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Pregnant women now have another reason to try to limit exposure to flame retardants while pregnant - having higher levels of flame retardants in their blood during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of preterm birth.

Nearly 100% of North American women have flame retardants  such as poly-brominated ethers (PBDEs) in their bodies, which can be measured in their blood. Unfortunately they are  hormone (endocrine ) disruptors, and they are also very similar in structure to thyroid hormones. Flame retardants have a number of harmful health effects during pregnancy.

A team of NY and California researchers checked the level of one type of PBDE in the blood of 3,529 pregnant women in the first trimester of pregnancy. They found that those with the highest levels (above 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood) had a higher incidence of preterm birth. But if they had levels below that there wasn't an increased risk of preterm birth.

Flame retardants are all around us (e.g. synthetic carpeting, upholstered furniture), but they migrate out of the product, and so get into us. Yes, they are in our household dust. There are ways to minimize exposures - for example, check carpeting, sofa, and upholstered furniture labels, and only buy those products free of flame retardants. See tips on how to lower your exposure to harmful chemicals.

From Medical Xpress: Exposure to flame retardants early in pregnancy linked to premature birth

Expectant women are more likely to give birth early if they have high blood levels of a chemical used in flame retardants compared with those who have limited exposure, a new study finds. ...continue reading "High Flame Retardant Levels During Pregnancy Linked to Preterm Birth"

Human sperm. Credit: Wikipedia

Back in 2017 the world was shocked by a major study that focused on dropping sperm counts in men living in Western countries - a drop of over 50% in 4 decades, or about 1% per year. Along with an increase in infertility. If the drop in sperm counts continues at its current pace, it ultimately means that humans soon will not be able to reproduce. Worse case scenario: extinction of humans.

Dr. Shanna Swan, who an author of the study, has a just published an excellent eye-opening book about this topic. The cause for these sperm count drops and increasing infertility are the hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals in everyday products all around us. In plastics, in many pesticides, in personal care products, in our foods (from the packaging)... Yes, all around us. It turns out these chemicals have all sorts of harmful health effects, not just lowering of sperm counts and increasing infertility. [see below]

Good news: we can't escape all the harmful chemicals around us, but we can really decrease our exposures and so decrease the levels of these chemicals in our bodies. And it's better for our health! For tips on ways to reduce your exposures and the levels of harmful chemicals in your body - see Avoiding Harmful Chemicals.

The highly recommended book is written by Shanna Swan, PhD and Stacey Colino: Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. Scribner, 2020. With many pages of references at the end.

An interesting short interview with Dr. Shanna Swan. From The Intercept: TOXIC CHEMICALS THREATEN HUMANITY’S ABILITY TO REPRODUCE

..a book that ties industrial chemicals in everyday products to a wide range of changes taking place in recent years, including increasing numbers of babies born with smaller penises; higher rates of erectile dysfunction; declining fertility; eroding sex differences in some animal species; and potentially even behaviors that are thought of as gender-typical.

Excerpts by Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino's piece from Scientific American: Reproductive Problems in Both Men and Women Are Rising at an Alarming Rate

When you see or hear a reference to “the 1 percent,” most people think of socioeconomic status—the people with the top 1 percent of wealth or income in the United States, which is how the term is commonly used in our culture.

Not us, though.  ...continue reading "A New Book Discusses Falling Sperm Counts and The Chemicals Around Us"

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"

The issue of plastics, the chemicals they contain, and the harms to human health has been documented in a new report from the international Endocrine Society. This is a problem that won't go away because plastic use is increasing throughout the world, we use plastic products every day, we are surrounded by plastics, and they are now everywhere in our environment.

Chemicals leach out of the plastics and so get into us, wildlife, and the environment. Plastics also degrade into tiny particles called microplastics over time - which is why we find tiny plastic particles in our water, air, house dust, foods, beverages, and even in our bodies and feces.

Plastics can contain endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals, which can disturb or disrupt the body’s hormone systems. They can cause cancer, diabetes, reproductive disorders (e.g. fertility problems, lowered sperm count), neurological impairments (e.g. lower IQ) of developing fetuses and children, and death. Fetuses, babies, and young children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. [More posts on this topic.]

More than a thousand manufactured chemicals that are used nowadays are endocrine disrupting chemicals, also called EDCs. Some examples of common EDCs are bisphenols (e.g.BPA and BPS), phthalates, flame retardants, water and stain-resistant chemicals, and non-stick coatings in cookware. They are found in many household and personal care products, and toys (e.g. vinyl toys).

