CAT | Women’s Health
During pregnancy, mothers-to-be generally try to eat better and take better care of themselves in the hopes of improving the health of their infants. Pregnant moms may also try avoiding certain chemical exposures like cigarette smoke and even harsh cleaning products. This can be a tricky task, however. One recent study has found that flame retardant exposure—a difficult exposure to avoid—is linked to lower birth weight in babies.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that for every tenfold increase in PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ether) levels in the mother’s blood, there was a 4.1 ounce drop in the baby’s birth weight. Lead researcher Kim Harley, from the University of California, Berkley’s School of Public Health, stated, “What we saw was a shift toward lighter babies among women with higher PBDE exposure rather than a dramatic increase in the number of low birth weight babies.” For babies already at risk for low birth weight for other reasons, 4.1 ounces would make a big difference.
The PBDEs tested for in the study were actually phased out of use in 2004, but because they are found in many household items, their persistence is still widespread. These chemicals leach from furniture, upholstery, carpet, electronics and more (even baby products and children’s pajamas!), and are stored in fat cells. Flame retardants have been linked to reduced fertility and thyroid dysfunction in women.
How do we get out of this toxic soup? Well, we can’t. But the researchers do recommend wet mopping when dusting since flame retardants are concentrated in dust, and frequent hand washing to avoid ingesting these chemicals.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) investigated the exposure of pregnant women to 163 chemicals, revealing, “ubiquitous exposure to multiple chemicals during a sensitive period of development.” The study found that pregnant women were even exposed to chemicals banned decades ago, and some of the chemicals analyzed were found in 99 – 100 percent of the women.
Health effects were not assessed in this study, but many of the chemicals found are known to have detrimental consequences on health. In another case study of one woman with particularly high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) during her 27th week of pregnancy, the infant experienced neurobehavioral abnormalities at his one-month study visit. Researchers of this study were able to trace her abnormally high BPA exposure to the high consumption of canned foods, heating of plastic food containers, and use of plastic cups. The week of her highest recorded BPA level, she consumed canned ravioli each day. It is known that acidic foods can bring out more BPA from can lining, and canned tomato foods have been found to be higher in BPA.
BPA and phthalate exposure can be reduced by purchasing fresh unpackaged foods and avoiding plastic food packaging, storage containers and utensils. In one study, again published in Environmental Health Perspectives, consuming fresh foods prepared and consumed without the use of plastic was associated with a 66 percent reduction in the amount of BPA in urine.
We can’t eliminate all toxins, but there are small things we can do try to reduce them. Replace your plastic Tupperware with glass containers. Don’t use plastic wrap and try to prepare as much food as you can from fresh, unpackaged foods. And never heat food or drink in plastic. Do what you can and know that you are at least doing something. Spread the word—pass this information on.