Dangerous levels of lead found in children’s vinyl lunch boxes

No one would question the toxic nature of lead, especially for children, and yet somehow it keeps popping up in products for children. In the latest episode, independent testing performed at the request of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), found that some of the most popular vinyl lunch boxes contain as much as 90 times the legal limit for lead. Not
only that, but the lead concentration is highest in the inside lining where it is most likely to come in contact with food.

According to the CEH, toxic lunch boxes include those featuring characters like Superman, Tweety Bird, Powerpuff Girls, and more; however, you canít tell whether a lunch box
contains lead by its appearance. To read the entire story and view pictures of incriminated boxes see http://www.cehca.org/lunchboxes.htm.

Recommended solutions, according to the CEH, are to avoid all vinyl lunch boxes – or at least test the ones you have using a lead test kit. We recently ordered some lead test kits
from www.professionalequipment.com that were inexpensive and easy to use. I think they are important survival tools for any family with small children.

New evidence on harm from chemical mixtures

Many of us remember what seemed at the time to be an isolated case of an autism epidemic in the early 1990′s in Brick Township, New Jersey. At first, contaminated drinking water was the Number One suspect because chemical wastes dumped in the town’s landfill over a period of years had contaminated the city’s drinking water with the chemicals bromoform, chloroform, and tetrachloroethylene.

However, a detailed analysis conducted by scientists from the U.S. Government concluded that the level of these chemicals in water was simply not sufficient to have damaged the nervous systems of developing infants of even fetuses.

When the Brick Township autism epidemic merged into a national epidemic many of us forgot about it or concluded that maybe it wasn’t really any different from what was going on nationwide.

However, new research is sparking a renewed interest in the Brick Township story. As it turns out, in reaching their conclusions the government scientists only analyzed the effects of each chemical on its own whereas, quite obviously, exposure was to all three of them at the same time.

Carol Reinisch, an expert in chemical-induced neurotoxocity, wondered if looking at these chemicals together might tell a different story. Her lab started to research this combination using surf clam embryos as models. The reason why research done on embryonic development of clams is considered valid for humans is that the most basic early nervous system development is the same across all species.

Her findings are truly disturbing. When tested individually or in pairs, these chemicals produce no damage, even at much higher concentrations than those found in the water at Brick Township. However, when all three are present at the same time they alter nervous system development. To read about this research go to http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2005/113-6/forum.html#trip.

To more conclusively establish whether these chemicals actually caused the autism epidemic, the study should be repeated using some type of mammal.

This type of study does make me wonder what exactly is going on throughout our country and the world. A brand new study that analyzed ten samples of umbilical cord blood in the U.S. found 287 chemicals, including 209 never before detected in cord blood. These chemicals included mercury, fire retardants, pesticides, and Teflon. Find a detailed report about this study at http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/newsrelease.php.

Knowledge is often the first step towards recovery and the new website www.scorecard.org offers some interesting data. You can go there and find the environmental contaminants that are most prevalent in your area, as well as how your county stacks up against the rest of the country. Predictably, Harris County doesn’t look too good.

Emerging field of epigenetics sheds new light on mechanisms of inheritance

When it comes to genetics the message that most people have been getting is that if something is inherited nothing can be done about it, except maybe taking a drug for life. It’s easy to suspect that the pharmaceutical industry has had a hand in spreading this notion, but in reality the idea that inheritance sets a predetermined outcome is untrue in most cases.

In addition to true genetic defects, which are relatively rare, there are so-called “polymorphisms” – a term often abbreviated to SNPs (Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms). These are minor genetic mutations that make certain genes less efficient at doing some of their jobs but often more efficient in other ways. SNPs do not cause disease, but they may be associated with an increased susceptibility to certain illnesses given contributing environmental factors. In reality we all have our share of SNPs. They’re probably there by design, as part of the evolutionary process.

A classic example of a SNP is the so-called “thrifty gene” that makes individuals who are descended from certain American Indian tribes highly vulnerable to diabetes and obesity
when they switch to a modern diet, although they are capable of surviving in conditions of extreme scarcity.

Researchers looking at these genetic variants and trying to correlate them with diseases such as cancer or even autism have found themselves opening a Pandora’s box with no clear end point in sight. It’s not that they didn’t find genes associated with these conditions, it’s that they found too many of them and that the correlation was often too vague to draw any clear conclusions.

According to Texas A&M biochemistry professor Wallace McKeehan, “there are just a mind-boggling number of mutations associated with cancer.” This is leading some researchers to redirect their focus towards a newly emerging field known as epigenetics. See more on research on cancer and genetics at http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/metropolitan/3241933.

Epigenetics looks at the interaction between genes and the environment. As it turns out, environmental factors – including diet or chemicals in food, water or air – interact with genes by affecting a process called methylation, whereby “switches” on genes can be turned on or off by adding or taking away tiny compounds known as “methyl groups.”

It now appears that the interaction between genes and the environment has a much stronger impact in determining health events than genetic factors alone.

Much of our knowledge of epigenetics originated from research on identical twins who are born with exactly the same genes, but as time goes by develop growing differences and may end up becoming susceptible to different diseases later in life. To read more about epigenetic studies in twins go to http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/health/05gene.html (registration required).

The difference between the old notion that genes predetermined health and the new understanding of genes interacting with the environment is that when it comes to environmental factors there is a great deal we can control. For example, diet becomes a factor that can impact expression of certain genes eventually leading to – or preventing – genetically associated illnesses (as in the example of the Indians above).

Likewise, detoxification programs can compensate for a genetic susceptibility to accumulate toxins. The reason why, for example, so many children with autism improve with detoxification may be that they are genetically more vulnerable than others to toxins and that genetic switches are turned back “on” once the toxins are released.

