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It turns out that some commonly found chemicals in household products are actually hazardous to our brain health. A recent study found that these chemicals have a harmful effect on brain cells called oligodendrocytes. The harmful chemicals are quaternary compounds (found in some disinfectant products and personal care products) and some flame retardants found in household items such as furniture and electronics.

Oligodendrocytes are cells in the central nervous system that form the myelin sheath (a layer that covers and protects nerve cells) in the brain and spinal cord. Damage to the myelin sheath underlies some neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.

The researchers felt that exposure to these chemicals that damage oligodendrocytes may be a risk factor for neurological diseases. In other words, you don't want to damage these cells. Pregnant women (developing baby) and children (developing brains!) are especially vulnerable.

Bottom line: Avoid disinfecting or cleaning supplies that say they contain "quaternary compounds" and try not to buy products containing flame retardants. Check labels!

From Science Daily: Common household chemicals pose new threat to brain health, study finds

A team of researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine has provided fresh insight into the dangers some common household chemicals pose to brain health. They suggest that chemicals found in a wide range of items, from furniture to hair products, may be linked to neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis and autism spectrum disorders. ...continue reading "Some Common Household Chemicals Have A Harmful Effect On the Brain"

The bad news about microplastics in the environment and in all of us keeps coming. A recent study found microplastics in all human placentas, with the numbers of microplastics increasing over recent years. This is very concerning because at this point it is unknown what effects the microplastics are having on pregnancies and developing babies.

Microplastics are the teeny, tiny plastic particles (less than 5mm or .20 inches in length) that are a result of plastics breaking up over time.

A recently published study reported how researchers came up with a new method of measuring the number and amount of microplastics found in the placenta. Rather than just examining the placenta under a microscope and counting particles (other studies), they developed a new method (involving pyrolysis-gas chromatography and mass spectrometry) that reveals a more accurate number.

In the study, all 62 placentas tested contained microplastics in varying amounts - from 6.5 to 790 micrograms per gram of tissue. The main types of microplastics found were polyethylene (plastic bags and bottles) in nearly all samples, followed by polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and nylon.

Unfortunately, we know that all of us will have increasing amounts of microplastics in our bodies over time because plastic use is increasing throughout the world. We are ingesting them in our foods and beverages (especially bottled water), absorbing them through our skin, and breathing them in.

What you can do: Try to minimize your use of plastics, especially plastic water bottles. Choose alternatives whenever possible. For example, glass and stainless steel are OK and do not shed microplastics. Think glass bottles and bowls for foods and beverages, not plastic bottles and containers.

From Science Daily: Microplastics found in every human placenta tested

A flurry of recent studies has found that microplastics are present in virtually everything we consume, from bottled water to meat and plant-based food. Now, University of New Mexico Health Sciences researchers have used a new analytical tool to measure the microplastics present in human placentas. ...continue reading "New Method Finds Microplastics In All Placentas"

This comes under the realm of fun fact: A large study of over 21 million births over four decades in Japan found that most births occur during weekdays and not weekends or holidays.

This was especially true among high-risk births such as low birthweight and preterm births. The researchers mention that many deliveries are "controlled" - which could mean they are planned C-sections or induced births during weekdays.

Bet this is also true for other developed countries with high C-section rates.

From Science Daily: Significantly fewer births on weekends and holidays than weekdays, data analysis of over 21 million births from 1979-2018 in Japan shows

Significantly more babies were born on a weekday instead of weekend day or holiday, reveals a large-scale analysis of 21 million births in Japan over almost four decades published February 14, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Miho Sassa from the University of Tokyo, Japan, and colleagues. ...continue reading "More Births Occur During Weekdays"

It turns out that another nasty pesticide is found in almost all of us, which we get from the foods we eat. This is the pesticide chlormequat, which is known to have harmful health effects. The use of chlormequat is on the rise in North America and Europe, where it is applied to non-organic grain crops as a plant growth regulator.

A recent study found that the percentage of persons with detectable chlormequat in their urine, as well as the levels (concentrations) of chlormequat, have been increasing yearly since 2017 (start of the study), but with a significant increase in 2023. It was found in the urine of 90% of the people tested in 2023.

This is concerning because studies find that it can reduce fertility and harm the developing fetus - even at doses lower than what regulatory agencies view as "allowable daily intake levels". Unfortunately, the CDC does not do biomonitoring of chlormequat in humans - thus it is an under the radar pesticide (found in humans, but no one is officially monitoring it).

Currently it is only allowed on ornamental plants in the US, but in 2023 the EPA proposed allowing the use of chlormequat on barley, oats, triticale, and wheat grown in the US. It is already allowed on imported grain crops from Canada and Europe. One study found it in Quaker oats and oat products, and Cheerios.

