Magryta column: Negative effects of environment
How do we respond to the “10 Americans” study as presented at the Center for the Environment by Ken Cook on Feb. 19?
As the founder of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Cook laid out the case about the negative effects of environmental chemicals on mothers and their offspring.
As an integrative pediatrician, I have a plan for action to secure a better future. Governmental policy changes will take years. The current generation of children and pregnant women need action now. Prevention of chemical exposure and nutritional detoxification is our best strategy today.
As Hippocrates said, “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”
There is no doubt that diseases of all kinds are increasing and that a mother’s exposure to chemicals while pregnant, or a child’s exposure in infancy or throughout life, cannot be in our best interests. As Dr. Andrew Weil has stated, it is not a question of whether they are dangerous for us, but how dangerous they are.
Our current governmental philosophy is to approve most chemicals and wait to see if human effects occur and then make a judgment on the viability of the chemical.
In the EWG Web site, (www.ewg.org), the following can be found:
“Every day, consumers rely on household products that contain thousands of chemicals. The American public expects the federal government do all it can to ensure these chemicals are safe before they reach the market.
“We already have strong regulations for pesticides and pharmaceuticals ó it’s common sense that we do the same for chemicals that end up in household items we use every day.”
New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg plans to reintroduce the Kid-Safe Chemicals Act in the near future. Learn about the Kids-Safe Chemicals Act and call your local congressman and governor to share your concern.
Our population needs to focus heavily on a healthy eating style to lay the foundation for healing.
In the April 2007 edition of the journal “Nature Reviews,” Randy Jirtle and Michael Skinner state that epidemiological evidence increasingly suggests that environmental exposures early in development have a role in susceptibility to disease later in life. Environmental exposures are affecting the expression of genes that lead to disease.
For example, Bisphenol A, a chemical used in hard plastics, is associated with higher body weight, increased breast and prostate cancer, and altered reproductive function. This chemical is banned in Canada and the European Union, but not in the United States.
I have written about the beneficial effects of proper nutrition many times, yet this time I think this discussion has taken a new focus. Humans have a natural ability to detoxify many chemicals and dangerous products that enter our bodies. That ability relies in part on a healthy diet, and that has been suggested in the results of some recent studies.
Researchers of the NYU Women’s Health Study examined the relationship between risk of breast cancer and intake of meat, animal products, fat, protein, fruits and vegetables. They found that women who ate more meat had a higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who had less meat and saturated fat in their diet.
Women’s Health Study researchers found that higher levels of carotenoids, anti-oxidants found in colorful plants, were associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer.
This is evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in meat and saturated fat might confer protective benefits against the development of breast cancer.
(See www.med.nyu.edu/ womenshealthstudy/findings)
The final common pathway falls directly back to a natural diet that is predominantly plant-based with little to no pesticides. We need to be conscious of the fact that in many ways we are what we eat, and unfortunately most of us do not eat well.
Evidence is mounting that suggests that inflammation is an important part of the pathology of many medical conditions. We have little to no control over the macro-environment, but we can control our food intake and attempt to limit our exposure to household chemicals both of which increase the inflammatory process.
Here are my recommendations for a healthy life: I would focus on diet and attempt to get as close as possible to a traditional Mediterranean or anti- inflammatory diet. According to Weil and colleagues at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, this entails:
– Reducing saturated animal fats by decreasing consumption of red meat and processed meats as well as high fat dairy products.
– Reducing the use of omega 6-laden oils like vegetable, soy, corn, sesame, peanut and hydrogenated oils and margarines. Use primarily monounsaturated oils like extra virgin olive and canola oil. Eliminate all trans fats from your diet.
– Increasing the intake of omega 3 fatty acids by eating cold water fish like salmon, eating flax seeds, walnuts and green leafy vegetables.
– Using a whole food approach by eating whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes Eliminate processed foods and choose organic products whenever possible.
I encourage you to visit www.ewg.org to learn more about ways to live healthier in our chemical environment.
Here are some ideas from Environmental Working Group:
– Use cast iron pans instead of nonstick.
– To avoid chemicals leaching into food, go easy on processed, canned or fast foods and never microwave plastic.
– Buy organic, or eat vegetables and fruit from the “Cleanest 12” list.
– Pregnant women should consume foods containing iodine to combat chemical interference from the thyroid. These include kelp, organic milk and yogurt, eggs and strawberries.
– Seal outdoor wooden structures. Order a test kit to find out if your wooden deck, picnic table or playset is leaching arsenic.
– Leave your shoes at the door. This cuts down on dust-bound pollutants in the home.
– Avoid perfume, cologne and products with added fragrance.
– Buy products with natural fibers, like cotton and wool that are naturally fire resistant.
– Eat low-mercury fish like tilapia & pollock, rather than high-mercury choices like tuna and swordfish.
– Filter your water for drinking and cooking.
Dr. Chris Magryta is a pediatrician with Salisbury Pediatric Associates.