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Waterproof jacket Credit: Wikipedia

Uh-oh... A recent study found that even if a water- or stain-resistant children's product is labeled as "green" and "non-toxic", that label may be false. Silent Spring Institute researchers found that odds are good that the product contains persistent harmful PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). Precisely the opposite of what the "green" or "non-toxic" label promises.

PFAS are a group of toxic chemicals used in many consumer and industrial products. They are known to be endocrine (hormone) disruptors, and exposure to these chemicals has been linked to health problems such as certain types of cancer, reproductive harm (e.g., poorer semen quality), and birth defects, lowered sex and growth hormones in children, thyroid disease, immune effects, and liver and kidney damage.

Almost all of us have PFAS in our bodies (at varying levels). It's very hard to avoid them totally, but you should try to minimize exposure. They are found in a variety of consumer products such as firefighting foam, non-stick cookware, cosmetics, and materials that protect against grease, oil, and water (e.g., stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, food packaging, and water-repellent clothing).

What can you do? If possible, avoid products that are water and stain proof or leak-proof, especially if children will be using the product. (For ex., can look for physical barriers instead of a chemical coating). Also, avoid products labeled with a trademark for water or stain resistance. PFAS don't have to be mentioned on labels, so it's buyer beware.

From Environmental Health News: “Green” children's products not always PFAS-free, warns new study

PFAS are finding their way into “green” and “nontoxic” products, especially waterproof products marketed toward children and adolescents, according to new research.

The researchers tested 93 items marketed to or often used by children and adolescents, including clothing, face masks, mattress protectors, rugs, sheets, and upholstery. They detected fluorine, a PFAS indicator, in 54 of the 93 products. The 54 products shown to contain fluorine were then tested for specific PFAS chemicals. ...continue reading "Waterproof “Green” Children’s Products May Contain Harmful PFAS"

Many studies show that antibiotics disrupt the gut microbiome (intestinal microbial community of bacteria, viruses, fungi) in adults, but what about infants? A recent study found alterations in the gut microbes of young babies from a single course of antibiotics, with an increase in fungal species. And 6 weeks later the gut microbial community still wasn't back to normal. Yikes.

Antibiotics can be life-saving, but they must be used carefully - only when needed. As research shows, when some microbes are killed off by antibiotics, then other microbes (e.g. fungi such as Candida) that are resistant to the antibiotics increase (multiply) and move into the vacated spaces. There are no empty spaces in the gut.

Babies normally have a variety of fungal species in the gut already at a very young age - and this community of fungi is called the gut mycobiota or mycobiome. The Univ. of Helsinki researchers concluded that normally bacteria control fungi numbers in the gut - there is balance of all sorts of microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi). But if you kill off bacteria (with antibiotics), then fungi numbers increase - an example of an imbalance in the gut microbial community or dysbiosis.

From Science Daily: A single course of antibiotics affects the gut microbiota of infants

A study recently completed at the University of Helsinki revealed that the fungal microbiota in the gut is more abundant and diverse in children treated with antibiotics compared with the control group even six weeks following the start of the antibiotic course. In light of the findings, a reduction in the number of gut bacteria as a result of antibiotic therapy reduces competition for space and leaves more room for fungi to multiply. ...continue reading "Antibiotics Alter Gut Microbes In Young Infants"

Pregnancy should last 9 months, but sometimes it doesn't. With medical advances some babies born as early as 22 or 23 weeks can now survive. Truly miraculous! But how are these extremely preterm babies doing long-term?

A University of Gothenburg study examined this issue by following up on all 383 Swedish children born before 24 weeks (most at 23 weeks) between 2007 to 2018 and who survived. At follow-up the children were between 2 to 13 years of age. The researchers found that almost all of the children had serious long-term problems, whether health or developmental problems.

75% of children born before 24 weeks of gestation had neurodevelopmental disorders, including intellectual disabilities (40%), autism (24%), and 55% required habilitation services. 88% of the group had other physical problems - for example, 63% had asthma and 39% failed to thrive and/or were short for their age. Boys were more likely to have intellectual disabilities and visual impairment than girls.

Looking at the results in the study (see Table 1), it is clear that babies born at 23 weeks had significantly fewer serious problems than at 22 weeks. Every extra week is important!

From Science Daily: Wide-ranging problems in children born before 24 weeks gestation

In a study of children born after a pregnancy of less than 24 weeks, nearly all (96 percent) proved to have any of the diagnoses studied. According to the study, lead from the University of Gothenburg, neuropsychiatric and somatic diagnoses are prevalent as these extremely preterm infants grow into adulthood. ...continue reading "Babies Born Much Too Early May Have Long-term Problems"

Parents of babies overwhelmingly want to do the right thing for their babies. When formula makers make medical claims about the formulas they sell - parents believe them. For years companies such as Danone and Nestle marketed certain formulas as reducing milk allergies and eczema in babies. But the claims were (are) not true!

A recent British Medical Journal article reported how the science behind those marketing claims has been fraudulent or flawed. Scientific evidence does not support the allergy and eczema claims regarding formula milk called hydrolysed formula.

