RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Pregnant women regularly consume food and beverages containing toxins believed to pose potential risks to developing fetuses, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside, suggesting that health care providers must do more to counsel their patients about the dangers of hidden toxins in the food supply.
In a peer-reviewed study published in the July issue of Nutrition Journal — “Consumption habits of pregnant women and implications for developmental biology: a survey of predominantly Hispanic women in California” — a team of psychologists from UC Riverside and UC San Diego found that the diets of pregnant Hispanic women included tuna, salmon, canned foods, tap water, caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications that contain substances known to cause birth defects.
The study is unique in that it highlights the unseen dangers of consuming toxins in food and beverages that are not typically thought of as unhealthy for a fetus, said Sarah Santiago, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UCR. It also contributes to the body of literature aimed at assessing dietary habits of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic pregnant women.
“Unlike alcohol and nicotine, which carry a certain stigma along with surgeon general warnings on the packaging, tuna, canned foods, caffeine, and a handful of other foods and beverages with associated developmental effects are not typically thought of as unsafe,” Santiago explained. “Hopefully, this study will encourage health care providers to keep pregnant women well informed as to the possible dangers of unhealthy consumption habits.”
The research team — Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside and the paper’s senior author; Santiago; and UCSD undergraduate student Grace Park — surveyed 200 pregnant or recently pregnant women at a private medical group in Downey, Calif., between December 2011 and December 2012. The women ranged in age from 18 to about 40, with Hispanic women accounting for 87 percent of the group. Nearly all had a high school degree, and about one-fourth had a college or post-graduate degree. More than two-thirds had an annual income of $50,000 or less.
Using a food questionnaire, participants reported how often and when during their pregnancy they ate certain foods, drank certain beverages, and ingested prescription and over-the-counter medications. Nearly all of the women reported eating meat while pregnant, with about three-quarters of them eating fish, typically tuna, tilapia and salmon.
All reported eating fresh fruit, but fewer than one-third ate the recommended amount of more than one serving a day. Three-fourths ate canned goods, particularly fruits, vegetables and soup. Most reported drinking water, with 12 percent consuming tap water. Eighty percent consumed caffeinated beverages, and about 6 percent reported drinking alcohol sometime during their pregnancy. Most reported taking prenatal vitamins. Nearly half reported taking an over-the-counter medication — primarily acetaminophen — at least once and most reported taking prescription medications at least once.
The results are concerning, the researchers said.
“Consumption of tuna, salmon, canned goods, sugary desserts, fast foods, and drinking of tap water, caffeinated beverages, and alcoholic beverages during pregnancy have been deemed unhealthy due to the appearance of environmental toxins found to have harmful effects in the developing offspring,” the researchers wrote.
Tuna contains methylmercury, and prenatal exposure has been associated with numerous developmental deficits involving attention, verbal learning, motor function and delayed performance. “Staggering” levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in farmed salmon. Prenatal exposure to PCBs has been linked to lower birth weights, smaller head circumferences, and abnormal reflex abilities in newborns and to mental impairment in older children. Metal food cans are lined with a plastic that contains Bisphenol A (BPA), which leaches from the lining in cans into the food. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been associated in animal studies with hyperactivity, aggression and reproductive problems.
“This study has found that income is inversely correlated with canned food consumption, suggesting that women of low socio-economic status in particular may be especially at risk,” the UC Riverside psychologists found.
Tap water also contains prenatal toxins. In Downey, eight pollutants found in drinking water exceed the health guidelines set by federal and state agencies. Some of those contaminants are known to result in central nervous system defects, oral cleft defects, neural tube defects, low birth weight and risk of fetal death, the researchers said. Pregnant women should be encouraged to drink filtered or bottled water in areas where contamination levels are high, they advised.
Also problematic was the level of caffeine consumption, the research team found. Caffeine consumed during pregnancy is associated with fetal mortality, birth defects and decreased birth weights. Animal studies have found developmental delays, abnormal neuromotor activity, and neurochemical disruptions.
