there was a dose response curve - the higher the blood lead level, the higher the death rate from any cause (all-cause mortality), from cardiovascular disease, and from ischaemic heart disease in the next two decades.

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal, but it's also a poisonous substance for humans, and accumulates in teeth and bones. Lead can pass through the blood-brain barrier in children and fetuses and kill brain cells (and cause neurological damage). Lead can enter blood vessels and harm the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. This process hardens arteries and causes plaque to form in blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Lead can damage the kidneys, which play an important role in regulating blood pressure, and so increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated that there are no safe blood levels of lead for children (zero is best), and the researchers of this study believe the same is true for adults. From Science Daily:

Historical lead exposure may be linked to 256,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in adults in United States each year

New estimates suggest that 256,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease -- including 185,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease -- in the USA may be linked to historical lead exposure in middle-aged and older adults (people currently aged 44 years or over), according to an observational study following 14,300 people for almost 20 years, published in The Lancet Public Health journal.  ...continue reading "Even Low Level Lead Exposure Is Linked to Later Health Problems"

The researchers of a recent study caution about the regular use of lavender and tea tree essential oils (e.g. in lotions or soaps) - that the oils may act as endocrine disruptors (chemicals that disrupt hormones and their actions in the body). Earlier research found a link between regular use of lavender essential oil and tea tree oil and abnormal breast growth in boys - called prepubertal gynecomastia. The condition went away after they stopped using the products.

Now researchers examined 8 common chemical components of lavender and tea tree oils for endocrine disrupting activity in lab tests - and yes, they found varying degrees of endocrine-disrupting activity in the chemicals. The researchers (from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences or NIEHS) warn that endocrine disrupting chemicals found in these 2 essential oils are also found in 65 other essential oils.

Note that essential oils are widely available, but they are not regulated by the FDA. Bottom line: No matter the age, avoid prolonged use of lavender and tea tree oil in personal care products, including "aromatherapy" -  especially important for children and pregnant women. The results were presented today at the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society (ENDO) in Chicago. From Science Daily:

Chemicals in lavender and tea tree oil appear to be hormone disruptors

A new study lends further evidence to a suspected link between abnormal breast growth in young boys -- called prepubertal gynecomastia -- and regular exposure to lavender or tea tree oil, by finding that key chemicals in these common plant-derived oils act as endocrine-disrupting chemicalsLavender and tea tree oil are among the so-called essential oils that have become popular in the United States as alternatives for medical treatment, personal hygiene and cleaning products, and aromatherapy. Various consumer products contain lavender and tea tree oil, including some soaps, lotions, shampoos, hair-styling products, cologne and laundry detergents.   ...continue reading "Are Some Essential Oils Endocrine Disruptors?"

As many (most?) people know nowadays - drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have negative effects on the developing baby. Drinking a lot of alcohol can result in fetal alcohol syndrome, but drinking smaller amounts (frequently or binge drinking now and then) can also have negative effects, even though not as severe. The effects from alcohol are called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders - because the effects are along the spectrum from major to minor effects. Currently they're called  fetal alcohol syndrome, partial fetal alcohol syndrome, or alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder. Effects are generally determined by the child's facial features, physical growth, neurobehavioral development, and prenatal alcohol exposure (esp. by interviewing the mother).

A recent study tried to determine how common are fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in the United States. The researchers screened 6639 first grade children in 4 communities from different areas of the US, and fully evaluated about 3000 children for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. They found that the disorders ranged from 1.1% to 5% in the communities studied - and they felt that this is a conservative estimate. Interestingly, almost all of these newly diagnosed children had not been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders before the study. So it's easy to miss, and to misdiagnose- thus a "hidden problem".

How to avoid this problem? Don't drink alcohol during pregnancy. But unfortunately many women don't realize that they are pregnant in the first trimester, especially if the pregnancy is unplanned. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says on its site (official advice) that women should: "Stop drinking alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or could get pregnant." What about men who drink alcohol and then conceive a child? There is also some research (mainly animal research) that alcohol can have negative effects on the father's sperm and the resulting fetus. Not fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, but perhaps other health effects which are still being determined.

From  journalist Pam Belluck's article at the NY Times: Far More U.S. Children Than Previously Thought May Have Fetal Alcohol Disorders

More American children than previously thought may be suffering from neurological damage because their mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy, according to a new study. The study, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA, estimates that fetal alcohol syndrome and other alcohol-related disorders among American children are at least as common as autism. The disorders can cause cognitive, behavioral and physical problems that hurt children’s development and learning ability.

The researchers evaluated about 3,000 children in schools in four communities across the United States and interviewed many of their mothers. Based on their findings, they estimated conservatively that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders affect 1.1 to 5 percent of children in the country, up to five times previous estimates. About 1.5 percent of children are currently diagnosed with autism.

The range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs) can cause cognitive, behavioral and physical difficulties. The most severe is fetal alcohol syndrome, in which children have smaller-than-typical heads and bodies, as well as eyes unusually short in width, thin upper lips, and smoother-than-usual skin between the nose and mouth, Dr. Chambers said. A moderate form is partial fetal alcohol syndrome. Less severe is alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, in which children have neurological but not physical characteristics and it is known that their mothers drank during pregnancy.

Then there is the stigma that often makes mothers reluctant to acknowledge alcohol consumption. “When you identify a kid with FASD, you’ve just identified a mom who drank during pregnancy and harmed her child,” said Susan Astley, director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnostic and Prevention Network at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the study. While Dr. Astley, a longtime expert in the field, said she admired the researchers’ hard work, she said the reliability of the study’s numbers was hampered by several factors. For example, only 60 percent of eligible families in the schools allowed their children to be evaluated and more than a third of those children’s mothers declined to answer questions about drinking during pregnancy.

The authors of the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, acknowledged the study’s limitations and tried to partly compensate by providing a conservative estimate (of 1.1 percent to 5 percent) that is likely low and another estimate (of 3.1 percent to 9.9 percent) that is likely high. Dr. Chambers also said the results might not generalize across the country because although the four communities were diverse, they did not include a large, high-poverty urban area or certain rural or indigenous communities that struggle with high rates of alcoholism. The locations, which are not named in the publication, include small-to-midsize cities in the Midwest and Rocky Mountains, a Southeast county and a Pacific Coast city the authors identified in interviews as San Diego. [Original study.]