Skip to content

 The research finding of dogs having elevated levels of the endocrine disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) from eating canned food mirrors what is happening to humans - eating canned food raises BPA levels in a person. The study also found that elevated BPA levels resulted in changes in the gut microbiome (the community of microbes living in the gut). Specifically, they found the abundance of a number of bacteria species increased or decreased depending on BPA levels in the dogs. This is not good.

This is of concern because BPA  is linked to a variety of health problems. [See all posts.] So it's best to minimize exposure to BPA, BPS, and other hormone disrupting chemicals, and also "BPA-free" products (which usually contain BPS). The BPA is in the lining of the cans used in canned food, and this leaches into the food. Unfortunately, dog food cans thought to be BPA-free in the study also contained BPA, which then leached into the dog food.  From Futurity:

Dogs have 3X more BPA after eating canned food

Researchers saw a three-fold increase in BPA levels in dogs who ate canned dog food for two weeks. They also saw changes in the dogs’ gut microbesBisphenol A (BPA) is a widely used industrial chemical found in many household items, including resins used to line metal storage containers, such as food cans. The chemical can disrupt hormones and is linked to a range of health problems. “Bisphenol A is a prevalent endocrine-disrupting chemical found in canned foods and beverages,” says Cheryl Rosenfeld, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine....

Dog owners volunteered their healthy pets for the study. Blood and fecal samples were collected prior to the dogs being placed on one of two commonly used, commercial canned food diets for two weeks; one diet was presumed to be BPA-free. Robert Backus, an associate professor in the veterinary medicine and surgery in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and other researchers on the team then analyzed the cans and the food contained in the cans for BPA levels and performed gut microbiome assessments.

“The dogs in the study did have minimal circulating BPA in their blood when it was drawn for the baseline,” Rosenfeld says.“However, BPA increased nearly three-fold after being on the either of the two canned diets for two weeks. We also found that increased serum BPA concentrations were correlated with gut microbiome and metabolic changes in the dogs analyzed. Increased BPA may also reduce one bacterium that has the ability to metabolize BPA and related environmental chemicals.”

“We share our homes with our dogs,” Rosenfeld says. “Thus, these findings could have implications and relevance to humans. Indeed, our canine companions may be the best bio-sentinels for human health concerns.”

A chemical frequently used in place of BPA called BPS (bisphenol S) and found in "BPA-free" products is also an endocrine disruptor. This also has negative health and behavioral effects. In this study the effects were seen in mice, but they are worrisome. Makes you wonder, what are all the effects in humans? From Science Daily: Plastics compound, BPS, often substituted for BPA, alters mouse moms' behavior and brain regions

In the first study of its kind, environmental health scientists and neuroscientists examined the effects of the compound bisphenol S (BPS) on maternal behavior and related brain regions in mice. They found subtle but striking behavior changes in nesting mothers exposed during pregnancy and lactation and in their daughters exposed in uteroBPS, found in baby bottles, personal care products and thermal receipts, is a replacement chemical for BPA and was introduced when concern was raised about possible health effects of that plastic compound.

Both males and females should consider trying to lower their exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (hormone disrupting chemicals) when contemplating pregnancy. These chemicals are found in many personal care, food packaging, and plastic products. They can interfere with natural hormone function and are linked to a wide assortment of health problems. Evidence (like this study) is mounting that higher levels of endocrine disruptors in the body have a negative effect on the developing embryo. So men - an important time to try to lower your exposure to endocrine disruptors is the 3 months preconception (it takes about 3 months for sperm to mature), and for women it's the entire pregnancy period (from conception to birth). You can't totally avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals (they're detected in almost all of us), but you can lower your exposure.

What to avoid and what to do? Read the ingredient lists of all personal care products and try to avoid those with phthalates, parabens, triclosan, bisphenol-A (BPA), BPS, triclocarbon, and oxybenzone (BP-3). Try to buy "unscented" or "fragrance-free" products. Canned foods are considered one of the most significant routes of human exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), so limit canned foods. Note that "BPA-free" cans and plastic containers also contain endocrine disruptors. Another way to lower exposure to endocrine disruptors is to buy and store food not in plastic containers, but in glass containers or stainless steel. Don't microwave food in any sort of plastic containers. Avoid products with fragrances in them, including air fresheners and dryer sheets. Avoid flexible vinyl (e.g. shower curtains). [For all posts on endocrine disruptors, and an article from National Institutes of Health. Also check ewg.org for lists of products]. From Environmental Health News:

Are plastic chemicals in dads hurting embryos?

Turns out, moms, it's not just about you staying off alcohol and avoiding potentially harmful chemicals while pregnant or trying to become so. Your partners' exposure to plastics and packaging could play an important role in your ability to conceive a child. A father’s exposure to chemicals commonly found in plastics, personal care products and food packaging might decrease the quality of embryos produced by their sperm, according to a new study out of Massachusetts.

