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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"

Have you wondered whether a totally vegan diet for young children is healthy? Are they missing nutrients? A study from Finland attempted to answer this question by comparing young children eating vegan diets with those eating vegetarian and omnivore (both meat and plants) diets. A vegan diet contains no animal products, including eggs and dairy.

The researchers studied 40 healthy Finnish children, average age 3 1/2 years. They found that a vegan diet, even with recommended levels of supplementation (vitamin B12, iodine, vitamin D), resulted in significant effects on the children's metabolism and lower levels of certain nutrients, such as Vitamin A, vitamin D, and retinol-binding proteins (RBP). The vegan children also had a lower protein intake and lower levels of essential amino acids.

A vegan diet is practically devoid of cholesterol, EPA, and DHA, and so the children had significantly lower total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) levels. DHA is a fatty acid needed for development of visual function. The researchers were concerned about the visual health of the vegan children due to the combination of low vitamin A and DHA levels. On the other hand, folate levels were high in the vegan children.

It is interesting that these differences occurred, even though all the children received nutritionist planned daily meals at high quality day care. The intake of vitamins D and A were the same in the different groups. All vegan children had followed a vegan diet since birth and were breastfed for 13–50 months by vegan mothers.

The researchers said that while a vegan diet is generally viewed as having health benefits in adulthood, they have concerns with a vegan diet for young developing children. The vegan children had low cholesterol levels, but the researchers said cholesterol is "essential for cellular growth, division, and development of physiological systems due to its major role in the synthesis of cell membranes, steroid hormones, bile acids, and brain myelin".

We currently don't know long-term health effects (whether good or bad) of a strict vegan diet from birth. Studies are needed! But we do know that young developing children need cholesterol. Another very important nutrient that may be lacking in vegan diets is choline, which is critical for brain health - a good source is eggs.

From Science Daily: Vegan diet significantly remodels metabolism in young children

The study concludes that vegan diet has a broad effect on children's metabolism. Serum biomarker levels for vitamins A and D, cholesterol forms and essential amino acids were significantly lower in children on vegan diet compared to age-adjusted omnivores. In addition, docosahexaenoic acid is absent from vegan diet. The results were recently published in a high-profile international scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.  ...continue reading "Some Concerns With A Vegan Diet In Young Children"

Breastfeeding
Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

There are a lot of health reasons why breast milk is better for a baby then formula, and now another reason can be added to the list. A recent study found that specific immune cells (regulatory T cells) expand more in the first three weeks of life in breastfed human babies - nearly twice as abundant as in formula fed babies.

These cells control the baby's immune response against maternal cells transferred with breast milk and help reduce inflammation. In other words, breast milk is good for the baby's immune system development.

The University of Birmingham researchers also found that specific beneficial bacteria, called Veillonella and Gemella, which support the function of regulatory T cells, are more abundant in the gut of breastfed babies.

Breast milk is considered the best food for infants. It contains a range of complex nutrients, antimicrobial proteins, bacteria, human milk oligosaccharides, and hormones from the mother. Thus it isn't surprising that whether the baby receives breast milk or formula influences the gut microbiome (community of microbes in the gut).

From Science Daily: New insight into why breastfed babies have improved immune systems

Research led by the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust has revealed new insight into the biological mechanisms of the long-term positive health effects of breastfeeding in preventing disorders of the immune system in later life.  ...continue reading "Beneficial Effect of Breast Milk On the Baby’s Immune System"

There is much concern nowadays about all the many chemicals we are exposed to in our lives. These include pesticides, heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury), and chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors (hormone disrupting chemicals), such as BPA and phthalates. These chemicals are all around us and are linked to all sorts of health effects, including chronic diseases and reproductive effects - such as infertility, declining sperm counts, adverse effects on the developing baby, and endometriosis.

There is an excellent 7 part series of webinars that one can watch called Generation Chemical: How Environmental Exposures are Affecting Reproductive Health and Development. Big names in the field discuss the latest science on the impact of harmful chemicals and pollutants on female and male reproductive health, pregnancy, and development, starting from preconception and through  life.

Yes, it's in depth, but also eye-opening. For example, the evidence is now raising the questions: Are fertile people healthier? Does poor sperm quality mean poorer health? Or earlier death? Research suggests that sperm count and quality are "canaries in the coal mine" for male health - evidence of harm to men from environmental and lifestyle influences.

Also, keep in mind that while you can't totally avoid harmful chemicals, you can really minimize your exposure and the levels measured in you. Avoiding Harmful Chemicals gives good ways to reduce exposures to harmful chemicals. This is especially important for both males and females if thinking about conception or pregnant.

SEVEN PART WEBINAR SERIES: 1) Introduction. Oct. 29, 2020. Discussed declining sperm counts that have been occurring worldwide over the last few decades - 52.4% decline in 38 years among men from Western countries, and the decline is still continuing. Effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on men's and women's fertility, conception delay, pregnancy loss, some diseases, and endometriosis. ...continue reading "Top Scientists Explain How Harmful Chemicals Are Affecting Reproductive Health and Development"

It turns out that plastic baby bottles shed millions of tiny plastic particles (microplastics) into the breast milk, 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.

Also: 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.

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"

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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?"