Originally published February 19 2008
Death From Birth Defects: Fetal Exposure to Toxins Out of Control
by Gail L. Ross, MS, RD
(NaturalNews) The leading cause of infant death in the U.S. results from congenital birth defects. They have become an increasingly prominent cause of infant death. In 1970, the deaths from birth defects were 15.1 percent and by 1997 the figure jumped to 22.1 percent. The increase in birth defects is significant. Three to five percent of all U.S. babies are born with birth defects according to CDC figures in 2004. Another way of looking at it is one in every thirty three babies has a birth defect. Birth defects can affect any part of the body such as heart defects or neural tubes. Causes may be from nutrient deficiencies to contaminants or a combination thereof.
In addition, five to ten percent of couples are infertile and half of all pregnancies end up in miscarriage. Although infectious diseases of childhood have appeared to decline for the time being, a new crop of chronic conditions have erupted including childhood brain cancers, lymphocytic leukemia, asthma, and autism to name a few. A closer look at the root cause of birth defects reveals the potential for a nutritional or toxic origin as the leading suspects.
Consider the fact that scientists have found newborns contaminated with over 200 chemicals or pollutants through the study of umbilical cord blood randomly selected from hospitals in 2004. The chemicals found in the cord blood included 187 that are known carcinogens, 217 are known neurotoxins and 208 are known to cause birth defects.
Fetal vulnerability is dramatically greater than for adults on a pound for pound basis. Many of these contaminants are found in the food chain and no amount of nutrition can make up for an immature detoxification system or an immature porous blood brain barrier incapable of ridding itself of the problem.
The first trimester of pregnancy is considered a "critical window" of vulnerability because cells are differentiating into the various body parts and damage from chemical insult can be permanent. Yet, even at five months the fetus begins to breathe and swallow amniotic fluid. The fluid passes into the lungs, it is swallowed into the gut and continuously recycles in this manner. The fluid includes the urine. Accumulation of toxins in the tissues is inevitable. By the third trimester when the mother's body dissolves maternal fat into the baby's blood, it brings another host of pollutants such as PCBs and dioxins adding additional insult to an already overburdened immature body.
The EPA officials have had numerous studies conducted over the past twenty years indicating the significant vulnerability of babies and children to toxic exposure. Yet, action occurs at a snails pace if at all. The studies have indicated that carcinogens are 10 times more potent to babies and some chemicals are as much as 65 times more potent to little ones.
Current policies are not comprehensive and ignore all other known vulnerabilities except cancer causing ones. In other words, chemicals such as neurotoxic insecticides that damage nervous tissue are disregarded. Other chemicals that target a host of bodily systems that damage say the immune system or kidneys or thyroid or liver have no formal policy in place to review or rectify an obviously serious situation for American children and the adults who care for them.
If that is not bad enough, it is now known that fetal exposures lead to adult diseases and can affect future generations as well. Prenatal nutrition is no longer just a matter of getting the right amounts of foods and vitamins and essential fatty acids but also reducing body burden of chemicals before, during and after pregnancy. As if life isn't complicated enough. Organic food anyone?
About the authorGail L. Ross has a Master's in Nutrition with two additional post graduate years from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine. She is an RD. She was an Adjunct Faculty member at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute where she has taught Nutrition and Environmental Science. She taught biology, intro diabetes and nutrition and wellness at Central Arizona College. She worked for the Az State Mental Health Hospital. She worked for various Women Infant and Children's Programs on the Shoshone and Arapaho and Navajo Indian Reservations respectively. She was instrumental in initiating the development of a Nutrition Support Team at the Denver Veteran's Administration Medical Center. She consulted with the LA Clippers. She has worked in a variety of capacities, settings and locations. She has been a pioneer in the field of nutrition and has appeared on various radio shows, local TV stations and published articles during the course of her career. She participated in the Denver PBS video production on Eating Disorders entitled Beauty Lies: Cultural Ideals and Eating Disorders.
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