The study, published today in the journal Human Reproduction, is the first to examine dads’ exposure to phthalates and embryo quality through five days of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The lower quality embryos had fewer signs of the type of progress that leads to a fetus. The findings suggest men’s exposure to the chemicals—used in vinyl products, food packaging, fragrances and in other plastics to make them pliable—might hamper the development of their unbornEmbryos are the result of a fertilized egg in a woman and are the precursor to the fetus. About 12 weeks into pregnancies, the unborn is considered a fetus.

Most people have phthalates in their bodies and the compounds disrupt the endocrine system—interfering with hormones that are crucial for reproduction.While the study doesn’t prove phthalates in men lead to poor quality embryos, it adds to mounting evidence that the ubiquitous chemicals may impact pregnanciesSperm mature over 72 days on average, almost three months,” said senior author of the study, Richard Pilsner, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “During that time, we may tell men to maybe try to avoid phthalates. There’s no way to totally escape exposure but you could minimize it.

Led by Pilsner, researchers collected 761 immature eggs from 50 couples undergoing IVF at the Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., and checked their progression to embryos. They tested embryos at three days and five days after the eggs were fertilized, and collected urine samples from the couples on the same day as the semen sample and egg retrieval to test for phthalate metabolites, substances formed after the body processes phthalates. At day five, high exposure to phthalates in men was linked to fewer—or no—signs of the type of development that eventually leads to a fetus and placenta compared to men with lower exposure.

Phthalate exposure for fetuses has been linked to genital defects, lower IQs and miscarriages but it’s not clear what impacts this poor embryo quality could mean for the unborn. Russ Hauser, a professor of reproductive physiology at Harvard University, said in an email that the impacts might range from pregnancy loss to effects on children's health later in their life.

Shanna Swan, a professor of reproductive science at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who was not involved in the study, said the study is limited in that it is small, and not representative of the general population because it only included couples undergoing IVF. They also didn’t see any association with the women’s exposure and decreased embryo quality. But this isn’t the first study to report a male-only effect. Higher phthalates in father’s urine was associated with an increased time for couples to conceive, according to a 2014 study. Swan said the current study was strengthened in that it is “remarkably consistent” with the 2014 study. Some phthalate metabolites linked to impacts in both studies are known to target male reproductive hormones, she said.

More bad news about BPA (bisphenol A) - an endocrine disrupter linked to a number of health problems, including reproductive disorders (here, here, and here). A new study has lent support for a  link between bisphenol A (BPA) exposure during pregnancy and later breast cancer. BPA can cross the placenta in the womb, and so expose the fetus, it has been found in placental tissue, and newborns can be exposed through breastfeeding. BPA is found in the urine of about 95% of the U.S. population.

It's hard to avoid BPA because it's found in so many products, but a person can lower exposure to it by avoiding canned products (it's in the can linings), as well as plastic bottles and containers, microwaving or heating food in plastic containers, and fast food (it's in the packaging and leaches into the food) . Glass and stainless steel is OK for storing food. By the way, BPA substitutes such as BPS  and BPSIP have the same negative health effects (because they're chemically similar) - so also avoid "BPA-free" products. From Endocrine News;

A Pervasive Threat: The Danger of in utero BPA Exposure

A new study presented at ENDO [Endocrine Society] 2016 revealed a possible link between bisphenol A exposure in utero to breast cancer later in life. In the process, the researchers created a new bioassay that can test chemicals much faster than typical animal studies. Almost every single person alive today has detectable amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in his or her body, according to the 2015 joint Endocrine Society/IPEN publication Introduction to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs): A Guide for Public Interest Organizations and Policy-Makers.

These EDCs — phthalates (plasticizers), bisphenol A (BPA), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and others, in their bodies — are hormone-like industrial chemicals that did not even exist 100 or so years ago. Studies on human populations consistently demonstrate associations between the presence of certain chemicals and higher risks of endocrine disorders such as impaired fertility, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disorders, and cancer.

The xenoestrogen BPA is especially prevalent as a component used in rigid plastic products such as compact discs, food and beverage containers, food and formula can linings, and glossy paper receipts. In the case of food containers, when they are heated or scratched, the BPA can seep out into the food and then be ingested. BPA also escapes from water pipes, dental materials, cosmetics, and household products among others and is released into the environment or directly consumed. According to research, such exposures help account for why BPA has been found in the urine of a representative sample of 95% of the U.S. population.

Notably, BPA can cross the placenta in the womb, indirectly exposing the fetus — it has been found in both maternal and fetal serum as well as neonatal placental tissue. Newborns can also be directly exposed through breastfeeding.

The results of a study presented at ENDO 2016 provide compelling support for the idea that fetal exposure to BPA might increase risk for development of breast cancer in adulthood; in fact, it may explain why overall incidence increased in the 20th century. Lucia Speroni, PhD, a research associate and member of the Soto-Sonnenschein lab at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and the study’s lead investigator, reports, “We found that BPA acts directly on the mammary gland and that this effect is dose dependent: A low dose significantly increased ductal growth, whereas a high dose decreased it.”