A handful of women in the study — 5.8 percent — reported drinking alcohol at some time during their pregnancy, less than the national estimate of 7.6 percent. Maternal drinking rates are highest among white women ages 35 to 44.
“We do not know whether this is something unique to Hispanic women, or ubiquitous among women of multiple ethnicities,” the researchers wrote. “The implications of this research are twofold: Women of childbearing age hoping to conceive should be advised to eliminate all alcohol consumption, as effects of maternal drinking have dire consequences in the first trimester when the mother may not know she is pregnant. … It is also clear that prenatal medical professionals should discourage the consumption of dangerous foods, beverages and medications that women commonly report consuming during pregnancy.”
Not enough research has been conducted on certain substances to merit fail-proof labels of teratogenicity — that is, whether a substance causes developmental malformations. “Because regulation of prenatal consumption demands a very high level of evidence of teratogenicity, little-researched substances often go unregulated and health care professionals assume they are healthy,” Santiago explained. “The problem could also lie in reduced access to health care, or time constraints in prenatal consultations. Perhaps health care providers are informed, but fail to pass the information on to their clients for lack of time or because they assume the clients are already informed.”
Teratogenic substances often have subtle, though serious, effects that manifest later in development. “Research suggesting that a given substance does not cause physical abnormalities at birth may be misinterpreted as a green light for consumption — a grave mistake, considering that other research may exist demonstrating the long-term neural or behavioral abnormalities that result from consuming that substance during pregnancy,” Santiago added.
The research team continues to collect data on beliefs and attitudes about consumption of these substances during pregnancy in a search for clues as to why women continue to eat these substances, and where in the system interventions would be most appropriate.
Distressing News: BPA in Mothers May Harm Newborns
June 18, 2013
Alliance for Natural Health
It’s time to take the BPA fight to the state legislatures. Action Alerts!
Three recent studies paint a bleak picture about both the health risks and the prevalence of bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor.
A Dutch study has found that fetuses of mothers who have high levels of BPA in their systems grow more slowly, have smaller heads, and weigh 20% less at birth compared with babies born to women with the lowest BPA levels.
Moreover, BPA may have multigenerational effects. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Endocrinology demonstrated that exposure to even very low levels of BPA during pregnancy results in adverse behavioral effects in mice carried forward over three generations. The multi-generational effects result from an epigenetic mechanism.
In a third study, children and adolescents with high levels of urinary BPA showed evidence of low-grade albuminuria (where the kidney has experienced damage and is starting to spill some albumin into the urine). Damage at this early stage may have implications for the later development of kidney and cardiovascular disease.
Despite growing evidence to the contrary, FDA’s assessment is that BPA is safe at low levels. The FDA rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council to ban BPA in food containers. ANH-USA’s petition to the Consumer Protection Agency was denied, and we still haven’t received a response to our OSHA petition regarding BPA in thermal register receipts.
Given the federal government’s inaction, if we are to make progress on BPA, it will have to occur at the state level. This approach has already created positive change: the chemical industry voluntarily petitioned the FDA to limit BPA in baby food containers—and of course, since it came from the chemical industry, the FDA listened without commenting on the question of safety!
Action Alerts! If you live in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, or Pennsylvania, please write to your state legislators and ask them to support these important BPA bills:
Connecticut: S.16 would require all food containers containing BPA to be labeled as such. Take Action!
Massachusetts: S.400 would ban BPA in toys, and mandate that manufacturers use the least toxic alternative as a replacement. Take Action!
New York: A.1654 and S.4709 would prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution of business transaction paper containing BPA; S.3533 would prohibit the sale of toys, as well as liquids, foods, and beverages in containers that are intended for children 3 and younger if they contain BPA. This bill would also require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative chemical compound to replace BPA. Take Action!
Pennsylvania: H.377 and S.490 would ban BPA in children’s and toddlers’ products, and mandates that manufacturers use the least toxic alternative as a replacement. Take Action!