Whatís most shocking to me about epigenetic research is the finding that detrimental effects of environmental toxins can be inherited for multiple generations. For example, researchers exposed a group of pregnant rats to a pesticide known to cause reduced fertility in males. Predictably, their male offspring suffered low fertility rates. However, their female offspring were fine and care was taken to ensure that they experienced no further exposure to pesticides.

Later on, these female rats whose mothers had been exposed to pesticides were mated to male rats with no history of pesticide exposure. Surprisingly, their male offspring experienced low fertility and this scenario was repeated one more time in third-generation offspring. The fourth generation of male rats finally reverted back to normal fertility, proving that the genes themselves had not been altered (Science, Vol 308, June 3, 2005, pgs 1466-1469).

An analogy to help us understand this study might be a theoretical case of a woman developing breast cancer because her great-grandmother was exposed to a cancer-causing chemical when pregnant.

Although this study was performed on rats, it probably applies to humans as well. It also correlates with studies showing that women whose mothers had been smokers have children with an increased rate of asthma even if they never smoked themselves. For more information, visit http://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/journals/esthag-w/2005/jun/science/pt_toxins.html.

The implications of this type of research could be momentous considering the ever-growing number of potentially toxic chemicals to which we are exposed. The next study Iíd like to see (but that will probably never happen) is one that looks at whether detoxification, vitamin supplementation, or diet change can help erase these environmental insults, thus halting the inheritance mechanism.

Deformities found in farmed salmon

I received the link to this article from one of my readers. While the title states that up to 5% of farmed salmon is deformed, the text then informs us that in some areas, including
Norway, the rate of deformity exceeds 25%. What seems to be happening is that the bodies of these poor fish grow too fast compared to their skeletons, causing them, I am sure, to look pretty awkward.

Although the author of the article tells us that the cause of this phenomenon is still a mystery, my reader knew better and suggested in her email that she believed it could be related to what they are fed. I agree wholeheartedly! Feed things like cornmeal and soy protein to fish evolved to eat shrimp and what do you expect?

We donít have to look very far to see examples of what improper diet will do to physical development. In fact we don’t have to look any further than ourselves. For example, it is
interesting to note that we are “designed” to have four wisdom teeth and yet hardly any of us have enough space in our mouths to accommodate them. Is this a design flaw? I don’t think so.

Today no one asks questions like these, because we are so focused on “wonder” drugs and “miracle” surgeries.” But there were times when these questions made a lot of sense to people.

In the early part of the 20th century Weston Price, a dentist, asked himself this very question. Noting that wild animals always have perfect dentition he wondered if there might be people, somewhere in the world, who also did.

This one question led him to undertake two decades of intense travels to the most remote areas of the globe, and what he found was nothing short of spectacular. Back in the 1930′s there still were groups of people living traditional lifestyles on every continent. He found them in Ireland, in remote Swiss valleys, and elsewhere. Their only contact with the rest of the world often was mail service once a week during the good season. Nowadays they’re gone, assimilated into modern society, and our opportunity to study them is lost forever.

Dr. Price lived with these people, he studied them, photographed them and came to know them well. They grew or hunted all their own food, prepared it according to ancestral recipes and, you guessed it, they had perfect teeth! Not only that, they also enjoyed radiant health. At a time when TB was the number one killer in the civilized world, he could find no evidence that these groups ever experienced a single case of this disease.

In some cases Dr. Price visited family members who had moved to the city and adopted the modern lifestyle, and found that they experienced all the same problems the rest of us do, further proving his point that diet was linked to physical development.

To read about the farmed salmons go to http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/environment_salmon_dc

Plastics are not created equal

by Janice Welch

I decided to write about this topic after having many questions from mothers about plastics. Are they really that bad? How can I possibly avoid them? What is a safe sippy cup?

I usually answer, “Use plastic only when it is unavoidable – and yes I know, it is oftentimes unavoidable.” Here are my guidelines for using plastics:

• Never use plastic in the microwave! You can find plenty of different-sized Pyrex glass containers to use for heating in the microwave – even down to very convenient one-cup sizes.

They also have plastic lids (yes I know- but the lids don’t touch the food) that are excellent for storing leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer. In the microwave, use parchment paper or wax paper as a lid.
• Wash your plastics by hand; do not expose them to the high temperatures of a dishwasher.
• Replace your plastics if you see any type of wear, cracks, or discoloration.
• Avoid #3, #6, and #7 plastics (the number is stamped in a triangle on the bottom of the container). These are recycling codes. Not all plastic containers have this code, but if they don’t, you can call the manufacturer or just find a replacement that does have the code.

Of the BAD (#3, #6, #7) ones, the worst offender is the #7 (other) plastics. These are usually the polycarbonates and contain bisphenol-A, a hormone disruptor that will leach into water and other matter. I was very discouraged to find all single-serve applesauce ñ so popular in kid’s lunches – use #7 plastic, and this includes Whole Kids Organic from Whole Foods! What is even worse is that many of the name-brand baby bottles for infant formula are #7. A much better choice would be Evenflo glass baby bottles, available online at Baby Super Mall.

#3 stands for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics that contain phthalates for flexibility. These phthalates are known carcinogens and are not bound to the PVC molecule, making it easier for them to leach whatever it comes in contact with (your food or drink).

#6 polystyrene (PS) plastics can leach styrene a carcinogen that, like bisphenol-A, also affects hormones.

For the ACCEPTABLE ones (#1, #2, #4, #5):

#1 polyethylene terephthalate (PETE) plastics are good one-time use plastics. Reuse or extended storage in these containers increases the risk of leaching the phthalates into the product. So these should be recycled right after using.

