By Dr. Mercola
It can no longer be denied that environmental chemicals are having a significant impact on human health, and that impact even starts while you’re still in the womb.
New research has revealed that exposure while in the womb to DDT, a pesticide banned in 1972 after close to 30 years of use, increases women’s risk of high blood pressure decades later.
In Utero DDT Exposure More Than Triples High Blood Pressure Risk
Like many environmental toxins, DDT passes freely through the placenta during pregnancy, where it gains direct access to the developing fetus. Past studies have linked DDT to high blood pressure, decreased fertility, premature delivery and diabetes in adults, but this is the first study to reveal its health risks when exposure occurs prenatally.
The research revealed that women exposed to the most DDT before birth were 2.5 to 3.6 times more likely to develop high blood pressure before the age of 50 than those with the lowest prenatal exposure.1
Although DDT has been banned in the US for decades, it still persists in the environment, including in the food chain. And that is just one chemical that babies are exposed to before birth …When the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested blood samples from newborns, they found an average of 200 toxins,2 including:
- 180 that cause cancer in humans or animals
- 217 that are toxic to your brain and nervous system
- 208 that cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests
“The dangers of pre- or post-natal exposure to this complex mixture of carcinogens, developmental toxins and neurotoxins have never been studied,” EWG wrote, but as the featured study revealed, we may now be seeing a rise in human health problems that began during the most crucial stages of early development.
Babies are Especially Vulnerable to Toxic Exposures
No one knows what happens when a developing fetus or young child is exposed to hundreds of chemicals, but we’ll likely be finding out whether we like it or not, as this is occurring daily.
What is known, however, is that children experience greater exposure to chemicals pound-for-pound than adults, and though the blood-brain barrier is fully formed at birth,3 its function may be immature, which may allow 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, allowing more than enough time for chemicals to do their damage, signals a major challenge for kids born today.
Experts believe rising rates of birth defects, asthma, neurodevelopmental disorders and other serious diseases in US children are a result of these early chemical exposures, and now it appears high blood pressure in adulthood may also have some of its roots in prenatal exposure to xenobiotic chemicals.
Exposures to Toxins as a Fetus May Lead to Adult Diseases
A typical American comes in regular contact with some 6,000 chemicals and an untold number of potentially toxic substances on a less frequent basis. There are approximately 75,000 chemicals regularly manufactured and imported by US industries, so you could be exposed to any number of them. Disturbingly, most of them have never been adequately tested for safety for adults, let alone their impacts on the most vulnerable among us, our children.
It’s becoming alarmingly clear, however, that early life exposure to a slew of chemicals is changing the health of humankind and is likely instrumental in the rising rates of chronic diseases we’re seeing among developed countries. EWG explained:4
“Some chemicals are directly toxic to an exposed child — lead and mercury, for example, which harm a developing brain — while other chemicals induce a chain of events that may culminate in a diagnosed health problem later in life. Hormone-mimicking chemicals like dioxins and furans, for example, could induce delayed cancers in hormone-sensitive tissues like the breast, testicle, or prostate gland.
Chemicals like PCBs or DDT can reduce growth rates in the womb, initiating in low birthweight babies lasting, internal survival mechanisms that cascade into cardiovascular disease or diabetes later in life.
The fact is, a child can bear a lifelong imprint of risks from the countless molecules of industrial pollutants that find their way through the placenta, down the umbilical cord, and into the baby's body. The consequences — health disorders, subtle or serious — can surface not only in childhood but also in adulthood. Studies now support origins in early life exposures for a startling array of adult diseases, including Alzheimer’s, mental disorders, heart disease, and diabetes.”
Chemical Exposures That Occur Now Can Impact Multiple Future Generations
What is perhaps even more shocking is that toxins you’re exposed to while in your mother’s womb can end up impacting the health of your great-grandchildren through inherited epigenetic changes. So not only are environmental chemicals potentially jeopardizing the health of your children, they’re jeopardizing the health of multiple future generations. EWG continued:
“ … Early life [chemical] exposures can lead to health problems not only in adulthood, but also down through subsequent generations. For instance, adult diseases linked to newborns' low birth weight … cause adverse effects not only in those babies born small, but also in their children of any birth size, through heritable changes in gene expression that result in a phenomenon known as "epigenetic inheritance." Very different from genetic mutations, which are physical changes in gene structure, epigenetic inheritance is instead characterized by certain genes being turned on or off, but near permanently in ways that can be inherited.
If a genetic mutation is like changing a light fixture, the comparable epigenetic change would involve taping the light switch on or off. Since genes are responsible for making the chemicals that build and repair the body, this unnatural forcing to a permanent on or off position can have far-reaching consequences. In humans, both kinds of genetic changes, mutations as well as epigenetic changes in gene expression, can be passed down to a baby in the womb.”
Minimizing Your Toxic Exposures Prior to Pregnancy is Crucial
While you make the switch to remove and reduce chemicals around your home, remember that one of the ways to significantly reduce your toxic load is to pay careful attention to what you eat. Organically-grown, biodynamic whole foods are really the key to success here, and, as an added bonus, when you eat properly; you're also optimizing your body's natural detoxification system, which can help eliminate toxins your body encounters from other sources. It’s important to reduce your chemical exposures and encourage detoxification before you become pregnant in order to protect your future children from your body’s toxic load. Rather than compile an endless list of what you should avoid, it's far easier to focus on what you should do to lead a healthy lifestyle with as minimal a chemical exposure as possible:
- As much as possible, purchase organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers.
- Rather than using conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid artificial food additives, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG. Freshly grown sprouts are particularly nutritious, especially sunflower and pea sprouts.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap and canned foods (which are often lined with BPA-and now BPS-containing liners).
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great database5 to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- 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 a glass shower door. Most flexible plastics, like shower curtains, contain dangerous plasticizers like phthalates.
- 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.