With the predominant use of plastic bottles and canned food in America, the urgency to take action against increased intake of Bisphenol A (BPA) is vital. With recent studies linking BPA to harming estrogenic effects and infertility, Dr. Bob, D.C., NHD, “The Drugless Doctor” has compiled various all-natural tips to ensure female’s safety from toxic damages.
1) Be Cautious of BPA Heavy Products: Canned foods, lined with high traced of BPA resin, liquid packets, and plastics marked with the number “#7” can all contain high amounts of BPA. It’s best to opt for ceramic, glass, stainless steel, and other “cooking-safe dishware” and avoid all use of any old or stretched polycarbonate bottles.
2) Conduct a Urine Iodine Loading Test: It’s critical to test the iodine level in urine as the element, often disrupted by BPA, is crucial for normal thyroid gland function. The Estronex Urine Profile™ also assesses the risk of developing estrogen sensitive cancers and a collateral damage challenge precipitated by BPA.
3) Limit Gluten Consumption: Gluten is known to create adrenal stress, which in turn causes adrenal exhaustion negating the balance between DHEA, progesterone, testosterone, and estrogen. Optimal adrenal function is necessary to “push” toxic minerals and their counter parts from the body. The imbalances relates to women’s inability to become pregnant, or stay with child.
4) Perform Routine Cleanses: As it is nearly impossible to steer completely clear of BPA exposure, it’s important to cleanse every so often with cleaning herbs, milk thistle, and dandelion root. “Dr. Bob’s Drugless Guide to Detoxification” plans optimal wellness from the body inside and out.
Dr. Bob, “The Drugless Doctor” continually shares clinically proven and time-tested resulted to further enrich and guide patients to optimal health. For more information visit DruglessDoctor.com and his latest “Get to Know” series video.
Taking iron supplements one to three times a week instead of every day is just as effective at preventing anaemia in pregnant women, according to the findings of a new Cochrane systematic review. The authors of the review also showed that women experienced fewer side effects when taking iron supplements intermittently rather than daily.
Lack of iron can cause anaemia in pregnant women, potentially increasing the risk of complications at delivery. It may also be harmful to their babies, through increased risk of low birth weight and even delayed growth and development later in life. Anaemia is diagnosed as a low level of haemoglobin in the blood. However, haemoglobin levels should be carefully controlled during pregnancy, as high concentrations have also been associated with an increased risk of babies being born early or with low birthweight. Traditionally, anaemia during pregnancy is prevented by daily supplements containing iron and folic acid, started as early in the pregnancy as possible. However, some countries, such as the UK, do not recommend routine preventive iron supplementation to all women.
The researchers analysed data from 18 trials involving a total of 4,072 pregnant women who took iron supplements alone, with folic acid or with multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. According to the results, women who took iron supplements once, twice or three times a week on non-consecutive days were no more likely to suffer from anaemia by the end of their pregnancies than those who took them daily, and their babies were no more likely to be born early or have a low birth weight. Furthermore, those taking the supplements intermittently rather than daily were less likely to experience side effects including nausea, constipation and high haemoglobin levels during pregnancy.
“Intermittent iron supplementation could be considered as a feasible alternative to daily supplementation for preventing anaemia during pregnancy, particularly in developed countries where anaemia in pregnancy is not a public health problem and there is good antenatal care for monitoring anaemia status,” said lead author Juan Pablo Peña-Rosas, Coordinator of Evidence and Programme Guidance of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. “At the moment evidence is limited and the quality of the trials included in our review was generally low.”
The review authors say further research is needed to clarify safe maternal iron doses and their effects on infants. “It is important to evaluate new regimens to be able to respond to the need of the different countries that face different challenges in anaemia prevention during pregnancy. We would advise that trials make an effort to evaluate the health of newborns and infants from birth to six months of life or more,” said Peña-Rosas.
By Shirley Wang for the Wall Street Journal
The obesity epidemic may be contributing to the rising number of children diagnosed with autism, according to a study published Monday.
Researchers said mothers who are obese are significantly more likely to have a child with autism or another developmental abnormality. The finding adds to the increasingly complex picture of possible factors that contribute to the disorders.