The best reusable containers from a leaching standpoint are made from #2 high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic, or #5 polypropylene (PP) plastic. (As for the sippy cup question, Playtex Insulator Cups are ones I found in #5 plastic)

For food wraps and bags, look for #4 low-density polypropylene (LDPE) plastic. Many are made from #3 PVC, but I have found a few that are #4 (LDPE). The ones I use are Glad
Clingwrap, Glad-Lock baggies, and Ziploc baggies.

Now you too are armed and ready to be a plastic detective. Happy hunting!

A world awash in chemicals

We have long suspected that chemicals interact with one another, creating destructive synergies, but this has been difficult to prove since very few studies have ever looked at the combined effects of multiple chemicals. This applies not only to chemicals in the environment, like pesticide residues or plastics, but also to medications, most of which are also chemical compounds. Although medications are studied for safety, these studies are only performed on one medication at a time, even though they may very well interact with one another and with other chemicals thereby creating new compounds with different and unknown safety profiles.

Now the tip of the iceberg may be starting to emerge, as a new study from Duke University looked at the interaction between the pre-term labor drug terbutaline (Bethine), for which one million prescriptions are written every year, and ubiquitous pesticide residues. The study used rats, but it is very likely that the results apply to humans as well since rats have consistently been shown to be more resistant to chemicals than we are.
Read More »

Heavy metals in everyday items

I know many people with children who are metal toxic have the big question of “Where is it coming from?” In the case of mercury, we are fairly certain that most of it came from shots laden with thimersol, or from dental amalgams. But would you be surprised to find out that a derivative of thimersol (phenylmercuric acetate) is found in eye makeup, especially

mascara? Although the Food and Drug Administration restricts the use of phenylmercuric acetate, cosmetic manufacturers are not required to register with the FDA.

My personal quest has been trying to identify where the lead in my sonís body is coming from, and there are plenty of sources. But the one most alarming to me I stumbled upon
only recently: garden hoses!

This was a real “Oh my God” moment, as I envisioned my son playing in the front yard holding the hose (hand-to-mouth transfer) as well as soaking in the water from the hose in his wading pool. The ludicrous thing is that I have a garden filter that attaches to the outside faucet to purify the water for him since he loves to play in it so much. Turns out I was purifying the water only to poison it as it ran through the hose.

According to a study done by Consumer Reports, most garden hoses contain lead. Water that was allowed to stand in the hose contained up to 100 times more lead than is allowed by the EPA to come out of a faucet.

YIKES!!!

After reading this I immediately threw out our garden hoses and went on a quest to find a lead-free hose. Only if a hose contains the label ìsafe for drinking waterî is it safe for you

and your children to handle. I found one online called Handi Hose but didn’t order it since it was approaching a warm weekend and I wanted one immediately. After much searching, I found one at Target called Hydro Hose. Both the Handi Hose and the Hydro Hose are flat hoses on a reel. There are supposedly conventional round hoses labeled safe for drinking water, but I didn’t find any.

The flat hose I bought works very well, and my son was immediately drawn to its bright yellow color. I felt such a sense of relief, but also exasperation, knowing I had found one more piece in what seems a never-ending puzzle.

Environmental chemicals and detoxification

When we read or hear about mercury as the cause of autism or any other illness we should remember that this is only one piece of the puzzle. Being able to single out just one cause would be wonderful, but reality is rarely so simple. Evidence continues to mount that there is an epidemic of autism even without mercury in vaccines, and recent data from the State of California shows that the incidence of autism continues to climb even after mercury was banned from vaccines. (Note: someone recently asked me why autism is so prevalent in California, but the reality is that California just has a better system to track it. Here in Texas and in other states we have no idea how prevalent it is).

Environmental chemicals are another big piece of the puzzle, and it doesn’t even matter if you’re dealing with autism, other neurological disorders, cancer, or even high blood pressure: toxic chemicals play a part in all of these. They disrupt the nervous and immune systems. They have been linked with Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue, MS and the list goes on.

Chemicals are also harder to identify and test for than mercury and can sometimes cause damage at minuscule concentrations such as parts per billion. Where you’ve been or what you have been exposed to doesn’t even matter, they’re under your kitchen sink and everywhere!
Read More »

House plants and cleaner air

Contributed by Janice Welch

In visiting with a friend of mine about toxins in the environment, she indicated that she had bought English ivy for her kitchen to absorb toxins emitted from gas stoves, etc. Although I had heard about the importance of plants in indoor spaces, I had never been inclined to purchase any due to the fact that I do not have a green thumb; in fact mine is quite brown.

I single-handedly put multiple houseplants to rest back in my earlier years. Yet now, I figured, I am all grown up and I was quite intrigued, so I began to research different houseplants.

My friend was absolutely correct about English ivy being a toxin remover. The problem is that it is quite toxic itself, and without a very high place to put it, I would never be able have it around my Nathan (no telling what that boy would eat).

So I found some other plants that are toxin removers and researched their toxicity, and also purchased some. Although some havenít made it, others have done amazingly well, even after my inattention.

The most common chemical offenders in our homes and offices are benzene (found in detergents, ink or dye, petroleum products, plastics and rubbers, synthetic fibers, smoke, etc.), formaldehyde (found in carpeting, cleaners, furniture, plywood, etc.), and trichloroethylene (found in adhesives, dry cleaning, inks or dyes, lacquer or paint, varnishes, etc.)

The big toxin reducer plants that are found in most studies are:

English ivy – benzene reducer – but TTN*

Janet Craig Dracaena – benzene reducer – super easy to care for!

