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The evidence is building, study by study, that we are all exposed to a mixture of hormone disrupting chemicals (endocrine disruptors) on a daily basis, and that these have serious health effects, including on the developing fetus during pregnancy. Researchers found that early prenatal exposure to a mixture of endocrine disrupting chemicals  was associated with lower levels of cognitive functioning (lower IQ scores) at age seven, particularly among boys.

Researchers in New York City and Sweden looked at the impact of 26 endocrine disrupting chemicals during pregnancy on 718 Swedish mother-child pairs. It appeared that the higher the exposure during pregnancy, the more of an effect at age 7. Especially harmful was the BPA replacement chemical BPF - this is because it is chemically related to BPA.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) include bisphenols (BPA and its replacement  chemicals, such as BPF - used in products called "BPA free"), phthalates (especially used in vinyl products), parabens, chemicals used in flame retardants and non-stick coatings,  and some pesticides (e.g. the commonly used chlorpyrifos).

Especially worrisome is that while scientists typically test chemicals one at a time to determine their safety, in the real world we are all exposed to mixtures of these chemicals in our food, consumer products (including personal care products and cosmetics), and environment. Some of these chemicals can cross the placenta during pregnancy and so have an effect on the developing the fetus, including brain and neurological development. Yes, some of these chemicals are only in the body for a short time, but during critical developmental  stages, the effects can be big - even at very low exposures.

Bottom line: If trying to conceive a child or during pregnancy, try to minimize exposure to plastics, pesticides, flame retardants, non-stick cookware, stain-proofing (in fabric and rugs), fragrances and scented products (including air fresheners and dryer sheets), and food stored in cans and plastic containers. Avoid triclosan, anti-odor, antibacterial, anti-germ products and clothing. Avoid parabens (in lotions, etc). Read labels. Glass and stainless steel is perfectly fine. Use unscented or fragrance free products as much as possible.

From Medical Xpress: Chemicals in consumer products during early pregnancy related to lower IQ   ...continue reading "Pregnancy, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, and Lower IQ"

Two recent studies point out the dangers of air pollution to the developing fetus. The first study found an association with high levels of air pollution during pregnancy and lower IQ years later when the children were between the ages of 4 to 6 (as compared to women exposed to less traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy).

The second study found that soot (tiny carbon particles) from air pollution  (e.g. vehicle exhaust) are breathed in by the pregnant woman, and then make it to her placenta during pregnancy and cross over to the baby's side of the placenta. (The placentas were collected and examined after delivery.) The fact that these tiny particles found in polluted air are breathed in by the pregnant woman and reach the baby's side of the placenta and accumulate, suggests to the researchers how air pollution causes harm to the fetus. They also found that the more particles the pregnant woman was exposed to throughout pregnancy, the more particles were detected on the baby's side of the placenta ("placental load").

The placenta used to be viewed as a barrier to toxins, but NOPE - it's not. (As we already know with alcohol and drugs, etc.)

But now some good news: In the first study, pregnant women who had higher levels of folate in their blood - meaning they had better nutrition and higher intake of folic acid during pregnancy, appeared to have a protective effect on the developing baby. As the researchers said: "Maternal folate levels may modify the impact of prenatal air pollution exposure on child cognition." In those with the lowest folate levels during pregnancy, the negative effects of air pollution during pregnancy on the developing fetus appeared to be the strongest (6.8 points lower IQ). Folate is naturally occurring in many fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, and nuts, and is in the form of folic acid in vitamin supplements. Best is a good diet.

From Medical Xpress: Offspring of pregnant women exposed to high level of pollutants may have lower IQs   ...continue reading "Air Pollution Has Harmful Effects During Pregnancy"

Pesticides are harmful to developing brains, especially during pregnancy. A number of studies have already found that higher exposure to organophosphate pesticides during pregnancy is linked to poorer cognitive functioning and behavior problems in children. A recent University of California study actually looked at the brain activity in 95 teenagers while they were doing a number of mental tasks. Using advanced brain imaging, they found altered brain activity in those teens who had the highest organophosphate pesticide exposure prenatally. These teenagers live in Salinas Valley, California - an agricultural area with many farms.

The researchers point out that "Over 800 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are applied in the United States each year, with organophosphates (OPs) the most commonly applied class of insecticides. Exposure to OP pesticides, which are endocrine-disrupting compounds, is widespread in the US population, including among pregnant women and children." [PLEASE NOTE: Conventional farming uses organophosphates. Organic farming does not allow the use of organophosphates.]