“Because these effects are similar to those found when exposing the fetus through its mother, our experiment suggests that BPA acts directly on the fetal mammary gland, causing changes to the tissue that have been associated with a higher predisposition to breast cancer later in life,” Speroni explains. In replicating the process of mammary gland development in vitro, this method additionally allows for live observation throughout the whole process.....The lab team had previously shown that the most harmful time for exposure to BPA is during fetal development by causing alterations in the developing mammary gland.

Image result for Agua de Violetas Image result for lavender Image result for tea tree oil Over the years I have read about some oils, especially lavender and tea tree oils,  as having hormone altering (endocrine disrupting) effects when used over prolonged periods of time or when someone is "chronically exposed". Especially worrisome was the possible estrogenic effects of lavender oils in shampoos, lotions, and soaps on developing children - especially boys (prolonged use leading to the development of breasts in some boys!). I just read a recently published journal study (with very interesting comments at the end), and an article in WebMD about this same topic. The condition of early breast development is called prepubertal gynecomastia in boys and thelarche in girls.

As you can imagine, the industry (Australian Tea Tree Industry Association and Research Institute for Fragrance Materials Inc) calls such research  "poor science". Of course industry sponsored "research" never ever finds any problems (because any "problems" would impact the big $$ from the sale of those products). In fact, I would be skeptical of any industry sponsored research in this area - it is not truly independent, unbiased research if they "have to" and "want to" find no problems. So when you do read industry research, also read the rebuttals by independent scientists and doctors.

Bottom line: No matter the age, avoid prolonged use of lavender and tea tree oil in personal care products, including "aromatherapy" -  especially important for children and pregnant women. The good news is that the development of breasts in young children is reversible when use of the product is stopped. But better to avoid such products (including Agua de Violetas) on children in the first place. Instead use unscented personal care products.

From WebMD:  Are Tea Tree and Lavender Oils Safe for Kids?

Tea tree and lavender essential oils are popular ingredients in personal care and household products, including many aimed at children. But can the ingredients, often promoted as “natural” alternatives, trigger abnormal breast growth in boys and girls? A few small studies suggest that frequently using lotions, shampoos, styling gels, and even a certain cologne containing lavender and tea tree oils may cause breast growth in boys, also known as gynecomastia, along with breast growth in girls as young as 4 or 5.

Other studies have not reached the same conclusions, and the cases appear to be rare. In addition, scientific research into most natural products is scant. The FDA doesn’t oversee essential oils unless they are intended for use in a drug, making it challenging to know how safe and effective these products are....Lavender and tea tree oils are among the most commonly used essential oils used. Although research is inconclusive, lavender is often used for aromatherapy and calming lotions, while tea tree oil is promoted for acne, nail fungus, and other skin conditions.

In 2007, pediatrician Clifford Bloch, MD, noticed that three of his patients, boys ages 4, 7 and 10, had abnormal breast growth. After talking with their parents, he learned that one had been exposed to a lavender-based “healing” balm, another to a hair styling gel and shampoo with lavender and tea tree oil, and another to a shampoo and skin lotion with lavender. Bloch ran tests looking for internal and external sources of the hormone estrogen that could potentially cause this to happen in the boys. He finally arrived at the cosmetic products the boys were using. Lavender and tea tree oil have phytoestrogens, substances that mimic the hormone estrogen. Soy is a source of phytoestrogens, too.

Bloch’s findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, led to a 2007 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) study that found both oils can act like estrogen. The study prompted the National Institutes of Health to issue an alert about lavender and tea tree oils potentially acting as endocrine disruptors -- something that interferes with the endocrine system -- in boys who regularly used products containing them.

Tony Starkman, CEO of the Australian Tea Tree Industry Association, calls the study “poor science.” He said the amount of oils contained in the products was too small to have an effect. “The fact is that tea tree oil was not present at all in two of the three topically applied products; therefore linking gynecomastia to tea tree oil is at best tentative and at worst incompetent,” he writes in a statement to WebMD. A year after the NIEHS study, the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials Inc. did its own study using rats. They found no evidence that lavender or tea tree oil affected hormones. In 2013, it completed a second study, again finding no effect.

More recently, pediatrician Alejandro Diaz, MD, published a study that blamed a lavender-based cologne popular in the Latino community, Agua de Violetas, for abnormal breast growth in two of his young male patients. He based the results on a chemical analysis of the cologne. Diaz, of Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, acknowledges that some children may have a genetic predisposition to gynecomastia that is triggered with enough exposure to lavender and tea tree oil. Or it may be that contaminants in essential oils somehow cause it. But he adds, “It is the responsibility of the industry that the products as sold are safe for human exposure.”

Bloch says he continues to see about three to four cases of gynecomastia each year. In one case, a mother sprayed everything in the house with a lavender-scented spray, including the bed linens. When her son went to live with his father in a split custody arrangement, his condition disappeared. Bloch discovered a similar scenario when a 6-year-old girl came in with enlarged breasts. In another case, a young boy stopped using a hair oil favored by his father -- a product containing tea tree oil – and his swelling breasts went back to normal. “It’s not in any way common,” Bloch says. “I’m seeing it in a select number of kids.”