Other Dracaenas – benzene and trichloroethylene reducers – also easy to care for

Areca Palm – benzene, trichloroethylene, and dust allergen reducer – beautiful plant, takes a lot of water, but easy to care for

Peace Lily – benzene, trichloroethylene, and dust allergen reducer – beautiful plant, takes a lot of water, also easy to care for, but sadly is TTN*

Boston Ferns – multiple chemical reductions, and non-toxic, but I found them horribly hard to care for; both of mine are now outside enjoying the pampering of my gardener husband

Golden Pothos or Devilís Ivy – benzene, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide reducer – sadly TTN*

Aloe – formaldehyde reducer – great plant, but portions are TTN*

Spider plants – good for carbon monoxide reduction – relatively easy to care for

*Do realize that all plants have some level of toxicity when ingested by sensitive individuals. I have listed the ones that show severe or moderate reactions as “TTN” – or Too Toxic for Nathan. The others may still induce mild reactions in some individuals.

There are other plants that could be included in this list, but all of the above are easily found at any garden center.

The ideal spacing of these houseplants is one per every 100 square foot of space. So I do have more plants to buy, but I feel very confident with the dracaenas (especially the Janet

Craig) and the areca palms.

One last note on toxic plants: If you have children (especially special needs children), or if children play in your yard, remove all oleander plants. Since they are hardy, pretty, and

easy to care for, homebuilders plant them in many yards. The entire plant is extremely toxic, and ingestion of any part could have very serious consequences. If this last statement

makes you wary, a good website for a listing of indoor and outdoor poisonous plants by botanical name and common name is at: http://gardeningfromthegroundup.us/Poisonous%

20house%20%20plants.htm

Poor nutrition and the environment

Health conditions can be inherited without being genetic, but this important distinction is often overlooked. People say: I have this problem, my father or mother has it, my child has it; therefore, it must be genetic. But this is not necessarily so.

The point is clearly demonstrated in nutritional research dating back to the 1940′s and outlined in the landmark book ‘Pottenger’s Cats’ by Francis Pottenger, MD. When Dr. Pottenger deliberately fed some of his cats impoverished diets, their health deteriorated progressively as nutrient reserves were depleted over successive generations. By the fourth generation, cats had a very high rate of allergies and reproductive disorders; some even exhibited behaviors reminiscent of autism or ADHD.

Another clear illustration comes from omega-3 research described in Andrew Stoll’s book ‘The Omega-3 Connection.’ Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for many aspects of health,
including mental health; however, they are severely deficient in the modern American diet. In his book, Dr. Stoll explains how the body goes to great lengths to conserve these fats when it doesn’t get enough of them from food. To some extent omega-3 fats are passed on from one generation to the next during fetal development and through breast milk, so the full impact of dietary depletion only appears after several generations.

Many of us would agree that the standard American diet has become increasingly dependent on highly processed and packaged foods over the past several decades. Another equally significant aspect is that food itself is not as nutritious as it used to be. More evidence of this comes from a new study performed at the University of Texas. Using as a benchmark nutrients that were documented in crops 50 years ago, researchers found that six out of 13 nutrients had shown reliable declines (from a press release. The study will be in the December edition of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Find the press release at www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-12/uota-ssn120104.php ).

The common practice of applying toxic industrial sludge to farmland by labeling it as ‘fertilizer’ gives us an idea of how we have been progressively impoverishing our soil and food, while at the same time poisoning them both. This disturbing practice has been reported in various news outlets as well as a previous issue of this newsletter (1).

This raises another question: what happens when nutrient-depleted children (or adults) are exposed to environmental poisons such as mercury, lead, pesticides or other chemicals? A new study authored by Dr. Jill James (see www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/nation/10405661.htm but registration is required) reveals that autistic children are deficient in a protein called glutathione and are therefore unable to excrete heavy metals like mercury and lead. The study also shows that providing these children with enough vitamin B12 and folic acid helps re-establish this protein and leads to improvements. We can therefore conclude that the lack of this protein is caused by vitamin deficiencies and is not genetic, as in this latter case the vitamin supplements would not make any difference. Evidence that children and adults alike are exposed to toxic metals and chemicals in the environment is certainly not lacking. After repeatedly denying that mercury used as a preservative in vaccines could be harmful, the Centers for Disease Control reported that as many as one in six women of childbearin g age have enough mercury in their blood to cause permanent damage to the nervous system of developing fetuses (2).

Studies that have looked for chemicals stored in blood or human tissues have never failed to find them, often at levels known to potentially cause cancer or neurological damage. One of these was reported some time ago on this newsletter (3).

A more recent study gives us an idea of how insidious this problem can become. The results showed that minute amounts of a chemical called methylisothiazolinone (MIT) –
commonly found in shampoos and skin lotions – could impair early development of the nervous system (see www.nature.com/news/2004/041129/full/041129-13.html). Although this was an in-vitro study and its findings cannot be considered definitive, the amounts found to be damaging are so minute that they could be easily absorbed through skin.

Children with symptoms of hyper-excitability may have a history of exposure to environmental toxins combined with nutrient deficiencies, but the solution is often fairly simple. A new French study showed that children described as suffering from aggressive behaviors, instability, lack of attention in school, muscle tension and spasms, improved over a period of 1 to 6 months with nothing more than vitamin B6 and magnesium supplements. (J Am Coll Nutr 2004 Oct; 23 (5): 545S-8S).

(1) “EPA sanctions use of toxic waste to make fertilizer” January 2003, archived on the Newsletters page of my website under the Environmental Issues link
(2) “More news on mercury” March 2004, archived on the Newsletters page of my website under the Environmental Issues link
(3) “New website reports high levels of chemical in our bodies” March 2003, archived on the Newsletters page of my website under the Environmental Issues link

What you need to know about water

Nothing is as critical to life as water, and when scientists look for signs of life on a distant planet they look for water first. Our own bodies contain more water than any other substance, and the aging process has been described as one of gradual dehydration. The message is clear: drink water if you want to stay young!

Water is also known as the universal solvent, because it ionizes spontaneously generating weak electrical charges that dissolve almost everything. This is key to understanding why water is so critical for detoxification and health, and why it can easily become contaminated.