And no, the US government is doing nothing about this issue. Right now it is up to us individually to try to protect ourselves and to lower our exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals and other harmful chemicals. List of things you can do: Tips to reduce harmful chemical exposures and levels in your body. [For ex.: Microwave food only in regular dishes. Not in plastic containers or pouches.]

The Endocrine Society (a global society of physicians and scientists) came out with a report documenting the harms of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in plastics. Their Dec. 10, 2020 announcement: Plastics, EDCs & Health: Authoritative Guide, contains a link to the full report.

The Endocrine Society has a two page really nice summary and explanations of the types of chemicals found in plastics: 7 Harmful Chemical Types in Plastics [They are bisphenols, alkylphenols, phthalates, perfluorinated chemicals, brominated flame retardants, dioxin, and UV stabilizers.]

From Medical Xpress: Plastics pose threat to human health

Plastics contain and leach hazardous chemicals, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that threaten human health. An authoritative new report, Plastics, EDCs, & Health, from the Endocrine Society and the IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network), presents a summary of international research on the health impacts of EDCs and describes the alarming health effects of widespread contamination from EDCs in plastics.   ...continue reading "New Report On Harms to Human Health From Chemicals In Plastics"

Microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size, have now been found in human placentas. To find tiny plastic particles on both sides of the placenta (the baby's side and the mother's side), as well as in the placental membranes, is an alarming finding! Why is this occurring? And are they causing harm to the developing fetus?

First, it is important to realize that we are surrounded by plastic in products that we use, and also in our environment. Eventually all plastic degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are found throughout the world, including in the oceans and rivers, indoor air, and the food we eat and water we drink, especially bottled water. The particles get into us, and while some is excreted in the feces, they also get into our organs.

The Italian researchers examined small portions of 6 human placentas (from normal pregnancies) and found a total of 12 plastic particles in 4 of the placentas. The researchers said that all the particles were "pigmented" (colored), with 3 being tiny polypropylene pieces, and the other 9 could only be identified as pigments (e.g. from man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, cosmetics, and personal care products).

Human placenta. Credit: Wikipedia

The researchers did not know how the plastic particles entered the mother's blood stream and so got into the placenta - whether it was from the mother's respiratory system (breathed in) or the gastrointestinal system (from ingested foods). They thought that differences in foods eaten and lifestyles might result in why four placentas had plastic particles and two others not.

A big concern with microplastics in humans, especially developing fetuses, is that they can contain substances that can act as endocrine (hormone) disruptors and so could cause long-term effects on human health. Will they have an effect on the developing immune system? At this point we do not know. We have many questions and studies are needed.

What should one do to lower exposure to plastic particles? There are many things one can do. Especially important is to no longer drink bottled water or other beverages in plastic bottles, or store or cook food in plastic containers. List of tips on how to lower exposure to plastics and the harmful chemicals in them - Avoiding Harmful Chemicals

Excerpts from The Guardian - Microplastics revealed in the placentas of unborn babies

Microplastic particles have been revealed in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time, which the researchers said was “a matter of great concern”. ...continue reading "Tiny Plastic Particles Found In Human Placentas"

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"

This is rarely mentioned, but there is research showing that commonly used chemicals that we are exposed to, such as bisphenols (BPA, BPS), phthalates, persistent organic pollutants (e.g.flame retardants, nonstick cookware), heavy metals (e.g. lead), and some pesticides (e.g.chlorpyrifos, glyphosate), all have an impact on the gut microbiome in animals and humans.

For example, these chemicals may alter levels of certain microbial species, or alter the variety (diversity) and type of species in the gut, or increase intestinal inflammation. These alterations are associated with health effects, and the effects may be different depending on the stage of life. Yikes!

The human gut microbiome is the huge and complex community of microbes (fungi, bacteria, viruses) that live in our intestines and play important roles in our health. Trillions of microbes, hundreds of species. The presence of certain microbial species in the gut are associated with health, and the presence of certain other species are associated with disease. We know that what we eat and drink, whether we exercise, and other lifestyle factors can influence the gut microbes, but it appears we also need consider exposure to chemicals in the environment around us.

A recent study by University of Illinois researchers reviewed the environmental chemical and microbiome research, and found that many chemicals have an effect on the gut microbiome. They point out that humans are constantly exposed to hundreds of chemicals in the environment, and many get into humans (through inhalation, ingestion, absorption through the skin). Currently more than 300 environmental chemicals and their metabolites have been measured in humans (e.g. in blood and urine).

Many of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors, and many are associated with adverse health effects, including male and female reproductive and developmental defects, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular effects, liver disease, obesity, thyroid disorders, and immune effects.

By the way, gut microbiome effects are currently not considered by the EPA when regulating chemicals.

