It may alarm you to realise that in countries such as Australia and America there are very limited regulations on the safety of which chemicals* are used in household and beauty products, and that this lack of protection can have a significant impact on not only your health, but also your babies and even your grandbabies.
Chemicals that we are exposed to can be pass through our to offspring, and can even cross generations. This can unfortunately have a mutli-generational effect on health and fertility. Fertility rates are declining through generations and while there are many factors responsible for this, chemical exposure that passes through to our babies and affects their fertility and their children’s fertility is something that we need to become educated about and take responsibility for.
A study by the Environmental Working Group in 2005 examined the umbilical cord blood of 10 newborn babies and found an total of 287 chemicals, with an average of 200 chemicals present per baby. 28 of these were waste byproducts such as Formaldehyde, PCBs, Mercury, Petroleum and Dioxin 1, 4. 47 of these were consumer products such as Bisphenol A, Dioxins, Pthalates, Triclosan, Brominated Flame retardants, Pesticides and Preservatives. Of these chemicals and pesticides had actually been banned or restricted in use 30+ years ago, giving us a scary insight into how chemicals can be stored in our bodies and be passed onto our offspring despite not having current exposure to them.
Other studies have shown that many of these chemicals were passed down the line from the grandmothers generation, however the chemicals were present in higher amounts in the children, suggesting that they are transferred across the placenta and breastmilk.
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What does this mean? One of the lessons I take from this information is that chemicals which are currently viewed as safe but are not inert, are still best to avoid, as many of the harmful chemicals detected in this test were at one stage viewed as safe.
In Australia, the approach to chemical regulation is different to countries more progressive in this area – an absolute evidence of harm is required before a chemical is removed by use in Australia, compared to the EU where a more precautionary principle is in place – they believe that “When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, action shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.”
In order to navigate this lack of protection we must take more responsibility ourselves.
Penelope Jagessar said in her Ted Talk: The Toxic Baby “It is only a parent’s awareness that stands between chemicals and our children”.
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A flaw in the research that is performed on chemical safety is that the studies are often done in isolation, and on adults. When chemical exposure can present greater threats is when it is combined and cumulative doses, and in combination with other chemicals. There are no studies done on the risks of this type of exposure. Children and babies also have different detoxification capabilities and what is deemed as safe exposure for an adult may not be relevant for a child.
The other issue that can be relevant for some people is that nutritional, bacterial, hormonal or genetic imbalances (such as MTHFR) can make someone more susceptible to damage from these chemical exposures.
While there are many problematic chemicals still in use in household and personal care products, one of the chemicals you may find easily in your household is phthalates.
Phthalates are commonly used in many personal care items such as perfumes, air fresheners, cosmetics, hair sprays and dyes, detergents, cleansers and nail polish. Look on the ingredient list for terms such as dibutyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate, but they are often not required to be listed and so can be disguised under the term ‘fragrance’. Perfumes are one of the strongest sources of this chemical and are best completely avoided during preconception period, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
One of their main actions is in relation to steroid hormones, an action referred to as a xeno-oestrogen, in which they interfere with our oestrogen receptors, and this effect is most potent when multiple compounds are present. These chemicals can affect sperm motility, morphology and count. Exposure is also linked with incomplete testicular descent in boys and the feminisation of baby boys (lowered androgen levels and development of breast cells that can even produce breast milk).
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Chemicals can have their strongest effect on babies and children during periods of exposure during pregnancy and early life.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) “One-third of the existing global burden of disease is caused by environmental factors. More than 40% of that burden is borne by children < 5 years of age, although they constitute only 10% of the global population.”
During the first twelve weeks of pregnancy the effects of these endocrine disrupting chemicals is at its greatest. Issues where the development of the foetus’s genitalia is malformed has been linked with chemical exposure, including conditions such as micro-penis, hypospadias (where the urethral opening of the penis is incorrectly positioned and requires surgery to correct this) and cryptorchidism (when the testes do not descend properly).
Similar chemicals to those found in newborns were also detected in 99-100% of 263 pregnant women analysed in the US, some of which were in the same concentrations that have been associated with negative effects in children from other studies.
Sperm quality has dramatically declined over the years, and this has a negative effect on fertility, as well as having an impact on future generations. Since 1973 the average concentration of sperm has decreased from 99million/ml to 47million/ml. The degree of change is such that what the World Health organisation (WHO) classes as normal has been updated. Normal forms (morphology) has reduced from 14% to 4% and motile forms have been reduced from 50% to 32%. There are many factors that contribute towards this change in sperm quality including obesity, sedentary lifestyle, prescribed and illicit drug use, stress and nutritional imbalances. Chemical exposure is unfortunately an equally important factor that often goes unrecognised and can affect the DNA of not only the fathers sperm but also their future generations.
Whenever you have the opportunity to convert to a safer alternative, do so. It can be quite overwhelming when you realise the vastness of the issue, and it can be very expensive to replace every source of plastic and chemicals in your house at once. So begin to minimalise. Here’s 5 practical ways to start that process:
*I would like to address the often presented argument that “everything is a chemical”. I agree that this is very close to the truth (with the exception of sound and light which is actually matter). However, in this article I am using the term chemicals for the sake of convenience, and actually referring to toxic and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, substances which are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion which are in commercial use and have been proven or suspected of contributing to disease and dysfunction in humans, and chemicals which have shown to cause damage in ways such as mitochondrial dysfunction, neurodevelopmental toxicity, immune toxicity, oxidative stress and various levels of inflammation.
Have you ever wondered whether natural and chemical-free product are always best for your baby? Share your questions and comments below – I’d love to hear them.
P.S. Share this article with another Mother who would appreciate this information. She (ad her baby) will thank you for it later!
P.P.S. Have you got a copy of CDK’s exclusive eBook of Natural Remedies? It’s free – grab it here.
Alison is a practicing Naturopath, based in Windsor and Dural, NSW. She also offers consultations via Skype. She is passionate about helping people reclaim their health and vitality by blending traditional healing methods with the latest research. She is thorough and caring in her approach and believes in an individualised approach to treatment and diet. She is a foodie and an advocate of the 80/20 rule, and she believes that life is meant to be enjoyed and that good health is one of the best ways to do this.
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Super helpful and interesting read, thank you Alison x
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