Much of the water that comes out of our taps today is surface water that has been exposed to endless contaminants and filtered by municipal systems that are rudimentary at best.

Even the purest underground water can become contaminated as pesticides and other chemicals slowly seep into the soil.

At-home water filtration can be problematic because many of the most sophisticated filtration systems on the market produce acidic water. To see this for yourself, buy an inexpensive water pH testing device called ‘Tetra Test pH’ that can be easily found and ordered on the Internet. Distilled and reverse osmosis (RO) water have a pH of about 5.2 (highly acidic, given that 7 is neutral). Water becomes acidic as it loses minerals through the purification process and absorbs carbon dioxide from ambient air. This is true, despite the fact that people have been taught in Chemistry 101 that distilled water has a perfectly neutral pH of 7.0!

Acid water is aggressive and readily dissolves a multitude of toxic chemicals from plastic containers, as well as metals from cooking utensils. This is why distilled water always tastes terrible, and RO water is about the same. Many types of purified water sold in health food stores, sometimes with claims of great health benefits, violate the most basic rule for clean water: they’re acidic and packaged in plastic. Avoid them!

Water testing can be expensive and is basically futile, since no known test can cover the full range of possible contaminants. However, a company called AquaMD (www.aquamd.com) provides a great deal of useful information. They have developed a huge database showing the specific problems with water from different parts of the country and they recommend targeted solutions. This can be important information for you and your family, even if you don’t drink the water from your tap.

When selecting a type of water to drink, look first for one that is slightly alkaline (with a pH of around 7.2) and is available in glass bottles or jugs. Next look for one with frequent and rigorous testing programs. Beyond this, there are types of oxygenated or ionized water that might provide additional health benefits, but reliable data on these is scant. If you feel inclined to research this you might begin by reading about ionized water at www.hightechhealth.com. If you find something of interest let me know.

Chemicals in personal care products and home cleaning supplies

Most of us realize that shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, soaps, and other personal hygiene products contain chemicals, but we might assume that someone out there is watching out for us and making sure they’re safe. Not so. Some might think that products labeled “natural” and sold in health food stores must be safe. Wrong again. It’s just marketing and has nothing to do with the safety of chemicals in a product.

In fact, the FDA has made it very clear that “a cosmetic manufacturer may use almost any raw material as a cosmetic ingredient and market the product without an approval from the FDA.” FDA sources also indicate that roughly 90% of ingredients used in personal care products have not been evaluated for safety (for references see the website below).

It’s clearly a mistake to think that since we don’t eat or drink these products it doesn’t matter what’s in them. Consider that many chemicals readily cross the skin and gain access to our bloodstream. When it comes to a fragrance, once you smell it it’s in your lungs and a second later it’s in your blood. That’s why so many people get headaches when they smell strong perfumes. In children, hyperactivity is a common reaction to these volatile chemicals.

To learn more about this go to http://www.ewg.org/reports/skindeep/report/executive_summary.php

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has studied more than 10,000 personal care product ingredients and ranked them according to what is known about their safety and the potential health risks in the absence of any relevant data.

According to the EWG report, about 1% of products on the market contains ingredients that are known or suspected to be human carcinogens. Some hair dye products contain coal tar derivatives for which the FDA issued a consumer alert on the benefits of limiting their use to “reduce the risk of cancer.” In addition, as many as half the products on the market contain impurities with varying degrees of potential toxicity.

Once you’re at the EWG website you can click the link “Find Products You Use” and search under various categories. For each category the EWG lists products they consider the best and worst choices. I was shocked to find a well-known health food store’s hair conditioner listed among the most toxic.

If personal care products are toxic, you can imagine what might be contained in the cleaning supplies, disinfectants, polishing agents, and pesticides we use around the house on a daily basis. A recent study reveals that many of these chemicals can have a damaging effect on the nervous system, the reproductive system, or other systems of the body. Besides, when it comes to home supplies, chemicals are not even listed on labels (see abcnews.go.com/wire/Living/ap20040714_1671.html).

One thing we can do is rid our homes of most – if not all – these products. Skillful marketing campaigns have convinced us that we need a different brand-name product for each housekeeping task, while in reality we might do just as well with a few simple and non-toxic ingredients. The excellent book “Clean House Clean Planet” by Karen Logan tells us not only about the dangers of home chemicals but also teaches us how to replace them with safe and effective substitutes.

More News on Mercury

Before beginning this discussion, it’s worth mentioning that mercury is the single most toxic non-nuclear element known to man. To get an idea of how toxic it is, consider that adding 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury every year to a 25-acre lake will pollute it in just a few years to the point of making the fish in it hazardous for human consumption (1). A well-recognized safety threshold for mercury in human blood is 5.8 parts per billion, a minuscule amount.

In infants and small children, mercury interferes with normal neurological development and is suspected of causing a broad range of disorders from autism to ADHD and dyslexia. In
adults, its effects are non-specific but it can play a role in causing a multitude of conditions including depression and anxiety, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and immune system disorders.

Nevertheless we continue to pour mercury into our environment, primarily from coal-burning power plants that, according to estimates, spew 40 tons or 80,000 lbs of mercury into our environment each year in the U.S. alone (2). Mercury has now been detected everywhere in our surroundings, including in New York snow and rain at levels far above those considered safe (3). This mercury then flows to lakes and oceans, where it accumulates in the fish we eat.

We have also been operating on the premise that adding a little mercury here and there isn’t going to hurt anyone, and so we’ve put it in vaccines and other medications as the
preservative thimerosal. We also use it to make dental fillings known as “silver” or amalgam fillings, which are 50% mercury, even though it has been shown to leak from these fillings (4).

