Even Low Levels of Common Toxins May Be Harmful

fillinggastankEvery day, no matter where you live or what you do, your body is exposed to small amounts of toxic chemicals—and not just from outdoor air pollution. Countless toxins make their way indoors as we come and go, but some are there already, hiding in everyday items like appliances, furniture, and toys. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) such low-level exposure is not dangerous to our health, but a new report suggests otherwise.

Researchers from the University of Colorado and the Endocrine Disruption Exchange recently examined more than three dozen studies focusing on four volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in particular: benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene—commonly referred to as BTEX. In addition to their use in many consumer products, BTEX are found in gasoline and diesel fuel. The four chemicals are ever present in our environment, yet we don’t notice because they are odorless at low levels. As it turns out, those low levels may not be as safe as we thought.

In looking at the data collected, lead author Ashley Bolden and her team found that in many cases, indoor levels of BTEX were significantly higher than outdoor levels, and that even so-called “ambient levels” of these chemicals were associated with hormonal changes that can significantly impact human health. Specifically, researchers were able to link ambient level BTEX exposure to the following:

  • Developmental effects (such as low birth weight in babies);
  • Reproductive effects (such as lower sperm count and motility in males);
  • Immune system effects (including allergies and a decrease in white blood cells);
  • Effects on respiratory function (including an increased risk of asthma and pulmonary inflammation); and
  • Effects on metabolic function.

Should we be concerned? Yes, says Bolden, especially since Americans spend the majority of their time indoors. However, the solution may be as simple as improving building ventilation standards to decrease exposure and lessen the potential health risks. The report, published in a recent issue of Environmental Science & Technology, even caught the attention of officials at the EPA, who plan to review the findings.

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Expectant Moms Not Getting Enough Omega-3s

woman_holding_babyOmega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA provide a variety of health benefits for expectant mothers, including promoting healthy brain and eye development in their babies. The problem, say researchers in Canada, is that women who are pregnant and nursing simply aren’t eating enough of these healthy fats.

Using data from the long-term Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APRON) study, scientists from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary were able to determine recently that less than 30 percent of pregnant women and only a quarter of new mothers are consuming the daily amount of Omega-3s recommended by leading health experts—typically at least 500 mg total Omega-3 fats, including at least 200 mg of DHA.

The ongoing study involves more than 2,000 women and centers on the relationship between maternal nutrition and healthy child development. For this particular research, scientists focused on just under a third of the participants and found that regardless of income, location, and other factors, the majority of women failed to get enough beneficial Omega-3s in their diets. When they did consume the beneficial fats, they came mostly from seafood—salmon in particular.

Interestingly, pregnant and nursing women who reported taking a DHA fish oil supplement were up to 11 percent more likely to meet the daily Omega-3 recommendations. Researchers hope the results of the study, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, will increase awareness about the benefits of Omega-3s during and after pregnancy.

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