In all the cases Bloch and Diaz documented, the children’s breasts shrank when they stopped using the products.

From the recent study by Dr. A. Diaz et al, from the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism. Click on the link for also 2 interesting comments after it (by Tony Larkman an industry representative, and rebuttal by Dr. Diaz): Prepubertal gynecomastia and chronic lavender exposure: report of three cases.

Prepubertal gynecomastia is a rare condition characterized by the growth of breast tissue in males as a consequence of early exposure to sexual hormones. When this condition is present, pathological sources of testosterone/estrogen production, such as adrenal or gonadal tumors must be searched for. A few reports have described an association between gynecomastia and substances that produce stimulation of the estrogen receptor, such as lavender and tea tree oil. Here we describe the cases of three boys who presented with prepubertal gynecomastia and were chronically exposed to lavender. Two of these boys were exposed to a cologne, named agua de violetas, used by Hispanic communities in the US, and in their countries of origin.

We studied a sample of the cologne used by one of the patients. Analysis of the chemical composition of the agua de violetas cologne was performed using high-performance liquid chromatography as well as off-line mass spectrometric detection. All these, combined with the physical appearance and the smell, determined that the cologne had lavender as an ingredient. Exposure to estrogenic substances, such as lavender, should be explored in children presenting with prepubertal gynecomastia/thelarche.

 A new report authored by dozens of scientists, health practitioners and children's health advocates is highlighting the (growing annually) evidence that many common and widely available chemicals endanger neurological development in fetuses and children of all ages. The chemicals contribute to such health problems as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, lowered IQ, behavior disorders, and many other problems. Many of the chemicals have hormonal effects (endocrine disruptors) and interfere with normal hormonal activity. The chemicals of highest concern are all around us and are found in most pregnant women, their fetuses, and in growing children. In fact, in all of us.

Especially worrisome chemicals are:  leadmercury; organophosphate pesticides (used in agriculture and home gardens), phthalates (in medicines, plastics, and personal care products), flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (found in upholstered furniture, car seats), air pollutants produced by the combustion of wood and fossil fuels), and polychlorinated biphenyls (once used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, but still pervasive). It is important to note that out of the thousands of chemicals that people are exposed to, that the great majority of chemicals are untested for neurodevelopmental effects.

Especially alarming is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 90% of pregnant women in the United States have detectable levels of 62 chemicals in their bodies, out of 163 chemicals for which the women were screened. This shows that we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals - not just to one chemical at a time.  Unfortunately the substitutes for problematic chemicals are NO better than the originals, because they tend to be similar chemically. For example, the substitutes for BPA are just as bad, if not worse, than BPA (bisphenol A). And remember, we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals - not just to one chemical at a time.

The report criticizes current regulatory lapses that allow chemicals to be introduced into people's lives with little or no review of their effects on fetal and child health. "For most chemicals, we have no idea what they're doing to children's neurodevelopment," Professor Schantz (one of the signers of the report) said. "They just haven't been studied." So why aren't policymakers doing something? Why is industry dictating what we're exposed to? Why are chemicals innocent until proven guilty, and even then they're allowed to be used? Who is looking out for the ordinary person, and especially developing children?

From the journal Environmental Health Perspectives: Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks. The TENDR Consensus Statement

Children in America today are at an unacceptably high risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other learning and behavioral disabilities. These are complex disorders with multiple causes—genetic, social, and environmental. The contribution of toxic chemicals to these disorders can be prevented. 

Leading scientific and medical experts, along with children’s health advocates, came together in 2015 under the auspices of Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks to issue a call to action to reduce widespread exposures to chemicals that interfere with fetal and children’s brain development. Based on the available scientific evidence, the TENDR authors have identified prime examples of toxic chemicals and pollutants that increase children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders. These include chemicals that are used extensively in consumer products and that have become widespread in the environment. Some are chemicals to which children and pregnant women are regularly exposed, and they are detected in the bodies of virtually all Americans in national surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

Based on these findings, we assert that the current system in the United States for evaluating scientific evidence and making health-based decisions about environmental chemicals is fundamentally broken. To help reduce the unacceptably high prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders in our children, we must eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to chemicals that contribute to these conditions. We must adopt a new framework for assessing chemicals that have the potential to disrupt brain development and prevent the use of those that may pose a risk. This consensus statement lays the foundation for developing recommendations to monitor, assess, and reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals. 

The TENDR Consensus Statement is a call to action to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that can contribute to the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in America’s children. The TENDR authors agree that widespread exposures to toxic chemicals in our air, water, food, soil, and consumer products can increase the risks for cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Di Renzo et al. 2015; Gore et al. 2015; Lanphear 2015; Council on Environmental Health 2011). This preventable threat results from a failure of our industrial and consumer markets and regulatory systems to protect the developing brain from toxic chemicals. To lower children’s risks for developing neurodevelopmental disorders, policies and actions are urgently needed to eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to these chemicals.