The results are beginning to be revealed. Studying levels of mercury in umbilical cord blood, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently concluded that as many as 630,000 babies are born each year in our country at risk of lowered intelligence and learning problems due to exposure to mercury in the womb.

This finding doubles previous estimates by the EPA. In earlier studies, the agency only evaluated levels of mercury in women’s blood, considering 5.8 parts-per-billion (ppb) to be the threshold for danger.

Looking instead at umbilical cord blood, the EPA came to the realization that a fetus has no means of excreting mercury, so levels as low as 3.5 ppb in maternal blood lead to a
dangerous buildup in newborns. The EPA estimates that 1 in 6 women in our country has blood levels of mercury above 3.5 ppb (5).

Another astounding piece of the puzzle comes from a recent Institute of Medicine press release relating to an independent review of vaccine safety data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (6). Analyzing pre-existing data, investigators concluded that children who receive three vaccines containing mercury as the preservative thimerosal are 27 times more likely to develop autism than children who receive the same vaccines without thimerosal. By comparison, men who smoke have a risk factor for developing lung cancer of 22 times over men who do not smoke, while for female smokers it is only 11 times more likely.

I have not seen any official denials of the EPA’s conclusions but I understand they are still under review. If confirmed, they are likely to have momentous repercussions. These findings clearly point away from genetics as a cause of neuro-developmental disorders and towards environmental causes. However, genetics do play a part.

In a seemingly unrelated study, investigators focused on genes that encode for glutathione-s-transferases (GSTs). GSTs are enzymes that detoxify the body from environmental poisons. Mutations in these genes are common, occurring in up to 20% of the human race, and result in a reduced ability to excrete toxins, eventually leading the toxins to build up in the body.

In the past, the presence of these mutations would not have made much difference to human health. But now, with increased levels of pollutants, these individual differences are becoming critical to the body’s ability to detoxify itself and can be the difference, for instance, between those children who withstand mercury in vaccines with little detriment to their neurological development, and those who don’t (7).

Additional research was conducted by Richard Deth, PhD, of Northeastern University and will be published in next month’s issue of Molecular Psychiatry (8). It shows that exposure
to toxic metals, including mercury, aluminum and lead, can cause adverse effects on methylation reactions in the brain and elsewhere in the body.

In simple terms, methylation reactions are basic processes whereby tiny compounds containing a single carbon atom are transferred from one molecule to another. They can be thought of as power switches used by the brain and other parts of the body to turn many critical processes on or off, including DNA function and gene expression.

If methylation is disrupted early in life for instance as a result of exposure to mercury this can affect development of the brain and lead to conditions like autism and ADHD.

One molecule that must be methylated to become active is vitamin B12. Basically, if the brain cannot methylate efficiently, any vitamin B12 that is there is useless and cannot play its fundamental role in orchestrating brain activity. This explains why regular injections of a methylated form of vitamin B12 (MB12) have produced such major clinical improvements in a majority of children with autism. These injections might repair (we hope) or may just compensate for damage previously caused by mercury.

MB12 injections have also been used for some time in Europe and in the U.S. by forward-thinking physicians in the treatment of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple
sclerosis, and other conditions that may be partially related to mercury exposure in adults (9).

These many findings on mercury also give us a better understanding of why chelation a treatment approach to remove mercury and other toxic metals from the body has been such a major help for many children with autism and ADHD.

Chelation generally involves tak ing a product called DMSA on a rotating basis. Once inside the body DMSA acts as a magnet for mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic metals, safely shuttling these poisons out of the body through the urine. According to data collected by the Autism Research Institute (ARI) and DAN (Defeat Autism Now), when children can be shown to excrete metals while taking DMSA they almost always improve, sometimes dramatically.

Although DMSA is safe, some may not be able to tolerate it and can experience side effects (none serious or lasting). In these cases there are other detoxification approaches that show a great deal of promise. One of these involves a type of vitamin B1 called allithiamine, generally administered in cream form and absorbed through the skin.

A type of algae called chlorella has not been recommended for detoxification because much of the chlorella on the market is compromised at the source. Since chlorella has an
enormous affinity for mercury it binds to it in the ponds where it is generally grown and is therefore already contaminated before it’s even harvested.

However, certified uncontaminated chlorella deserves a closer look as a valid, safe and cost-effective option for removing mercury from the body. Like DMSA, chlorella is a magnet for mercury and other toxic metals. It is milder than DMSA and therefore better tolerated by some individuals. While it is true that chlorella is easily contaminated from external sources, there are types that are pure. In Germany, chlorella is grown for medical purposes in enormous glass tubes that create a completely isolated environment where contamination is virtually impossible (10).

References:
(1)
(2)
and
(3)

(4)

(5)

(6)

(7) Lancet, 2004 Jan 10; 363 (9403): 119-25
(8) Molecular Psychiatry 2004, Volume 9, advance online publication doi:10.1038/sj.mp.4001476. For further information contact Christine Phelan, Northeastern University, Pharmaceutical Sciences, 716 Columbus Avenue, 5th floor, Boston, Massachusetts 02120; phone: 617-373-5455
(9)

(10)

Food Choices and Pesticide Exposure

According to a recent study the following 12 foods and vegetables make up the so-called “dirty dozen” and are the most contaminated with pesticide residues:

• Apples
• Bell peppers
• Celery
• Cherries
• Imported grapes
• Nectarines
• Peaches
• Pears
• Potatoes
• Red raspberries
• Spinach
• Strawberries

The following 12 were found to be the least contaminated, even if not organic:

• Asparagus
• Avocados
• Bananas
• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Corn (sweet)
• Kiwi
• Mangos
• Onions
• Papayas
• Pineapples
• Peas (sweet)

The idea here is to avoid foods listed in the “dirty dozen” or consume them only if organic. The least contaminated foods raise the least concern, even if not organic.

