Saturday, February 27, 2010

Environmental Pollutants and Brain Disorders in Children

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times is taking a brave leap in his recent column: "Do Toxins Cause Autism?"

First, he discusses an upcoming study in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics:1
The article cites “historically important, proof-of-concept studies that specifically link autism to environmental exposures experienced prenatally.” It adds that the “likelihood is high” that many chemicals “have potential to cause injury to the developing brain and to produce neurodevelopmental disorders.”
Next he addresses findings from a new study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives:2
Researchers measured the levels of suspect chemicals called phthalates in the urine of pregnant women. Among women with higher levels of certain phthalates (those commonly found in fragrances, shampoos, cosmetics and nail polishes), their children years later were more likely to display disruptive behavior.
Some of those behaviors linked to high levels of phthalates in pregnant women were aggression, depression, and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD).

I'll add a study I saw while reading those above. It investigated the link between exposure to pesticides in pregnant women in Ecuador and neurological deficits in their children (motor speed, coordination, and visual memory):3
"These findings support the notion that prenatal exposure to pesticides - at levels not producing adverse health outcomes in the mother - can cause lasting adverse effects on brain development. Pesticide exposure therefore may contribute to a "silent pandemic" of developmental neurotoxicity."
Kristof concludes with a statement by Alan Goldberg, professor of toxicology at Johns Hopkins:
“There are diseases that are increasing in the population that we have no known cause for.” ... “Breast cancer, prostate cancer, autism are three examples. The potential is for these diseases to be on the rise because of chemicals in the environment.”
I say he's brave because it will be difficult to show that chronic low-level exposure to several chemicals at once, as one reader put it, "a complex toxic soup," causes a particular disease. He risks sounding alarmist. But what are the risks of not sounding this alarm?

Phthalates and many pesticides are fat-soluble. In as much as diet is considered to be a major source for these chemicals, fatty foods such as milk, cream, cheese, butter and meats are primary culprits.

1 What Causes Autism? Exploring The Environmental Contribution, Current Opinion in Pediatrics, Upcoming 2010.
2 Prenatal Phthalate Exposure is Associated with Childhood Behavior and Executive Functioning, Environmental Health Perspectives, January 2010
3Neurobehavioral Deficits and Increased Blood Pressure in School-Age Children Prenatally Exposed to Pesticides, Environmental Health Perspectives, February 2010

I picked up that My Environment widget from the EPA. Pretty neat. It's live, give it a try.


Michelle @ Find Your Balance said...

Well, something must be causing it and it's certainly more and more common. Scary stuff but I wouldn't be surprised if he's right.

Gloria said...

They've also done a study on phthalates in IV feeding tubes for preemies in hospitals. The study found that 50% of the babies fed with the tubes developed liver problems compared to 13% of those fed without. Some hospitals have already stopped using them. It's hard enough for adult bodies to cope with the inundation of chemicals in our food, our homes and the environment in general. You put that kind of stress on undeveloped bodies and, as is being proven in study after study, there are serious consequences.

Bix said...

IV tubes. Hadn't even thought of that.