About half the risk of autism, a condition characterized by poor social skills and repetitive behaviors, is genetic, researchers believe, while the rest stems from factors including older parental age, premature birth or failure to take prenatal vitamins.
The new findings come in the wake of the announcement last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that autism-spectrum disorders, as the range of abnormalities is now called, affect one in 88 U.S. children, up from one in 110 in a 2009 report.
The link between obesity and developmental disorders is particularly worrisome because obesity has become so prevalent. About a third of U.S. women of reproductive age are considered obese, the authors said.
A Complex Puzzle
Experts say these factors seem to contribute to autism:
- Obesity among mothers
- Older parental age
- Premature birth/birth complications
- Fewer than 12 months between children
These factors are suspected and are under investigation:
- Environmental toxins
- Diet and other lifestyle factors
- Other existing medical conditions, including viral infections
–Source: WSJ reporting
The new research, published in the journal Pediatrics, studied over 1,000 children aged two to five years old with and without autism or other developmental problems, as well as their mother’s health history.
It showed that compared to non obese mothers, those who were obese before pregnancy had a 60% increase in the likelihood of having a child with autism and a doubling in risk of having a child with another type of cognitive or behavioral delay.
The risk was even more pronounced when mothers who had high blood pressure or diabetes before or during pregnancy were included in the analysis.
The results suggest that obesity and other metabolic conditions are a general risk factor for autism and other developmental disorders, said the researchers from the University of California, Davis and Vanderbilt University.
“The brain is quintessentially susceptible to everything’s that happening in the mother’s body,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, senior author of the study and chief of the division of environmental and occupational health in public health sciences at UC Davis.
But she added that “no one factor is going to be responsible for any one child’s case. This is not a ‘blame the mom’ thing.”
Susan Hyman, a developmental behavioral pediatrician at the University of Rochester, found a positive theme in the results. “The statistics on obesity are alarming, but it’s a modifiable risk factor,” she said. Dr. Hyman, who heads the American Academy of Pediatrics’ autism subcommittee, wasn’t involved in the study.
How a mother’s weight or metabolic disorders might contribute to autism or other problems isn’t known. One possibility is that insulin resistance is involved, said Dr. Hertz-Picciotto.
When insulin isn’t made or used properly by the bodyâ€”as can be the case in some obese peopleâ€”it alters how sugar, which serves as energy for the body, is produced and transported to tissues including the brain. Such disruption may have a particularly potent effect on fetal brains, which are known to need a lot of sugar.
The researchers weren’t able to compare mothers who had well-controlled blood sugar to those who didn’t, she said.
Obesity joins a growing list of potential causes of autism. The UC Davis researchers and colleagues had examined other environmental factors, such as pollutants, and last summer published data from the same children in Monday’s study showing the risk of autism doubled if families were living closer to a freeway during the third trimester of pregnancy. Not taking prenatal vitamins and having less than 12 months between kids also have been associated with autism.
Genetics are another contributor. Last week, three independent papers published in the journal Nature found more “highly disruptive” mutationsâ€”ones that caused genes to stop workingâ€”on three genes in children with autism compared to those without, and estimated there could be 500 or more mutations related to autism.
“By and large, the kids with autism didn’t have substantially more mutations but slightly more severe mutations,” said Mark Daly, an author of one of the Nature papers and chief of the Analytic and Translational Genetics Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The papers were seen as a boon to the field because they indicate that a relatively new technique could be used to figure out which genes looked different in children with and without autism. That could provide new avenues for research into the condition, said Matthew State, a professor of child psychiatry, psychiatry and genetics at Yale University who was an author of another of the Nature papers.
Ultimately, both genetic and early environmental factors that are under investigation seem to suggest the period of risk for autism is in the womb, said Bryan King, director of the Seattle Children’s Autism Center, who wasn’t involved in the current study. Together, these “will be very important in focusing the field on what to look for when.”
Write to Shirley S. Wang at email@example.com