We are witnessing an alarming increase in learning and behavioral problems in children. Parents report that 1 in 6 children in the United States, 17% more than a decade ago, have a developmental disability, including learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and other developmental delays (Boyle et al. 2011). As of 2012, 1 in 10 (> 5.9 million) children in the United States are estimated to have ADHD (Bloom et al. 2013). As of 2014, 1 in 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder (based on 2010 reporting data) (CDC 2014).

Many toxic chemicals can interfere with healthy brain development, some at extremely low levels of exposure. Research in the neurosciences has identified “critical windows of vulnerability” during embryonic and fetal development, infancy, early childhood and adolescence (Lanphear 2015; Lyall et al. 2014; Rice and Barone 2000). During these windows of development, toxic chemical exposures may cause lasting harm to the brain that interferes with a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.

The developing fetus is continuously exposed to a mixture of environmental chemicals (Mitro et al. 2015). A 2011 analysis of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) biomonitoring data found that 90% of pregnant women in the United States have detectable levels of 62 chemicals in their bodies, out of 163 chemicals for which the women were screened (Woodruff et al. 2011). Among the chemicals found in the vast majority of pregnant women are PBDEs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS), phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), perchlorate, lead and mercury (Woodruff et al. 2011). Many of these chemicals can cross the placenta during pregnancy and are routinely detected in cord blood or other fetal tissues.

The following list provides prime examples of toxic chemicals that can contribute to learning, behavioral, or intellectual impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder: Organophosphate (OP) pesticides, PBDE flame retardants, combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include PAHs, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, and other air pollutants for which nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are markers, lead, mercuryPCBs .

The United States has restricted some of the production, use and environmental releases of these particular chemicals, but those measures have tended to be too little and too late. We face a crisis from both legacy and ongoing exposures to toxic chemicals.....The examples of developmental neurotoxic chemicals that we list here likely represent the tip of the iceberg....Only a minority of chemicals has been evaluated for neurotoxic effects in adults. Even fewer have been evaluated for potential effects on brain development in children (Grandjean and Landrigan 2006, 2014). Further, toxicological studies and regulatory evaluation seldom address combined effects of chemical mixtures, despite evidence that all people are exposed to dozens of chemicals at any given time.

Some chemicals, like those that disrupt the endocrine system, present a concern because they interfere with the activity of endogenous hormones that are essential for healthy brain development. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) include many pesticides, flame retardants, fuels, and plasticizers. One class of EDCs that is ubiquitous in consumer products are the phthalates. These are an emerging concern for interference with brain development and therefore demand attention.

Under our current system, when a toxic chemical or category of chemicals is finally removed from the market, chemical manufacturers often substitute similar chemicals that may pose similar concerns or be virtually untested for toxicity. This practice can result in “regrettable substitution” whereby the cycle of exposures and adverse effects starts all over again. The following list provides examples of this cycle: When the federal government banned some uses of OP pesticides, manufacturers responded by expanding the use of neonicotinoid and pyrethroid pesticides. Evidence is emerging that these widely used classes of pesticides pose a threat to the developing brain (Kara et al. 2015; Richardson et al. 2015; Shelton et al. 2014). 

When the U.S. Government reached a voluntary agreement with flame retardant manufacturers to stop making PBDEs, the manufacturers substituted other halogenated and organophosphate flame retardant chemicals. Many of these replacement flame retardants are similar in structure to other neurotoxic chemicals but have not undergone adequate assessment of their effects on developing brains. When the federal government banned some phthalates in children’s products, the chemical industry responded by replacing the banned chemicals with structurally similar new phthalates. These replacements are now under investigation for disrupting the endocrine system.

 A recent study found that school age children with higher levels of BPA in their bodies were more likely to have an ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)  diagnosis. BPA or Bisphenol A is everywhere (in plastics, linings of cans, etc), found in varying levels in almost everyone, but at least it is eliminated fairly rapidly from the body. So trying to avoid BPA (e.g., buying and storing food in glass containers rather than cans or plastic containers) can quickly lower levels in the body. From Environmental Health News:

Hyperactivity in children linked to plastic additive, BPA

Children in the U.S. with higher levels of BPA in their bodies were more likely to have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), according to a study. The study of 460 children across the U.S. aged 8 to 15 years old found that 11 percent of those with BPA levels higher than the median level had ADHD. In contrast, 3 percent of those children with BPA levels below the median had ADHD. The research, published online last week in the Environment Research journal, adds to evidence that children’s BPA exposure may alter brain development and lead to behavior problems such as reduced attention and hyperactivity. 

The association was stronger for boys than girls, which reflects broader ADHD rates. Nationally about 10 percent of children between 5 and 17 have had an ADHD diagnoses, with boys having a much higher rate at 14 percent. By comparison about 6 percent of girls have the disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.....BPA mimics estrogen hormones.The sexes use hormones differently to influence brain function.

