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For the first time since the US government has been collecting data on it, the top five disabilities affecting U.S. children are no longer physical problems, but rather, mental problems, as reported recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Additionally, almost 8 percent of children now have a disability that limits their activity, a four-fold increase since 1960.

One of the suggested reasons for the increase in mental health disorders is the, “exposure to new or more environmental toxins during pregnancy and early childhood.” Improvements in diagnosis were also suggested as a contributor to the increased rate. Although conclusions about what has caused the increase are premature, we will certainly be seeing more research in the coming years.

“In terms of reduced economic outcomes, mental health issues in childhood are a serious problem, way bigger than obesity,” stated James P. Smith, a researcher of child health histories. The report stated that only about half of children with mental health problems get any kind of services, highlighting the gravity of the issue.

Bruce Lanphear, professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Canada, stated that prevention of children’s disabilities in the first place will be more effective than treating them. “Children, who are more vulnerable than adults to adverse effects from environmental toxins are sometimes exposed to numerous chemicals that may be contributing to mental and developmental problems,” stated Lanphear.

The report went on to cite studies linking environmental exposures to mental health in children, including, “the association of black carbon (an airborne byproduct of fossil-fuel combustion) with reduced verbal and nonverbal intelligence and poor memory; of low lead exposure with lower IQ scores; prenatal exposure to tobacco with ADHD; and organophosphate pesticides, mercury, and PCBs with ADHD. Lamphear’s own research found associations between prenatal exposure to bisphenol A and depressive symptoms, anxiety, and hyperactivity in young girls.”

We can no longer deny or turn our backs on the fact that environmental toxins are taking an enormous toll on our health.

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Yup, you knew it was coming. Or even if you didn’t, you’re probably not surprised to see it. Bedbugs, it seems, are no longer just the stuff of childhood rhymes. From Cincinnati to New York to Atlanta, the tiny critters are chomping their way across the U.S., and experts remain baffled as to what triggered the sudden infestation. They worry, however, that since bedbugs spread so easily, the number of sightings will continue to rise.

So what exactly is a bedbug? They are (and a warning to the squeamish: You may want to stop reading at this point) small, parasitic insects that just happen to prefer human blood as their main source of sustenance. Members of the family Cimicidae, they are commonly referred to as “bedbugs” because, quite simply, that’s where they like to hang out—in beds, mattresses, sheets, and all sorts of snug-as-a-bug nooks and crannies where they can take cover and wait for an unsuspecting meal.

As you may have heard, a typical bedbug is about the size of an apple seed. What you may not have heard, however, is that bedbugs are essentially harmless. As insects go, they’re pretty clean. They don’t transmit any nasty diseases. And most of the time you wouldn’t even know if you were bitten by one. Still, there’s a hidden health threat associated with bedbugs that may come as a surprise to a lot of folks: toxins.

Back in the 40s and 50s the standard response to a bedbug infestation was a nifty little thing called DDT. You know, the synthetic pesticide banned by the EPA for its not-so-pleasant effects on the environment and human health? The problem is, those highly toxic chemicals seem to be the only thing that works on the almighty bedbug (think Superman vs. kryptonite), and despite our best efforts to come up with an environmentally friendly (not to mention human-health friendly) way to send the bloodsucking bugs packing, the end result will almost always involve chemical treatment.

Still, there are preventative measures you can take to keep bedbugs at bay, like taking fewer trips overseas, always checking hotel room bedding and mattresses, and keeping your own home (especially the bedrooms) clean and free of clutter. If you suspect bedbugs are present—common signs are blood/fecal stains on bed linens and tiny brown exoskeletons left behind when bedbugs shed their skin—do a thorough cleaning. Wash and dry all clothes and bedding on high heat, check dresser drawers and other bedbug-friendly spaces, and be sure to vacuum every possible crevice. Then, call in the kryptonite.

And that brings us back to toxins. The government may have banned DDT, but thousands more chemicals moved in to take its place, and today there is just no escaping the reality that no matter where we live our bodies are exposed to countless toxins that can contribute to poor health and disease. The key is to take a proactive stance when it comes to fighting back—one that includes reducing our daily exposure by choosing natural over synthetic products whenever possible, eating organically grown meats and produce, and cleansing regularly with a natural herbal detox program. Small steps, yes, but they can have a big impact—not unlike our tiny friend the bedbug.

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