In 2020 the US EPA also raised "allowable levels" of chlormequat in food (from 10 ppm to 30 ppm), which is reflected in the study results - 90% of people tested in 2023 had detectable levels of the pesticide in their urine, and in greater amounts (concentrations) than in prior years. Once again the EPA is "looking out for us" - NOT!

Bottom line: Eat as many organic foods as possible, including oats, barley, and wheat. This pesticide is not allowed to be used on organic crops. Changing to an organic diet quickly lowers chlormequat levels in the body.

From New study finds little-known toxic crop chemical in four out of five people tested

A new Environmental Working Group study has found chlormequat, a little-known pesticide, in four out of five people tested. Because the chemical is linked to reproductive and developmental problems in animal studies, the findings suggest the potential for similar harm to humans. ...continue reading "Another Harmful Pesticide In Our Foods"

Chemicals known as "forever chemicals" or PFAS have been in the news a lot recently. This is because PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are in so many products that we all use, yet research is showing more and more health harms from them. Including to pregnant women and developing babies.

A recent study found that pregnant women who ate more ultra-processed  or fast foods had higher levels of a type of forever chemicals (PFAS) called phthalates in their bodies. The food wrappers and packaging of ultra-processed and fast food, and even the gloves worn by food handlers, are a source of the harmful chemicals.

The chemicals migrate from the packaging or wrapping into the food, which is then ingested by the person. They then get into the pregnant woman's bloodstream, and eventually the placenta and fetus. They are endocrine (hormone) disruptors. Studies find that pregnant women with higher levels of phthalates have an increased risk of preterm birth, babies with low birth weight, and other problems (e.g., autism spectrum disorder).

The researchers found that diets high in vegetables, fruits, yogurt, fish, and nuts during pregnancy were associated with lower phthalate levels (measured in the urine of the pregnant women). Ultra-processed foods were between 9.8 to 59.% of the pregnant women's diets, with the average being 38.6%.

Unfortunately, unprocessed and minimally processed foods are more expensive than ultra-processed foods. So it wasn't surprising that socioeconomic levels (including income levels) made a difference - the lower the household income, the greater the average ultra-processed food intake.

Bottom line: Try to eat less fast food and pre-made packaged food. Read labels and avoid foods with ingredients that are not found normally in a home kitchen, but are chemicals (e.g., soy lecithin, carrageenan, high-fructose corn syrup, colors). We can't totally avoid all PFAS, but we can lower our exposure to them.

From Medical Xpress: Study: Pregnant women should avoid ultraprocessed, fast foods

If you're pregnant, you may want to think twice before making a hamburger run or reaching for a prepackaged pastry, according to research published last month in the journal Environmental International. ...continue reading "Pregnant Women Ingest Forever Chemicals In Ultra-Processed and Fast Foods"

There appears to be a big downside to an all plant diet, which is the possibility of missing essential nutrients that are found in dairy and meat (e.g., vitamin B12, vitamin D3, iron, zinc, choline).

This is especially worrisome if a woman is pregnant (developing baby) and also in children (developing body and brain). Nutrient status is important both before conception and during pregnancy for both a healthy pregnancy and baby.

A recent study looking at vitamin status in women both before conception and during pregnancy in 3 high-income countries found that over 90% of the women had marginal or low concentrations of 1 or more important nutrients: folate (folic acid), riboflavin, vitamin B12, or vitamin D before conception, and many developed vitamin B6 deficiency in late pregnancy.

All women took vitamin supplements containing folic acid, beta-carotene, iron, calcium, and iodine during pregnancy. However, one group took supplements that additionally had riboflavin, vitamins B6, B12, and D, zinc. The researchers found that the group with additional vitamins  had higher (better) levels of the nutrients throughout pregnancy.

The study results show that multivitamins should already be taken during the preconception period. Multivitamins should be continued after pregnancy while breastfeeding a baby to maintain adequate levels of essential nutrients.

From Science Daily: Pregnant women are missing vital nutrients needed for them and their babies

Pregnant women are not getting the essential nutrients they and their babies need from modern diets say scientists, who have warned that the situation will likely worsen as more people turn to plant-based foods. ...continue reading "Many Women Have Low Levels of Important Nutrients Before Pregnancy"

Interesting, yet disturbing, research found microplastics in human placentas and also that the microplastic contamination of placentas has been rising steadily since 2006. During this time global plastic production has also increased.

Microplastics are the teeny, tiny plastic particles (less than 5mm or .20 inches in length) that are a result of plastics breaking up over time. The big question now is: Are microplastics also getting into the fetus? 