The main way people get exposed to organophosphate pesticides is diet - especially pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. Also, if people live near farms where such pesticides are used, or live with a person who works on a farm. They bring home the pesticides on their clothes. People also breathe breathe in pesticides when they are applied on nearby farms or properties due to pesticide drift.

Chlorpyrifos is one example of an organophosphate pesticide. It is considered so dangerous to the developing fetus and children (lower IQs, neurological effects, behavioral effects) that the EPA was going to ban it in the United States. However, the Trump administration overruled the ban (chemical/pesticide lobbyists at work!). Since then, several states (NY, Hawaii, California) have enacted legislation to ban all use of chlorpyrifos in those states, but it will take several years for the bans to become fully in effect.

From Science Daily: Prenatal pesticide exposure linked to changes in teen's brain activity   ...continue reading "Certain Pesticides Linked to Altered Brain Activity In Teenagers"

For years there has been a debate about whether adding  fluoride to drinking water was a plus (less tooth decay) versus those who felt there were possible health problems from the fluoride.  Now the results of a Canadian study is raising serious concerns. The researchers followed 601 pregnant women from 6 cities in Canada, and found that pregnant women with higher levels of fluoride in their urine tended to have children with lower average IQs (which was measured at 3 or 4 years of age). As in the USA, some communities added fluoride to municipal drinking water, while others didn't.

The problem is that: "Fluoride crosses the placenta, and laboratory studies show that it accumulates in brain regions involved in learning and memory, and alters proteins and neurotransmitters in the central nervous system." Not good. This is why studies are being done.

The researchers concluded the study with these words: "In this prospective birth cohort study from 6 cities in Canada, higher levels of fluoride exposure during pregnancy were associated with lower IQ scores in children measured at age 3 to 4 years. These findings were observed at fluoride levels typically found in white North American women. This indicates the possible need to reduce fluoride intake during pregnancy." [Note: in this study, the effect appeared to be stronger in boys than girls.]

Just note that this was an observational study (found an association, not a definite cause), but other studies also find such an association. (One study conducted in Mexico found that higher prenatal fluoride exposure was linked to lower IQs in 4 to 6 year old children.) Of course more studies are needed.

But in the meantime, one can try to lower fluoride exposure (in water) during pregnancy. One way is to drink less black tea (has high levels of fluoride) and green tea (varying levels of fluoride). Also, if fluoride is added to tap water, to try to drink less of that and perhaps more unfluoridated bottled water that is in glass bottles (because plastic leaches, and has more microplastics in it).

From The Scientist: Fluoride Exposure During Pregnancy Linked to Lower IQ In Sons   ...continue reading "Fluoridated Drinking Water and Pregnancy"

The evidence is growing. Another recent study found that exposure to dirt and animals in the first year of life is beneficial for development of a a rich and diverse gut microbiome - that is, for greater species "richness" as well as more beneficial microbes. This is linked to lower levels of allergies and asthma in children.

So don't worry about children being exposed to animal "germs" and getting dirty! Instead, consider the microbes as having health benefits, such as developing a "robust immune system". In summary, it now appears that in the first year of life the immune system needs lots of exposure to all sorts of microbes (e.g. from pets, animals, dirt)  to "train it" to develop normally.

The Ohio State University researchers compared 5 healthy rural Amish infants to 5 healthy non-Amish urban infants in Ohio, also found that all of the rural (Amish) children were breastfed, while 2 of the urban (non-Amish) children were only formula fed (some microbial differences there). The Amish households had farm animals (cattle, sheep, and/or horses) and pets (dogs and/or cats), while the non-Amish households had no contact with livestock, but did have a pet dog or cat. Just like in other studies, one pet doesn't seem to be enough - even more animal exposure in early childhood is best for the gut microbiome. [One study found a dose-dependent effect with exposure to 5 furry pets in early childhood was needed to prevent all allergies.]

Studies find that rural (Amish) children have a low incidence of allergies and asthma, while urban children have a high incidence of allergies and asthma. In this study, an example of microbial differences in the 2 groups of children was that Bifidobacterium bacteria were "enriched" in non-Amish (urban) infants, while Roseburia species were "enriched" in Amish (rural, farm-raised) infants. Similar gut microbe differences have been observed in other studies comparing rural and urban children, and both dietary differences (e.g. farm raised children eat lots of homegrown produce) and environmental differences (animal exposure) are thought to be responsible for the differences.

