A new study marks the first time that the number of chemicals to which pregnant women are exposed has been counted.
Researchers analyzed data for more than 160 chemicals and detected polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), phenols, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and perchlorate in 99 to 100 percent of pregnant women.
Science Daily reports:
"Among the chemicals found in the study group were PBDEs, compounds used as flame retardants now banned in many states including California, and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), an organochlorine pesticide banned in the United States in 1972."
About 75,000 chemicals are regularly manufactured and imported by U.S. industries, 3,000 of which are high-volume chemicals, meaning over 1 million pounds per year are produced. These chemicals exist in your food, your water, your air, your personal care products, your home and your office …
In short, chemicals are virtually everywhere, and we're all exposed, pregnant women being no exception. It's disturbing to know that humans are being bombarded with toxins at all, but it's even more concerning when it's revealed just how extensive the exposure is to those carrying our most precious cargo.
Virtually All Pregnant Women are Walking Chemical Cocktails
The new study analyzed data for 163 chemicals and detected a veritable chemical cocktail in 99-100 percent of pregnant women. This included:
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): An industrial chemical linked to cancer and impaired fetal brain development that has been banned in the United States for decades, yet is a persistent organic pollutant that's still present in your environment.
- Organochlorine pesticides: These are primarily insecticides and include the now-banned toxin DDT. Residues are common in U.S. food supplies, even for those chemicals that have been banned for decades. These toxins break down slowly and build up in our fatty tissues where they remain in the body for long periods of time.
They've been linked to cancer, neurological damage, Parkinson's disease, birth defects, respiratory illness, and abnormal immune system function. Many are also known hormone disrupters that cmay lead to reproductive and immune system damage to the developing fetus.
- Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs): PFOS and PFOA, a chemical used to make non-stick cookware (Teflon, etc.), has been linked to lower birth weights among newborns.
In one study of the blood of 300 newborns, the higher the infants' level of exposure to PFOA, the lower their birth weight and head size. The Environmental Protection Agency later made a statement, based on a risk assessment study done on animals, that exposure to PFOA creates a potential risk of developmental and other adverse effects.
- Phenols: Used in personal care products and household detergents, studies have linked phenols to damage to your respiratory and circulatory systems, heart damage, respiratory problems, and damage to your liver, kidneys and eyes. They're also known endocrine disrupters that can harm your endocrine system, reproduction and fertility.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): These flame retardant chemicals are used in televisions, computers, toasters, sofas and countless other household goods. Not only do they disrupt mechanisms that are responsible for releasing hormones in the body, but PBDEs also alter calcium signaling in the brain, which is a critical mechanism for learning and memory.
- Phthalates: A potent endocrine disrupter, exposure to phthalates can lead to incomplete testicular descent in fetuses. Phthalates are found in vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish, plastic bags, food packaging, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage bags, and intravenous medical tubing.
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): This group of highly carcinogenic chemicals are released when certain substances, like garbage and gasoline, are burned.
- Perchlorate: Perchlorates are salts derived from perchloric acid, which are used in the defense- and pyrotechnics industries. The military has used perchlorate since the early 1900's, and it's a component of solid rocket fuel, among other things.
Unfortunately, most perchlorate salts are water soluble, and we're now experiencing widespread land and water contamination in many areas of the world. Perchlorate is known to disrupt thyroid function and hormone production by inhibiting your thyroid gland's iodine uptake. At high doses perchlorates may affect fetal development, so the mother's toxic load can place an unborn child at risk.
In addition, the plastics chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disrupter that can lead to chromosomal errors in the developing fetus, triggering spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage, was found in 96 percent of the pregnant women tested.
Developing Babies and Children at Risk from Mom's Chemical Exposures
No one knows what health toll exposure to the toxic chemical cocktail listed above will cause to an adult, let alone a developing baby. Unfortunately, it is our future generations who will likely pay the heftiest price for this lack of safety concern, as an embryo and fetus develop at a much faster rate than adults.
While this development occurs, cell division and growth is rapid -- and these rapid changes provide many opportunities for mistakes to occur.
If a baby is exposed to numerous toxic compounds in utero, changes may occur that either directly cause cancer, or lengthen the period of sensitivity to carcinogens, therefore making the child more susceptible to cancer, and other diseases, later in life. Many of these chemicals also damage other body systems that can impact development, reproduction, brain function, immune system function and more.
Chronic childhood diseases linked to exposure to toxic chemicals in the environment have been surging upward for years, and experts believe rising rates of birth defects, asthma, neuro-developmental disorders and other serious diseases in U.S. children are a result of these early chemical exposures.
It is also directly a result of the mother's toxic load that newborn babies are being born "toxic." One study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that blood samples from newborns contained an average of 287 toxins, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides, and Teflon chemicals.
Devastating Effects from Chemical Exposure During "Critical Windows" of Development
The exposure to these chemicals during the "critical windows" of development could be catastrophic. As EWG reported in their Body Burden 2 report:
"A recent review by government scientists of the "critical windows" of vulnerability reveals an urgent need for public health policies that recognize childhood sensitivity.
Many of these windows of vulnerability are found in the early months of human pregnancies, when cells are multiplying and differentiating into specific tissues and organs. Exposures during these times can lead to permanent damage.
But a child's vulnerability continues long beyond early pregnancy: the central nervous system, immune, reproductive and endocrine systems, for example, continue to mature even after birth. As a whole, these windows facilitate more pronounced risks and effects for chemical exposures in childhood than adulthood.
For example, a mother's exposure to dioxins, mercury, or certain pesticides during pregnancy could measurably harm her baby, while affecting her own health perhaps not at all."
Again, the damage occurs both during pregnancy and after. As EWG reported, in the month leading up to birth, the umbilical cord transfers the equivalent of at least 300 quarts of blood from the placenta to the developing child -- and this blood will contain a toxic load of chemicals similar to those found in the mother.
After birth, children experience greater exposure to chemicals pound-for-pound than adults, and have an immature and porous blood-brain barrier, which allows greater chemical exposures to reach their developing brain.
Children also have lower levels of some chemical-binding proteins, according to EWG, which allows more of a chemical to reach their organs, while systems that detoxify and excrete chemicals in adults are not fully developed. These factors, coupled with the fact that a child will be around for 80 years or more, allows more than enough time for chemicals to do their damage and signals a major challenge for kids born today.
How Can You Best Lower Your Toxic Load?
If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, you will want to pay particular attention to reducing your chemical exposure as much as possible. Here's a starter list of practical measures you can take to protect yourself and your children from common toxic substances:
- Store your food in glass containers whenever possible, as it is the most inert container you can use.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home. Most health food stores will have these available or you can search online for them.
- Buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides, GMOs and fertilizers. This also applies to milk, which is frequently contaminated with bovine growth hormone.
- Avoid conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury. Instead, supplement with a high-quality krill oil to get your beneficial omega-3 fats.
- Avoid processed foods, and artificial food additives of all kinds, including artificial sweeteners and MSG.
- Throw out your Teflon pots and pans and instead use safer materials like ceramic and glass.
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (including those in your shower or bath).
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Switch to natural brands of toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. Skin care products are notorious for containing a slew of dangerous chemicals, which was the major reason for creating my own USDA Certified Organic skin care line.
- When redoing your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric or install glass shower doors.
- Limit your use of drugs (prescription and over-the-counter) as much as possible. Drugs are chemicals too, and they will leave residues and accumulate in your body over time.
- Avoid spraying pesticides around your home or insect repellants that contain DEET on your body. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there.
Finally, I encourage everyone with children or grandchildren to review Theo Colburn's Our Stolen Future, which is one of the BEST resources on this topic.