From Science Daily: Environmental contaminants alter gut microbiome, health

The microbes that inhabit our bodies are influenced by what we eat, drink, breathe and absorb through our skin, and most of us are chronically exposed to natural and human-made environmental contaminants. In a new paper, scientists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign review the research linking dozens of environmental chemicals to changes in the gut microbiome and associated health challenges.  ...continue reading "Some Common Chemicals Alter the Gut Microbiome"

organic grains, oatsAchieve dramatically lower pesticide levels in your body in a few days! No need for "colonics" or "detox regimens". All one has to do is eat organic food to lower pesticide levels! And the more organic food in the diet, the better.

We ingest small amounts of pesticides when we eat and drink conventionally grown foods, and these pesticides can be measured in our urine and blood. Studies have found that switching to an organic diet lowers the amounts of pesticides (e.g. chlorpyrifos, 2,4-D) in the body, and now glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) can be added to the list. This is because glyphosate is used to grow conventional foods, but it is not allowed to be used on organic crops or in organic food production.

A recent study found that eating an all organic diet lowered glyphosate and AMPA (glyphosate metabolite) levels, in both adults and children, more than 70% in 6 days. The study measured glyphosate and its metabolites (in the urine) in members of 4 families who typically did not eat organic food, and who lived in different parts of the US. During the organic phase lasting 6 days, all the food the 16 people ate was organic - it was provided to them.

Before the organic phase of the study, both glyphosate and AMPA (glyphosate metabolite) were detected in more than 93.5% of urine samples in the study participants. Glyphosate and AMPA levels were substantially higher in children than in their parents, and this was true in both the conventional and the organic diet phases of the study, even after levels went down. The researchers thought that perhaps children were getting more environmental exposures (parks and school grounds), or perhaps they metabolize the pesticide slower than adults. (It's unknown why.)

Glyphosate has been linked to cancer, to effects on the kidneys and liver, endocrine disruption, and alteration of the gut microbiome. The overwhelming majority of people have glyphosate or its metabolites in their bodies. We get pesticides into our bodies through inhalation, absorption through the skin, and we ingest them in foods and beverages. As more and more glyphosate is used each year on crops, the levels in our bodies have been increasing. ...continue reading "Lower Your Pesticide Levels By Eating Organic Foods"

Does exposure to common PFAS chemicals contribute to an earlier age for menopause? A recent University of Michigan study found an association between blood levels of PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in women and age at menopause. Women with the highest levels of PFAS in their blood had menopause 2 years earlier than those with lower levels.

PFAS are commonly known as "forever chemicals" because they persist in the environment and in humans. These chemicals have been widely used in many industrial and consumer products, such as non-stick cookware and food packaging, including microwave popcorn bags. They are also endocrine (hormone) disruptors and are thought to have an effect on ovarian aging.

What you can do: Don't microwave food, including popcorn, in the packaging it came in. Use microwave safe dishes instead.  Also, avoid nonstick cookware, and instead use plain stainless steel cookware.

From Science Daily: PFAS exposure may cause early menopause in women

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) exposure may cause menopause to occur two years earlier in women, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.  ...continue reading "Common PFAS Chemical Exposure and Age At Menopause"

Worried about the effects of persistent pesticides, flame retardants, and the chemicals used in non-stick pans (e.g.Teflon) on human health? An interesting small study from researchers at New York University looked at whether there is a link between having higher levels of these chemicals and celiac disease (a digestive disorder in which there is an abnormal response to foods with gluten). And yes, they found one.

Certain pesticides, flame retardants (PBDEs), and nonstick chemicals (PFASs) are known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They are known to be endocrine disruptors (meaning they disrupt the hormonal system). The researchers think that because there is an interplay between endocrine and immune systems, then perhaps these chemicals may contribute to the development of celiac disease in people who are genetically susceptible to it.

Thirty children and young adults newly diagnosed with celiac disease were compared to 58 individuals without the disease.  Higher levels of these chemicals were found in the blood in those with celiac disease, when compared to those without celiac disease.

More reasons to avoid non-stick pots and pans, avoid flame retardants, avoid using pesticides on lawns, and to eat organically raised foods.

From Futurity: CELIAC DIAGNOSIS MORE LIKELY WITH HIGHER BLOOD LEVELS OF PESTICIDES

Children and young adults with high blood levels of pesticides—and with high levels of pesticide-related chemicals called dichlorodiphenyldichlorethylenes—were twice as likely to receive a new diagnosis of celiac disease than those without high levels, report researchers.  ...continue reading "Certain Chemicals Linked to Celiac Disease"