BPA—used to make plastic hard and shatterproof and to extend the shelf life of canned food—can leach out of can linings and into the food. Studies show that just about everyone has traces of the chemical in their body—for instance, 97 percent of the children in this study had BPA in their urine. The additive has been linked to multiple health impacts in exposed babies and children—including obesity, asthma, low birth weights and genital defects.

A 2014 study on prenatal exposure to BPA found higher levels meant more behavior problems for school-age boys. Evans, lead author of that study, said prenatal exposure to chemicals is a “window of high susceptibility,” but so are the childhood years. The brain keeps developing into the 20s. Research specifically looking at ADHD and BPA exposure has been mixed, with some finding a link and some not. Most of the previous studies, however, have been on children younger than 8 years old, and ADHD and its symptoms are often realized later than that.

Animal studies show that BPA may alter the body’s dopamine—a chemical messenger that helps people think and stay alert and focused. “Dopamine systems are modulated by estrogen and BPA is a synthetic estrogen,” Froehlich said. There are also suggestions that BPA can interact with thyroid hormones—“critical in normal brain development,” Evans said.

 More and more negative news about phthalates: men with greater exposure to DEHP (a phthalate) have lower sperm motility (how the sperm move or their ability to swim), and pregnant women with higher levels of phthalates have a higher rate of pregnancy loss (miscarriages - mainly between 5 and 13 weeks of pregnancy). Phthalates are found in many plastics, are thought to be endocrine disruptors, and can be measured in urineFrom Medical Xpress: Lower sperm motility in men exposed to common chemical

Men with higher exposure to the substance DEHP, a so-called phthalate, have lower sperm motility and may therefore experience more difficulties conceiving children, according to a Lund University study. Phthalates is an umbrella term for a group of substances based on phthalic acid, some of which are suspected to be endocrine disruptors. Many phthalates are found in soft plastics in our daily surroundings.... Since phthalate molecules leak out of plastics, we are exposed to it daily and absorb the chemicals through food, drink, skin contact and inhalation. 

"We have studied metabolite levels of the phthalate DEHP (diethylhexyl phthalate) in urine as an indicator of exposure, as well as the semen quality of 300 men between the ages of 18 and 20. The results show that the higher metabolite levels the men had, the lower their sperm motility was", says Jonatan Axelsson, researcher at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, Lund University. For the one quarter of the men with the lowest levels of exposure, 57 per cent of the sperm cells were moving forward, compared to 46 per cent for the quarter of the men with the highest levels of exposure.

As previous research has reported that there is a linear connection also between sperm motility and chances of becoming pregnant, the findings could indicate that the more exposed one is to DEHP, the smaller the chances are of having children.

From Medical Xpress:  Exposure to phthalates could be linked to pregnancy loss

A new study of more than 300 women suggests that exposure to certain phthalates—substances commonly used in food packaging, personal-care and other everyday products—could be associated with miscarriage, mostly between 5 and 13 weeks of pregnancy

Out of concern over the potential health effects of phthalates, the U.S. has banned six of these substances from use in certain products made for young children. But many are still included as ingredients in paints, medical tubes, vinyl flooring, soaps, shampoos and other items. Research on phthalates has shown that long-term exposure to low levels of the some of these compounds harms lab animals' health and can increase their risk for pregnancy loss. Additionally, at least one study found that female factory workers exposed to high levels of phthalates through their work were at a higher risk for miscarriage.

The researchers tested urine samples from 132 women who had miscarriages and 172 healthy pregnant women in China. They found pregnancy loss was associated with higher levels of urinary phthalate metabolites from diethyl phthalate (DEP), di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) and di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP). Although this doesn't prove that phthalates cause pregnancy loss, the study suggests an association exists that the researchers say should be studied further.

1

  Several people have recently asked me whether scented candles have any health effects. The answer is a big YES - they have many negative health effects, and so do other scented products such as air fresheners and dryer sheets (e,g, Bounce). All of them contain fragrances and other chemicals - all from petrochemicals (which means they are chemical products derived from petroleum). And yes - all 3 products are totally unnecessary, so ditch them for better health. View all of them as sources of indoor air pollution.

Most of the candles on the market are made with paraffin wax, derived from petroleum, and scented with synthetic fragrances, also derived from petroleum. Synthetic fragrances typically also contain phthalates that can interfere with your hormone system (endocrine disruptors).

In one study scientists at the South Carolina State University lit several brands of candles made of paraffin – the most common and inexpensive candle wax – as well as soy candles (thus vegetable based) and burned them for 5 to 6 hours in a chamber. All of the candles were unscented and undyed. They found that the paraffin candle smoke emits varying levels of pollutants, including benzene, toluene and ketones, as well as hydrocarbon chemicals called alkanes and alkenes, which are components of gasoline. They have been linked to cancer, asthma and birth defects. None of the vegetable-based soy candles produced toxic chemicals. From SC State University:  Frequent use of certain candles produces unwanted chemicals

Researchers point out that the emissions from burning an occasional paraffin candle will not likely cause health problems - it's the frequent lighting of scented paraffin candles in indoor rooms, and inhaling the pollutants in the air that may cause health problems, or as Dr. Massoudi of S. Carolina State University stated: "could contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, common allergies and even asthma."