From Science Daily: Keeping livestock in the yard just might help your baby's immune system  ...continue reading "Children, Animals, and Gut Microbes"

Once again research is finding effects on health from nanoparticles and air pollution - this time the heart. Tiny air pollution particles less than 100 nm (nanometers) in size are typically called "ultrafine  particles", but actually they are so small that they are nanoparticles. They are NOT regulated in the United States, even though many researchers feel that they are the most dangerous particles found in air pollution. This is because their small size means they are easily inhaled and then get into human lungs and organs, and even cells. Where do they come from? They get into the air from industry (e.g. metal processing, power generation plants), from the exhaust of vehicles (from vehicle combustion), and from friction when using vehicle brakes.

The researchers write that the air in polluted urban areas and next to roads have a lot of these iron-rich nanoparticles from vehicle combustion and friction. And also that these particles are "strongly magnetic". Earlier research in the urban Mexico City area found that these nanoparticles were found in the brains of all people, starting at young ages (they had died suddenly in accidents, which is why the brains could be analyzed). Keep in mind that Mexico City has high levels of air pollution, but so do many other urban areas throughout the world.

This latest study from a team of international researchers analyzed both the hearts of young people who died suddenly, as well as animals - and they compared the results from those exposed to high levels of urban air pollution (Mexico City metro area) and those from areas with low amounts of air pollution (the "controls"). The results were not good: all hearts from the Mexico City area (high air pollution) had lots of the same iron-rich magnetic nanoparticles ("in abundance") that are found in the air. Billions of nanoparticles in each heart, even in the youngest 3 year old child!

These nanoparticles are inhaled, then enter the person's circulatory system (carried by blood cells), and then into cardiac cells. As the researchers stated: the magnetic nanoparticles were "highly abundant in left ventricular samples from young subjects exposed to high concentrations of particulate air pollution above current US EPA standards. The organelles and structures containing abundant nanoparticles displayed substantial abnormality". Hearts from low pollution areas appeared normal.

This could explain why people living in polluted urban areas, including in the United States, have a greater risk for heart disease (cardiovascular disease), including heart attacks and strokes, as well as premature death. This research also highlights why we need to regulate these tiny particles in the air. As the researchers said: "This is a serious public health concern".

Excerpts from The Guardian: Billions of air pollution particles found in hearts of city dwellers   ...continue reading "Pollution Nanoparticles Found In Human Hearts"

We tend to think of our beds as a refuge from the outside world, where one can safely relax and sleep. Well... not quite. A recent study conducted in Israel analyzed chemicals released from youth and infant polyurethane mattresses and found that all the mattresses outgassed chemicals of concern (such as formaldehyde, toluene, benzene). These chemicals are called VOCs (volatile organic compounds) - they are chemical compounds released from products (e.g. mattresses) as vapor into the air, which we then breathe in. It is known that some VOCs have harmful health effects (e.g. eye and nose irritation, neurological effects, cancer) at high levels long-term. The researchers also found that a person's body heat on the mattress actually increases release of chemicals.

The one infant mattress tested also released flame retardants into the air. Of course no one really knows what breathing in low levels of these chemicals night after night for years does to us, if anything. But it should concern us. Keep in mind that during sleep our mouths and nostrils are very close to the mattress surface, so we are definitely breathing in whatever chemicals our mattresses emit. Researchers referred to the air around our beds as our sleeping microenvironment. And yes, our bedding (sheets, etc) also emit chemicals that they were treated with during manufacturing, such as formaldehyde in wrinkle-free sheets.

From Science Daily: Mattresses could emit higher levels of VOCs during sleep

Hundreds of household items, including furniture, paint and electronics, emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which at high levels can pose health risks. Now, researchers reporting in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology have measured the emission rates of the gaseous compounds released by several types of polyurethane mattresses under simulated sleeping conditions, finding levels of some VOCs that could be worrisome for children and infants. However, so far there is no evidence of adverse health effects.  ...continue reading "Mattresses Emit Chemicals"

Want to prevent your children from having allergies or asthma? A recent study adds support to increasing evidence that growing up on a farm, or living among multiple pets in the first year of life is protective against developing allergies and asthma. This is because exposure to lots of animal and outdoor soil bacteria in early childhood is good for the developing immune system. The study, which was conducted by Finland's National Institute  of Health and Welfare, carried this line of work further and found that this type of beneficial farm microbial exposure could be duplicated in non-farm homes.

