Nearly all pregnant women harbor potentially harmful chemicals
The first study to measure the number of potentially toxic chemicals in the bodies of pregnant women finds that virtually all women who are expecting harbor multiple contaminants -- some of them known to be harmful to humans.
Research published this morning in Environmental Health Perspectives analyzed data for 268 women from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003-04, checking for the presence of 163 different chemicals in the women's blood, urine and serum. Many chemicals (such as PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, PFCs, phenols, PBDE flame retardants, phthalates, polycyclic 14 aromatic hydrocarbons and perchlorate) that are associated with adverse health effects were found in 99 percent to 100 percent of pregnant women, and nearly all women carried multiple contaminants. Some of the contaminants studied, such as mercury, bisphenol-A, heavy metals and hormone disruptors, can cross the placenta and thus affect the fetus. Many of the chemicals remain in current use, though others have been banned.
The study does not go so far as to definitively link the presence of these chemicals in women's bodies with any particular health outcomes for those women or their babies. But the authors note that some of the chemicals they tracked already have been associated with ill effects: Mercury is linked to neurological problems, for instance, while phthalates can affect the male reproductive system.
The study found such chemicals in the bodies of non-pregnant women, too. But it's of course a whole different ballgame when you're talking about chemicals that can interfere with a developing fetus.
So what's a woman to do to protect herself and her baby? I asked the study's lead author, Tracey Woodruff, director of the Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine, who responded via e-mail:
There are personal choices pregnant women can make to reduce their exposures to environmental chemicals, but the significant, long-lasting change only will result from a systemic approach that includes proactive government policies. Pregnant [women] should continue to eat a healthy diet, avoid smoking and cigarette smoke (all part of doctor's advice). Some of the other things that can be done are here in our Web site: http://www.prhe.ucsf.edu/prhe/tmlinks.html. Here are a few [examples]: removing dust, washing hands before meals, choosing organic foods that are less likely to have pesticide residues, choos[ing] personal care products that have less toxic ingredients. On our Web site [see link, above] we link to resources on the Web to help consumers sort through the many choices out there.
I'd like to hear from pregnant women: Are you concerned about chemicals to which you and your baby may be exposed? Would you consider taking the steps Woodruff recommends to help protect your health and your child's?
Jennifer LaRue Huget
| January 14, 2011; 12:00 AM ET
Categories: Environmental Toxins, Infant health, Motherhood, Parenting, Reproductive Health, Women's Health
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