Using a computer model, researchers estimated that switching from daily consumption of the most contaminated foods to the least contaminated reduces exposure to pesticides by as much as 90% even if none of the foods are organic. People consuming the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables are exposed to twenty pesticides a day on average. By comparison, eating the 12 least contaminated will expose a person to only a little over two pesticides a day.

Although washing fruits and vegetables is always recommended, it is not an effective way to reduce pesticide exposure. A few of the pesticides may wash off to some degree, but
many are taken internally by the plant and are not affected by washing.

Skeptics will always think that pesticides must be safe if the government allows them. It should be noted, however, that pesticides are toxic by definition, since they are designed to kill insects, and harmful or even lethal effects in humans are predictable at high enough levels of exposure.

Studies on low-dose exposure in humans are scant and we have no safety data relating to concurrent low-dose exposure to multiple pesticides over long periods of time. This is
particularly significant when it comes to infants and developing fetuses that are known to be the most vulnerable groups.

To read the entire study, go to The Environmental Working Group’s website www.ewg.org and click on “Reduce amount of pesticides in your diet.”

Arsenic from Chicken?

I have been running hair analyses on children for years and finding evidence of all sorts of toxic metals: aluminum, antimony, arsenic, lead, cadmium, and so on. Rare is the child whose test comes back negative. Whatever you think about the validity of hair analysis, it’s hard to argue that these poisons belong in children’s hair. Where do they come from?

Arsenic, for one, might well be coming from chicken. According to a recent study, commercial chickens are laced with this poison, and this is not by accident. Arsenic is actually added on purpose to chicken feed to prevent parasites. I doubt these poisoned chickens could live out a normal life span, but I guess it doesn’t matter to the commercial breeders who are raising them for slaughter.

Of course, industry sources immediately responded to the study by saying that the amount of arsenic people ingest from eating chicken is well below safety thresholds. This may be true on average, but not for the 10% of Americans who consume the most chicken – and what about children who are addicted to chicken nuggets?

Besides, safety thresholds for poisons are hypothetical at best. How does below-threshold exposure to arsenic affect a child who has also been given mercury in vaccines? Arsenic is
a known neurotoxin and a cause of bladder and other cancers.

The study was published in the January 2004 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. Find the abstract at http://ehis.niehs.nih.gov/docs/2003/6407/abstract.html. You may also
read a commentary on this study at www.organicconsumers.org/foodsafety/arsenic012304.cfm.

In an unrelated story, the EPA’s ban on arsenic in treated wood went into effect last month. Apparently industry is now proposing to replace arsenic with hexavalent chromium (Cr6).

Cr6 was the environmental poison that was the subject of the movie Erin Brockovich (if you haven’t seen it it’s worth renting). The problem in this case is not that industry has criminal intent. It’s just an indication of how difficult it is to make wood that resists destruction by bugs and molds without harming humans at the same time. For more on this see www.ewg.org.

Water fluoridation found to increase blood lead

Water fluoridation has long been a controversial topic, and a Google search brings up thousands of sites discussing the pros and cons of this practice. In theory, fluoride is added to drinking water to protect us from cavities.

In reality, there is little evidence that water fluoridation does any good. Although there are studies showing the protective effects of fluoride, they are based on its topical application to teeth, not adding it to drinking water.

Fluoride is actually an industrial by-product that is toxic and would normally be disposed of as any other environmental hazard. Critics of water fluoridation hold that fluoride should be
carefully eliminated from the environment, not added to drinking water and thus endangering our health and adding to the burden of pollutants in our bodies.

An interesting and well-referenced article on this topic can be found at www.suite101.com/article.cfm/11749/109036

The author – a self-appointed fluoride researcher – discusses a recent study showing that fluoridation causes children to absorb more lead and retain it longer in their bodies.

Lead is not only known to lower IQ and cause hyperactivity, autism, and more, it is also – believe it or not – itself a cause of cavities. This may be the reason why, when fluoridation
was discontinued in some European countries cavity rates went down (see Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology, Oct. 2000; 28: 382-9 also reported at
www.mercola.com/2000/oct/29/fluoride_cavities.htm).

Arsenic In Wood Playground Equipment

Arsenic is a toxic heavy metal and a recognized risk factor for bladder and lung cancers. It is also toxic to the human brain. Exposure to arsenic can lead to mental confusion, agitation and learning impairment. It is also possible, although not fully documented, that exposure to arsenic is responsible for symptoms of ADD and ADHD in some children who have been labeled with these conditions.

Arsenic is found in small amounts in the soil, and minute quantities can be detected in fruits and vegetables, especially those sprayed with certain pesticides. The largest source of exposure to arsenic is through wood used in home construction, which is treated with an arsenic-containing pesticide. Construction workers are especially at risk.

The same type of wood has also been used to make playground sets, leading to increased exposure for children. As a population group, they may be more vulnerable to neurological damage from arsenic and other heavy metals. Children who tend to place their hands or various objects in their mouths are thought to be at greatest risk.

Although arsenic-containing wood is supposed to be gradually phased out, it is still in use. You can read more about this topic in the February 8, 2003 issue of The New York Times or online at www.nytimes.com (search the archives for “arsenic”).

New Website Reports High Levels of Chemicals in Our Bodies

Most of us know that our air, water and food conta in pollutants of various types and that they are subject to a great deal of quality monitoring and regulation.

Studies have also revealed that numerous environmental toxins accumulate in plants and animals, and are found in the highest concentrations in large predator animals that are at the top of the food chain.

But where do humans fit in all this? Do chemicals actually build up in our bodies as well?

The answer to these questions is unquestionably yes, and there have been a number of studies confirming this over the years. A new website sponsored an Environmental Working Group of Washington, DC offers a reprint of a recent study performed by Mount Sinai School of Medicine on this very topic.