They found that children's risk of developing asthma decreased as the similarity of their home's bacteria became more similar to that of farm homes. The researchers analyzed living room dust from homes and found that certain types of outdoor soil microbes were beneficial for preventing asthma. They found higher levels of these bacteria (and archaea, another microbe) in homes where people wore their outdoor shoes in the house, as well as 3 or more children, and increased moisture in houses. The types of fungi found in the dust of farm and non-farm houses didn't seem to matter. The researchers mention that the same kind of protective (for asthma) results of soil microbes has also been shown in mice.

Additional thoughts reading this: The study results can be interpreted as playing and crawling outdoors is definitely beneficial to children's health, especially young children. Exposure to soil microbes! And, of course, having pets. But wearing outdoor shoes indoors is problematic in areas with high lawn and garden pesticide use (e.g. suburban NY and NJ!) because studies show the pesticides get tracked indoors. This same problem occurs in areas with high lead levels (around older homes) or other heavy metals.

From Science Daily: Farm-like indoor microbiota may protect children from asthma also in urban homes   ...continue reading "Outdoor Soil Microbes In the Home and Asthma"

Did you know that over 90% of all Americans have pesticide residues in their bodies? How do we know this? From studies and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which does biomonitoring of large groups of Americans in order to measure pesticides (and other toxic environmental chemicals) in their bodies. Biomonitoring tells us the "body burden" of toxic chemicals, usually by measuring them in our blood and urine, but also in hair, breast milk and meconium (an infant's first feces gives a measure of prenatal exposure to pesticides). Biomonitoring studies have detected hundreds of different chemicals (including many pesticides) in people, and shown that every single person has a mixture of many contaminants in their body.

The bad news is that we don't really know what all these chronic low level mixtures of pesticides are doing to us. Studies are finding health problems (e.g. various cancers, endocrine disruption, neurological and reproductive problems, even semen quality) with pesticide exposures - especially during pregnancy (the developing fetus), and during childhood. We're talking about pesticide exposures of ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

How do pesticides get into us? Pesticides get into us from inhalation, through the skin, and through ingestion (foods, water). Studies find that conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are good ways to ingest pesticides, and with more of these foods eaten, the higher the pesticide residue levels in the body. Unfortunately, as more and more pesticides such as fungicides, glyphosate and 2,4-D are used on crops, our exposures and levels of these pesticides in our bodies are increasing.

When our homes, our gardens, and lawns are treated with pesticides, we also get exposed to pesticides. We track them from the outside, and children (and pets) play in them on treated lawns. We are exposed to pesticide "drift" from neighboring properties. Pesticides used inside the house stay in the house dust (they don't break down easily in homes). Pesticides are even found in rain and fog. Scary, isn't it?

Can we lower the levels of pesticides in our bodies? Absolutely yes. Eat as many organic foods as possible - the levels of pesticide residues in the body (as measured in the blood and urine) will go down rapidly. Study after study shows this. A study even found an association with eating organic foods and a lower cancer rateDon't use pesticides on lawns. Think of weeds as "native grasses" and clover as beneficial. When dealing with indoor pest problems, use least-toxic Integrated Pest Management.

A nice discussion of this is in a recent article by journalist Liza Gross. Excerpts from The Nation: More Than 90 Percent of Americans Have Pesticides or Their Byproducts in Their Bodies

...continue reading "Almost All Americans Have Pesticide Residues In Their Bodies"

Study after study is finding that having pets in early childhood or living on a farm with lots of exposure to animals is associated with a lower incidence of allergies. Pets with all their "germs" (bacteria and other microbes) appear to have beneficial effects on children's developing immune systems. One study from the Univ. of Gothenburg (in Sweden) actually found that the more pets a child lives with in the first year of life, the lower the incidence of later allergies in children. The results were dose-dependent - with each additional pet, the incidence of allergies is a little lower.

The numbers are amazing - allergies decreased from 49% in those with no pets to zero in those with five or more pets. The researchers suggest that there is  a “mini-farm” effect, with exposure to a number of cats and dogs protecting against all allergy development (animal, food, and pollen allergies). What an about face in medical views in a few decades! It used to be viewed that if you wanted to prevent allergies in children, then avoid pets such as dogs and cats. Hah!

From Medical Xpress: Pet-keeping in early life reduces the risk of allergy in a dose-dependent fashion

A team of researchers at the University of Gothenburg has found that when infants live with pets, they grow up to have fewer allergies and other diseases. In their paper published on the open access site PLOS ONE, the group describes their study of datasets that held information on children's health and whether they had lived with pets as infants, and what they found.  ...continue reading "Exposure to Pets in Infancy Reduces the Risk of Allergies"