Scented candles are known to release various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including both pleasant aromas and toxic components both before lighting (unlit) and when lit. When lit, the "highest emission concentration" was of formaldehydeCharacterization of hazardous and odorous volatiles emitted from scented candles before lighting and when lit

By simply touching the candles, one absorbs chemicals through the skin.  Skin contact transfer of three fragrance residues from candles to human hands.

Safe candle alternatives are beeswax candles and unscented soy candles. These do not emit toxic chemicals when burned. However, all burning candles emit soot, which is ultrafine, lung-damaging particulate matter that's capable of penetrating deep into the lungs.

From Huffington Post: The Big Problem With Scented Candles

Scented candles are one of the easiest and most effective ways to mask unpleasant odors in your home....But one of the main problems with scented candles is the scent itself. According to Anne Steinemann, an environmental pollutants expert who is a professor of civil engineering and the chair of sustainable cities at the University of Melbourne, certain candles may emit numerous types of potentially hazardous chemicals, such as benzene and toluene. They can cause damage to the brain, lung and central nervous system, as well as cause developmental difficulties.

"I have heard from numerous people who have asthma that they can’t even go into a store if the store sells scented candles, even if they aren’t being burned," Steinemann added. "They emit so much fragrance that they can trigger asthma attacks and even migraines."

Researchers at South Carolina State University tested both petroleum-based paraffin wax candles and vegetable-based candles that were non-scented, non-pigmented and free of dyes. Their 2009 report concluded that while the vegetable-based candles didn't produce any potentially harmful pollutants, the paraffin candles "released unwanted chemicals into the air," said chemistry professor Ruhullah Massoudi in a statement.

It may be shocking to think that your favorite candles could potentially be bad for you, and made worse by added fragrances. Steinemann said for some people, the effects are "immediate, acute and severe," while others may not realize they are being effected until they gradually develop health issues.

Though the risk to you may be small, there are alternatives. Steinemann suggests going the unscented route, avoiding "even those with essential oils, as they can potentially have hazardous chemicals," she said. "It's almost like air fresheners with the fragrance just sitting there ... permeating surfaces in the room."

A recent report found that when a person is exposed to a little bit (or low doses) of a lot of different commonly encountered chemicals, than the combinations over time may cause changes that increase the risk of cancer (they may initiate cancer). Think about it - we are not exposed to just one chemical at a time (which is how chemicals are tested), but to mixtures or a "chemical soup". It is almost impossible to avoid them. As one of the researchers said: "We urgently need to focus more resources to research the effect of low dose exposure to mixtures of chemicals in the food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink." Testing mixtures of chemicals is currently not required by law.

The effects may be synergistic  - an enhanced effect that is more than the sum of the individual chemicals. And some chemicals may have bigger effects at smaller doses (typical of endocrine or hormone disruptors), than at larger doses - which is not how chemicals are typically viewed (typical view: the more you are exposed to a chemical, the greater the effect). A global task force of 174 scientists looked at 85 common everyday chemicals (at everyday low doses), and 50 were found to support cancer-related mechanisms (processes essential to cancer development). Examples of problematic chemicals that are common in everyday life: triclosan (in many soaps and personal care products), bisphenol A (in many plastics, including can linings), and atrazine (common herbicide or weedkiller). From the LA Times:

Combinations of 'safe' chemicals may increase cancer risk, study suggests

Lots of chemicals are considered safe in low doses. But what happens when you ingest a little bit of a lot of different chemicals over time? In some cases, these combinations may conspire to increase your risk of cancer, according to a new report. “Many [chemicals] have the possibility, when they are combined, to cause the initiation of cancer,” said Hemad Yasaei, a cancer biologist at Brunel University in England, one of the authors of the report. “They could have a synergistic or enhanced effect.”

This is not the way regulators typically think about cancer risk when they evaluate a compound’s safety.Normally, they test an individual chemical on laboratory animals, exposing them to progressively smaller amounts until it no longer causes malignant tumors to grow. Then they take that dose, determine the equivalent for humans, and apply what is called a “margin of safety” by declaring that some small fraction of that low dose is safe for people.

The big assumption driving the margin of safety is that a smaller amount of a chemical is less dangerous than a larger amount. (Think of the familiar axiom, “The dose makes the poison.”) But that’s not true for all chemicals, experts say. Some chemicals, such as those that mimic hormones, may actually be more dangerous at lower doses because the human body is exquisitely attuned to respond to minute amounts of natural hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.

