By Dr. Mercola
Organophosphate pesticides are known for their hazards to human health. Prenatal exposure, for example, has been linked to delayed brain development, reduced IQ, and attention deficits.1
As a result, pyrethroids2—synthetic chemicals derived from natural chemicals found in chrysanthemums—have risen in popularity over the past decade. There are currently more than 3,500 commercial products containing this insecticide. This includes items like roach sprays, flea bombs, and dog flea or tick collars and medicated shampoos.
Pyrethroids are well-known to be highly toxic to cats, and the most frequent reason for pyrethroid poisoning in cats is the incorrect and unadvised application of dog flea or tick medication.
You can identify pyrethroids in any given product by reading the label. Compounds that end in "thrin," such as bifenthrin, permethrin and cypermethrin, are all pyrethroids. Alas, switching to pyrethroids may not have been the wisest move. Animal studies suggest it causes neurological, immune, and reproductive damage. And, as usual, the human health effects are still largely unknown, despite its widespread use.
Now, Canadian research suggests pyrethroids may be associated with behavior problems in children. As reported by Scientific American:3
"The findings raise some questions about the safety of the compounds, which have replaced other insecticides with known risks to children's brain development.
Exposure to pyrethroids, which kill insects by interfering with their nervous systems, is widespread because they are used inside homes and schools, in municipal mosquito control and on farms."
Common Insecticide May Have Adverse Effects on Your Child's Development
The study4 in question tested urine samples from 779 Canadian children, aged 6-11, and the parents answered questions relating to their child's behavior. Shockingly, even at that tender young age, 97 percent of the children had pyrethroid breakdown products in their urine. Ninety-one percent also had traces of organophosphate pesticides.
"A 10-fold increase in urinary levels of one pyrethroid breakdown product, cis-DCCA, was associated with a doubling in the odds of a child scoring high for parent-reported behavioral problems, such as inattention and hyperactivity," the featured article reports.
A previous study found that toddlers who had been exposed to pyrethroids while in utero had lower development scores compared to unexposed children. According to a 2006 EPA review, animal research has also shown that even low levels of some of these compounds have an adverse effect on:5
Nervous system development
Some pyrethroids act as endocrine disruptors by mimicking estrogen. Such hormone-disrupting chemicals can raise your levels of estrogen, thereby promoting the growth of estrogen-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer.
As stated by Dana Boyd Barr, a research professor of environmental health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta:6 "Pyrethroids are obviously a safer alternative to organophosphates, but just because they are safer doesn't mean they are safe."
Are You Using This Toxic Bug Spray On or Near Your Kids?
Permethrin—a member of the synthetic pyrethroid family—can also be found in many commercial bug sprays. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), permethrin is carcinogenic,7 capable of causing lung tumors, liver tumors, immune system problems, and chromosomal abnormalities. Permethrin is also damaging to the environment, and it is particularly toxic to bees and aquatic life.
Despite that, approximately 2 million pounds of permethrin are applied to agricultural, residential and public sites each year. The majority, about 70 percent, is applied in non-agricultural settings; more than 40 percent of it is applied by homeowners in residential areas, so there's plenty of room for individuals to take personal control over this chemical exposure.
While it may be tempting to douse your kids with bug spray in order to prevent bugs from biting them, there are plenty of other tricks that can keep bugs at bay that don't involve the application of neurotoxic and potentially carcinogenic chemicals.
Simple Preventative Measures to Avoid Mosquito Bites
Mosquitoes are probably the most pervasive when it comes to biting bugs. You can avoid most assaults by staying inside around dawn and dusk, which is when they are most active. If you must be out during those times, wear light-colored, long sleeved shirts and long pants, hats and socks.
Mosquitoes are also thicker in shrubby areas and near standing water. Body temperature and skin chemicals like lactic acid also attract mosquitoes, so trying to stay as cool and dry as possible may also help to some degree.
The American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA) has a helpful factsheet8 of things you can do to prevent mosquito breeding on your property. The Three D's of protection from mosquitoes are:
- Drain—Mosquitoes require water in which to breed, so carefully drain any and all sources of standing water around your house and yard, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths and so on
- Dress—Light colored, loose fitting clothing offer the greatest protection
- Defend—Again, I recommend avoiding most chemical repellents, especially those containing DEET or permethrin. (The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently released an extensive review of bug repellants, and virtually all of them are associated with health hazards.9) Instead, try some of the natural alternatives suggested in this article
Besides draining all sources of standing water and dressing appropriately, the following ideas can help reduce the mosquito population around your yard:
- Add some bat boxes: Bat houses are becoming increasingly popular since bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes. For more on buying a bat house or constructing one yourself, visit the Organization for Bat Conservation10.
- Plant marigolds: Planting marigolds around your yard works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that bugs do not like. This is a great way to ward off mosquitoes without using chemical insecticides.
- Blow 'em away: As a last minute fix, a simple house fan can help keep mosquitoes at bay if you're having a get-together in your backyard.
DIY Bug Repellants
Your diet may have something to do with your popularity with the mosquitoes. To reduce your attractiveness, you may want to forgo bananas during mosquito season. According to alternative health nutritionist Dr. Janet Starr Hull,11 "there's something about how your body processes the banana oil that attracts these female sugar-loving insects." She also recommends supplementing with one vitamin B-1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 mg of B-1 to a B-100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes.
Regularly consuming garlic or garlic capsules may also help protect against both mosquito and tick bites. Bear in mind, the best way to avoid ticks is to make sure you tuck your pants into your socks and wear closed shoes and a hat—especially if venturing out into wooded areas. You can also make your own mosquito repellent using any of the following:
- Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET)
- Clear vanilla oil mixed with olive oil
- Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100% pure citronella oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market
- Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET12)
Another option is to use the safe solution I formulated to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects. It's a natural insect repellant with a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, and vanillin. An independent study showed it was more effective than a product containing 100 percent DEET. And it's safe for you, your children, and your pets.
Safer Alternatives for Ant, Roach, Lice and Flea Control
With mosquito control out of the way, what about other pesky bugs? Not to worry, there are safer alternatives for most infestations. For example:
- Knock out roaches, ants and termites with boric acid powder. Sprinkle some in the inner corners of your cabinets and in the corners under your cabinets. Pests will carry it back to their nests on their feet and kill the remainder of the infestation. Boric acid is generally non-toxic for animals, but you'd still be well-advised to place it in areas where your pet will not ingest or inhale it, as it kills bugs by causing dehydration.
- Treat head lice with an old-fashioned nit comb and essential oils of anise and ylang ylang, combined into a spray. This has been found to be highly effective in eliminating over 90 percent of head lice.
- Control your pet's fleas and ticks with safe, natural pest repellents, such as:
- Cedar oil
- Natural, food-grade diatomaceous earth
- Fresh garlic -- work with your holistic vet to determine a safe amount for your pet's body weight
- Feeding your pet a balanced, species-appropriate diet. The healthier your dog or cat is, the less appealing she'll be to parasites. A biologically appropriate diet supports a strong immune system.
- Bathing and brushing your pet regularly and performing frequent full-body inspections to check for parasite activity.