University of Hawaii researchers examined 10 healthy human placentas in each of these years: 2006, 2013, and 2021. Microplastics were found in six of the 10 (60%) in 2006, 9 out of the 10 (90%) in 2013, and in all placentas (100%) in 2021. Only a sample (50 grams) was taken from each placenta, but it was clear that the number of microplastics found also increased over time:  22 particles from 2006, 38 particles in 2013, and 82 particles in 2021.

Microplastics Credit: Wikipedia

Another concern is that microplastic particles leach chemicals, and also that some of the particles found in the placentas had endocrine disrupting properties. It is unknown at this time what the effects are from microplastic accumulation in our bodies. Perhaps they have no effect, but absolutely no one thinks they are beneficial. So far other research has found microplastics in the human gut, lungs, bloodstream, and reproductive organs (male testes, female breasts).

Microplastics are of concern to all of us because we are ingesting them in our foods and beverages (especially bottled water), absorbing them through our skin, and breathing them in. Think of all the plastic products we use (e.g., toothpaste, bottled water, computers, cell phones, plastic bags) and wear (synthetic fabrics) daily.

From Science Daily: Rise of microplastics discovered in placentas of Hawaii mothers

A placenta (commonly known as the "afterbirth" or "ʻiewe" in Hawaiian) is a temporary organ which connects the mother to the fetus via the umbilical cord. Its purpose is to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the fetus while serving as a barrier to prevent infections or viruses from entering the developing fetus. ...continue reading "Microplastics Found In Placentas"

Congenital syphilis rates are rising in the United States. This is when a pregnant woman has syphilis and transmits it to the developing baby (fetus). It results in serious long-term problems for the baby (e.g., stillbirth, deformities, neurological problems, hearing loss) .

Syphilis is an infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum that is treated with antibiotics. Thus congenital syphilis is totally preventable. This is why it is important to do screening and treating for syphilis early in pregnancy.

A study looking at congenital syphilis cases in Mississippi found that cases occur when a pregnant woman doesn't get screened during pregnancy for syphilis, or doesn't receive proper prenatal care. Another risk factor is drug use by the mother. The mother should be screened for syphilis in early pregnancy, and then treated with antibiotics if syphilis is found.

Some states have had a bigger increase than others, especially southwestern and southern states such as Mississippi. It is one of the states that did not require  screening for syphilis in pregnancy, which only became a requirement in Mississippi starting March 2023.

From Medical Xpress: Congenital syphilis rates are soaring, but resources to stem infections are lacking

States are seeing an alarming surge in cases of congenital syphilis, a preventable infection that can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death—or lifelong complications such as blindness or deafness. ...continue reading "Testing For Syphilis Is Important During Pregnancy"

A recent small study discussed the issue of postpartum depression in new fathers, and whether all fathers of newborns should be screened for it. Most people know that women can develop postpartum depression, but the possibility that fathers can also have it is rarely discussed.

In this small study conducted in Chicago, they found that 30% of the 24 fathers appeared to have postpartum depression - based on the same screening tool that is commonly used to screen new mothers. Other studies found/estimated that 8 to 13% of new fathers have postpartum depression, but with much higher rates if the new mother has postpartum depression.

Yes - new fathers can be stressed, anxious, worried, depressed, especially if there are financial or other stressors. Lack of sleep and fatigue was a big contributor to symptoms in the study. Pre-existing mental conditions. Problems with the relationship. Lack of paid parental leave. And on and on.

Both new mothers and new fathers need support after the birth of a baby.

From Science Daily: Should fathers be screened for postpartum depression? Pilot study

Dads can suffer from postpartum depression, and a new pilot study at the University of Illinois Chicago suggests they can and should be screened for the condition. Given the intertwined effects of mothers' and fathers' physical and mental health, addressing the health of fathers may be a powerful untapped tool in improving the nation's ongoing maternal health crisis. ...continue reading "Postpartum Depression In New Fathers"

Egg emerging from the follicle on the ovary. Credit: Jacques Donnez

Today I saw some amazing photos that capture the moment of human ovulation. One can clearly see the egg emerging from a follicle on the ovary. Fertile women release one or more eggs each month.

The photos were taken in 2008 when Dr. Jacques Donnez was performing a hysterectomy on a 45 year old woman and saw that ovulation was occurring. The ovulation he witnessed took about 15 minutes.

By the way, it was the first time human ovulation was caught on camera.

Credit: Jacques Donnez

From June 11, 2008 BBC News: Ovulation moment caught on camera

A human egg has been filmed in close-up emerging from the ovary for the first time, captured by chance during a routine operation. 

Fertile women release one or more eggs every month, but until now, only animal ovulation has been recorded in detail. ...continue reading "Observing Human Ovulation"