It’s the long-unanswered question, almost an enigma: what causes autism? Experts suggest autism may stem from such things as genetics, infections, problems at birth, and even vaccines. But could environmental toxins also play a part? We may soon know the answer to that very question as research is finally exploring a possible link between mental health issues and environmental exposures.
What Are Environmental Toxins?
Environmental toxins are pollutants that we breathe, ingest, or come in contact with on a regular, day-to-day basis. A staggering number of chemicals, ranging in the tens of thousands, have been introduced into the environment over the last 50 years. What is frightening is that the majority of these toxins had never been tested to see if health problems surface as a result of exposure.
One possible problem? Developmental and learning disabilities. In fact, it has been determined that one out of six children suffers from developmental and learning disabilities and/or chronic diseases. If environmental toxins play a part in this, our children are being affected significantly. Infants, children, and young adults are much more at risk than adults because their bodies are constantly changing and growing. Their vital organs, like their brain, nervous system, lungs, and reproductive organs are growing at such a fast rate, making them easily susceptible to toxic interference. With their under-developed lungs and kidneys, children’s bodies cannot detox these poisons as efficiently as adults.
It’s not just direct exposure that poses a problem either. A pregnant woman breathing in exhaust fumes exposes her unborn child to that particular environmental poison.
And of course, one must account for the “curious” nature of children. Toddlers and children put everything in their mouths, not just food. Even with the most cautious moms on the case, kids can end up eating a ton of non-food items, like dirt and paint, which only increases their intake of these toxins. What’s more? Diesel fumes from school buses have been proven to cause cancer, particularly lung cancer.
Fortunately, what is beginning to be examined is how environmental toxins actually impact a child’s health, and more importantly, to what extent. Some mental and physical health issues may include:
- Behavioral disorders
- Birth defects
- Dysfunctional immune system
- Early puberty in girls
- Learning disabilities
- Neurological impairments
- Reproductive disorders
- Sexual maturity and fertility problems
- Sperm count declination
Which Environmental Toxins are in Question?
Bisphenol A (BPA): Bisphenol A can affect reproductive and neurological systems as it mimics estrogen. In pregnant women, it collects around the fetus, or more specifically, the umbilical cord and amniotic fluid. It’s been recognized to cause behavioral issues in toddler-age girls and can alter prostate size and decrease sperm count in boys. BPA can be found in items like plastic bottles (including baby bottles), in the lining of cans, pacifiers, and even in the dental sealant for cavity prevention.
Brominated Flame Retardants: Because of its proven harmfulness as a hormone disrupter and its link to thyroid problems, some companies are discontinuing the use of brominated flame retardants. Bans on two particular flame retardants are now in effect in Europe and a few different states in the United States. Bedding, children’s pajamas, upholstered furniture, car seats, and strollers all contain flame retardants. It’s also been found in household dust and even breast milk.
Lead: Exposure to lead can affect a child’s developing brain, as well as cause headaches, stomach pain, anemia, and behavioral issues. Gas fumes, exhaust, soil (due to its exposure to exhaust and rust), pewter dinnerware, and certain hobbies that use soldering (stained glass, jewelry making, pottery glazing) are examples of things that could contribute to lead exposure.
Mercury: Commonly found in the fish we eat, exposure to mercury can tamper with children’s language abilities, concentration, and memory, as well as interfere with their visual, spatial, and fine motor skills. Recently in Texas a study revealed autism in greater numbers due to an elevated intensity of mercury in the environment.
Perfluorinated Compounds: Perfluorinated compounds are fluorine-containing chemicals that can make things stain- and stick-resistant, like Teflon-coated pots and pans, fabric treatments, grease-resistant food packaging, and even certain brands of dental floss. In testing on laboratory mice and rats, it causes pancreatic, liver, testicular, and mammary gland tumors. Liver and thyroid cancer, liver and kidney damage, and reproductive problems are prevalent as well.
Pesticides (Organochlorine and Organophosphate): Lindane, a specific organochlorine, was a prescription for removing head lice. It was known for symptoms of dizziness, headaches, and convulsions. As recently as 2003, most organochlorines have been discontinued in the United States. Organophospate pesticides are connected with hormonal disruption and numerous kinds of cancer. More than a half of samples of baby foods in the United States contained detectable levels of pesticides. One out of five baby food jars inspected included at least two pesticides.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH): PAHs result from incomplete burning of carbon material like oil, wood, garbage, and coal. Mothballs, blacktop, certain skin creams, anti-dandruff shampoos, and charcoal-broiled foods are some examples of products that contain PAHs. Lung and skin cancer are health hazards from PAH exposure, as well as reproductive problems with a baby in utero. The lungs, liver, skin, and kidney can also suffer damage. Anxiety and behavioral problems are health concerns with children who are exposed to this byproduct of incomplete combustion.
What Can You Do?
- Opt for natural cleaning solutions instead of using chemical-laden cleaning products, or go “green” with the earth-friendly products now available.
- By pouring boiling water on the roots of weeds in the garden, you can kill those nasty buggers instead of using harmful chemical killers.
- Hairspray can kill many pesky insects that invade your space in the house.
- Keep a “cheat sheet” of toxins and read labels when shopping for household goods, toys, and clothing.
- Replace your cookware with stainless steel or ceramic pots and pans.
- When purchasing furniture, say NO to the fabric protection package.
- Look for televisions, computers, etc. which do not contain brominated flame retardants.
- Dispose of painted toys (lead) and plastic toys (BPA). Select wooden toys instead.
- Keep your home as dust-free as possible. Choose hardwood floors as opposed to carpeting to reduce the dust and chemicals that reside in it.
- When buying your groceries, choose organic, non-GMO fruits and vegetables when possible to avoid pesticides. Consider limiting your meat intake since most animals are injected with hormones to fatten up or produce more milk. Avoid processed foods, like fast food, frozen food, and canned or boxed food.
- Make sure everyone in your household washes their hands frequently, especially before eating.
- Drink and cook with distilled water. It’s water in its purest form. If using tap water, let tap run for a minute to wash away any build-up in the faucet.
- Don’t use lead crystal for serving food and drinks.
- Check with your child-care facilities or school to find out if they’re using environmentally friendly cleaning agents and pesticides.
It may sound laborious at first, but it’s really not. In fact, with just a little extra consciousness, and a tiny bit of work, you can provide a much safer environment for you and your family.
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