The researchers looked for a broad range of chemicals in the blood and urine of volunteers. They found a total of 167 chemicals with an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals per individual tested.

Researchers then categorized these chemicals according to their known effects on humans and animals. A shocking statistic is that the largest number of chemicals that were found, 94 out of 167, are toxic to the brain and nervous system, while 79 cause birth defects and abnormal development and 76 are known to cause cancer. The study can be found in its entirety at www.ewg.org and clicking on “Body Burden: the pollution in people”.

Beyond mercury in vaccines and other environmental toxins, it is possible that we are ourselves poisoning our children before they are born because of the chemicals we carry in our bodies.

As surprising as the results of this study may be to some, the extent of pollutants in the human body may in fact be underestimated because many chemicals dissolve in fat and are stored in fatty tissues, but are not found in blood or urine. Among fatty tissues, the brain, with its 60% fat content, has the highest concentration of fat of any organ in the body.

I know information like this can be discouraging, especially if you have chronic health problems or if you are the parent of an autistic child and wondering if you should have more children. My advice is not to give up and work to overcome these problems because it is possible. A good place to start is to gain as much knowledge as possible, and the new book by Sherry Rogers, MD appropriately entitled “Detoxify or Die” (available from www.prestigepublishing.com) is worthwhile reading.

EPA Sanctions Use of Toxic Waste to Make Fertilizer

Many of us have been surprised and shocked in recent years to learn about the use of mercury as a preservative in infant vaccines. But what if we discovered that this is just the tip of the iceberg? Yet another disturbing reality is that industry has used fertilizer as a way to dump toxic industrial wastes laced with PCB’s, dioxins, toxic metals and more. This practice has recently received the stamp of approval from our government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The full document containing the EPA’s ruling on the matter can be found at www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-WASTE/2002/July/Day-24/f18405.htm.

Although the document is fairly long, it is worth reading to grasp some of the intricacies of government thinking that can lead to the poisoning of Americans citizens. For example, the EPA goes into a detailed explanation of the difference between what they define as “sham” and “legitimate” recycling of toxic wastes. In “sham” recycling a toxic waste is simply dumped into a fertilizer. This is banned and punishable by law. In “legitimate” recycling, however, a desirable feature of the waste is identified before it is dumped, although it’s really the same waste we are talking about. For example, since zinc is desirable in fertilizers, if the toxic waste happens to contain zinc dust from an industrial process, the waste is considered acceptable and can be dumped legally.

Further into the document, the EPA claims it is powerless to limit this practice and that if it tried to do so, or made the practice more costly to industry by limiting how much poison
can be dumped this way, “such a regulatory approach would likely result in a complete elimination of hazardous secondary materials as a source of zinc to make fertilizers.” Frankly, that would be just fine with me!

Finally, the EPA points out that it received more that 1,000 communications complaining about its policy. Although the EPA is conscious of the adverse health effects of exposure to toxic chemicals, “with regard to fertilizers, much of this concern is apparently misplaced.” Of course the EPA does not quote any study to substantiate this claim, quite simply because no study was ever performed. Even though these are known poisons, for some mysterious reason it’s really OK for our fruits and vegetables to be grown in them.

As with mercury in vaccines, we have the power to put an end to this policy and I encourage all of my readers to write, e-mail or phone the EPA and your congressman to let them know what you think about their approval of growing our food in poison. This type of practice is affecting the health of every one of us, but especially our children. Today’s children are not only suffering a well-documented epidemic of autism, they are also dealing with a epidemics of cancer, ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, Type 2 (adult onset) diabetes, asthma, skin disorders, etc. All of these conditions have in common one thing: they are caused by exposure to environmental toxins. Similar epidemics are seen in the adult population, but children are always the most vulnerable to the effects of environmental poisons. Although population statistics continue to show a trend towards longer life, most of the people now living to a ripe old age had their formative years long before today’s chemical soup was served!

Our Toxic World: Who Is Looking After Our Children?

This is the title of a book written by Harold E. Buttram, MD and Richard Piccola, MHA, and available from www.woodmed.com (telephone 1-800-517-9545). Parts of the book can be
downloaded from www.oneflesh.org/Child-TOC.html.

In Chapter 3, the authors review several human studies on the role of food additives in nutrition. In one study, the cafeterias of 803 New York schools lowered sugar and eliminated artificial colors and flavors and the preservatives BHA and BHT. Candy was replaced with fruit, popcorn and peanuts. During this study there was a 15.7% increase in academic rankings of students in these schools above the rest of the nation’s schools which used the same standardized test.

When these same changes were introduced in correctional institutions there was a 47% reduction in violence and other forms of antisocial behavior.

Chapter 4 looks at the impact that monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavoring agent, and the sweetener aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) have had on hyperactivity in children.

MSG has become one of the most widely used food additives since its development in Japan in the 1940′s. It is now also used in many baby foods and can be difficult to detect on labels as it may be simply listed as “natural food additive” or “textured protein” (this mislabeling should now stop following the introduction of a new law). Aspartame is used in most sugar-free drinks and foods.

In animal experiments MSG was shown to cause damage to the retinal cells of the eye as well as to the hypothalamus and other areas of the brain. According to Russell Blaylock, MD, a neurosurgeon and author of “Excitotoxins, the taste that kills,” MSG and aspartame may result in a continual state of hyperexcitability as well as brain injury.

Other additives implicated in childhood hyperactivity include artificial food colorings and flavorings. Additives not implicated in hyperactivity, but of concern, include nitrites, sulfites and the synthetic antioxidants BHA and BHT. Nitrites are found in bacon and other cured meats, whereas sulfites are often added to cut fruits and vegetables to maintain their fresh appearance (since 1985 the use of sulfites has been partially banned by the FDA).