And regulators haven’t required testing of mixtures of chemicals at all...Leroy Lowe, president of Canadian nonprofit Getting to Know Cancer and leader of the report published this week by the journal Carcinogenesis. The new report raises questions about whether this approach is adequate...Humans are exposed to about 80,000 man-made chemicals over their lifetimes, experts say. These chemicals are in the foods we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. "We live in a chemical soup,” said toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, who was not involved in the new study.

The research team — a coalition of 174 researchers from 28 countries — set out to determine whether mixtures of these chemicals, at the very tiny concentrations found in the environment, could plausibly trigger the formation of cancerous tumors. They focused on 85 particular chemicals that were impossible to avoid in modern life, that were likely to disturb biological function and were not thought to pose cancer risks at the very low doses that people tend to ingest them.

The researchers scoured the scientific literature to understand how each of these chemicals could affect 10 important processes that are essential to cancer development. Among them: tumor-promoting inflammation, resistance to cell death and the formation of new blood vessels to feed malignant cells. In addition, they categorized whether each of the chemicals exerted biological effects at very low doses to which humans are ubiquitously exposed. (These doses are so small that they tend to be measured in parts per million or parts per billion.)
Of the 85 chemicals researchers examined, 50 were found to affect cancer-causing processes in the body, even at very low doses.

These 50 everyday chemicals included bisphenol A (used in manufacturing plastics), triclosan (often found in hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap) and atrazine (a commonly used herbicide). Since each of these chemicals affects different processes that could lead to cancer — bisphenol A makes cells less sensitive to signals to stop reproducing, for example, while atrazine encourages inflammation — it’s plausible that consuming mixtures of these chemicals is riskier than consuming any one individually.

More details about this report. From Science Daily: Cocktail of common chemicals may trigger cancer

The bottom line is to read the ingredients list on products, and avoid all products labeled "antimicrobial" or "antibacterial" (because those are the ones typically containing triclosan and triclorocarban). Over 2000 products contain antibacterial compounds. I've even seen them in pillows, pillow protectors, mattress pads, dish racks, toys, and blankets! As we know from the latest microbiology research, we need to cultivate a healthy microbiome, and not throw it out of whack by continuously trying to kill off all bacteria. From The Atlantic:

It's Probably Best to Avoid Antibacterial Soaps

Antimicrobial chemicals are so ubiquitous that a recent study found them in pregnant mothers' urine and newborns' cord blood. Research shows that their risks may outweigh their benefits.

Antimicrobial chemicals, intended to kill bacteria and other microorganisms, are commonly found in not just soaps, but all kinds of products—toothpaste, cosmetics, and plastics among them. There is evidence that the chemicals aren’t always effective, and may even be harmful, and their ubiquity means people are often continually exposed to them. One such chemical, triclosan, has previously been found in many human bodily fluids. New research found traces of triclosan, triclocarban, and butyl paraben in the urine of pregnant women, and the cord blood of newborn infants. 

The research looked at the same population of 180 expectant mothers living in Brooklyn, New York, most of Puerto Rican descent. In a study published last week in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from Arizona State University and State University of New York’s Downstate School of Public Health found triclosan in 100 percent of the women’s urine samples, and triclocarban in 87 percent of the samples. Of the 33 cord blood samples they looked at, 46 percent contained triclosan and 23 percent contained triclocarban.

In another, still-unpublished study, the researchers found that all of the cord blood samples contained “at least one paraben,” according to Dr. Rolf Halden, director of ASU’s Center for Environmental Security. 

Triclosan and triclocarban are endocrine disruptors, Halden explains. The risk there is that the chemicals can mimic thyroid hormones, potentially disrupting the metabolism and causing weight gain or weight loss. Previous research has also shown a connection between higher levels of triclosan in urine, and allergy diagnoses in children.

In the study looking at butyl paraben, the researchers found an association between higher exposure to the chemical, and a smaller head circumference and length of babies after they were born. Butyl paraben is used as a preservative, so it’s found in a wider breadth of products, according to Halden.

From Science News: Pregnant women, fetuses exposed to antibacterial compounds face potential health risks 


As the Food and Drug Administration mulls over whether to rein in the use of common antibacterial compounds that are causing growing concern among environmental health experts, scientists are reporting that many pregnant women and their fetuses are being exposed to these substances. The compounds are used in more than 2,000 everyday products marketed as antimicrobial, including toothpastes, soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, school supplies and toys, the researchers say.

The problem with this, explains Pycke, a research scientist at Arizona State University (ASU), is that there is a growing body of evidence showing that the compounds can lead to developmental and reproductive problems in animals and potentially in humans. Also, some research suggests that the additives could contribute to antibiotic resistance, a growing public health problem.

Although the human body is efficient at flushing out triclosan and triclocarban, a person's exposure to them can potentially be constant. "If you cut off the source of exposure, eventually triclosan and triclocarban would quickly be diluted out, but the truth is that we have universal use of these chemicals, and therefore also universal exposure," says Rolf Halden, Ph.D., the lead investigator of the study at ASU.