The article said that over time formula makers were forced to stop marketing them as preventing or reducing allergies in the US, Canada, and Europe, but... they still continue to make the baseless claims elsewhere, such as China and Russia. There consumers are still being persuaded to buy expensive formulas that have little evidence of benefits for healthy infants. It's all about $$$. [Note: still find these false claims if you do an internet search on hydrolysed formula]

By the way, scientific research shows living with furry pets (e.g., dogs and cats)  in the first year of life reduces allergy development. And research supports babies eating foods that could cause allergies (e.g., peanuts, eggs, dairy) to reduce the risk of food allergies. Again in the first year - to train the immune system.

From Medical Xpress: Formula milk companies continue to push allergy products despite flawed evidence

Many countries, including the UK, have toughened their approach to formula milk products that claim to reduce allergy risks. But elsewhere, consumers are still being persuaded to buy products that make health claims without high quality evidence, reports journalist Melanie Newman in The BMJ today. ...continue reading "Formula Companies Are Still Making Claims They Shouldn’t"

There is a growing concern about what everyday exposures to phthalates in consumer products is doing to our health. For example, they're in plastic toys, plastic food containers, personal care products, and vinyl floors. The biggest concern is what these chemicals are doing to the most vulnerable among us - developing babies during pregnancy (gestational exposure), and children (childhood exposure).

A newly published study finds a link between phthalate exposure during childhood (but not pregnancy) and higher risk of specific childhood cancers. Childhood phthalate exposure was linked to a 20% increase in childhood cancers, specifically osteosarcoma (a bone cancer) and lymphoma. The study followed 1,278,685 live births in Denmark for years.

While phthalates are in many consumer products (they make plastics soft or increase durability and consistency), they are in especially high levels in certain medications. Phthalates disrupt normal endocrine signaling and are associated with reproductive problems (e.g. negative effects on sperm, miscarriages), effects on thyroid function, and an increase in some cancers.

Studies like this show that we need to move away from phthalates in consumer products. The list of phthalate health harms is increasing annually.

From Science Daily: Exposure to phthalates -- the 'everywhere chemical' -- may increase children's cancer risk

In a first-of-its-kind study, research from the University of Vermont Cancer Center has linked phthalates, commonly called the "everywhere chemical," to higher incidence of specific childhood cancers.  ...continue reading "Childhood Exposure to Phthalates in Medications and Cancer"

Weed and feed product (with 2,4-D)

The results of a recently published large study are depressing, but not surprising. The pesticide 2,4-D, which was originally used in Agent Orange, is still around decades later and found everywhere you look - including in us.

In the past decade there has been a tremendous increase in the amount of both agricultural and residential use of 2,4-D in the US. The herbicide (a type of pesticide) is used to kill unwanted vegetation, including weeds. In 2020 alone, 33.3 million pounds of 2,4-D were used for agricultural purposes in the US! This number is projected to rise more each year, especially because it's used on genetically modified crops.

The study (with 14,395 participants) found that in 2011-2012, 40% of persons had 2,4-D in their urine. This was a massive increase from the start of the study in 2001 (17.1%). It is expected to have increased since then. Other studies find that current levels of pesticide residues (including additional pesticides) are in over 90% of all Americans, including pregnant women.

Children (aged 6 to 11 years) had the highest 2,4-D concentrations, and below that women of childbearing age. Interestingly, one difference they found was that non-Hispanic white persons had higher levels of 2,4-D in the blood than black persons.

The researchers thought that this might be because so much is used on lawns and green spaces in white suburban areas (think of those "perfect manicured lawns"). High-income persons had higher levels (manicured lawns!) than lower income persons. Agricultural workers also had higher levels of 2,4-D.

Health effects from 2,4-D: They include an increase in the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, pediatric leukemia, birth defects (e.g., hypospadias in boys), allergic wheeze, hypothyroidism, chloracne, abnormal sperm, reduced fertility, soft tissue sarcoma, and olfactory deficits. It is an endocrine disruptor.

How do we get exposed to 2,4-D? Food and water frequently have 2,4-D residues. It can be in dust, in the air (from drift when applied nearby), rain, and even on our pets (when they go on treated lawns). We can inhale it, ingest it (from food and water), and absorb it through our skin and eyes. It is in most household carpet dust samples (it gets tracked inside).

What to do? Some simple steps:

  1. Avoid using any pesticides, including weed and feed products on lawns! Lawns do NOT need pesticides to be healthy!
  2. Stay off pesticide treated lawns, especially in the first 3 days and before a rainfall.
  3. Take shoes off at the door to avoid tracking in 2,4-D (and other pesticides, heavy metals).
  4. Eat organic food, as much as possible. [2,4-D is not allowed to be used in organic farms.]
2,4-D product near refrigerated foods

2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) is commonly added to weed and feed products, and used by both ordinary consumers and lawn care services. Incredibly, big box stores such as Costco sell big bags of these 2,4-D products - even next to food! This makes consumers think it's safe. But it's not.

From Science Daily: One out of three people exposed to potentially harmful pesticide

One out of three people in a large survey showed signs of exposure to a pesticide called 2,4-D, according to a study published today by researchers at the George Washington University. This novel research found that human exposure to this chemical has been rising as agricultural use of the chemical has increased, a finding that raises worries about possible health implications.  ...continue reading "Commonly Used Pesticide Is Found In Many People"

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"