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How phthalates impact a child’s intelligence
The chemistry of fats is complicated. High fat levels are not because you stacked your plate with butter, meat, cream and eggs – your body made those fats.
We’re living in a chemical world – does it really matter ?
A group of researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health decided to explore whether exposure to phthalates in the womb, made a difference to “intelligence”.
What are phthalates ?
Phthalates are not just one chemical – they’re a group of chemicals, all with similar chemical characteristics, that are widely used.
- They pop up in plastics, as plasticizers – making them more flexible, transparent, more durable and improve their longevity.
- They also pop up in personal care products – they improve the skin penetration of lotions and make things smell good.
- They pop up in toys, plastic wrap, plastic containers, flooring, shower curtains etc.
You get the picture – they’re everywhere, they’re ubiquitous.
What’s the all the fuss about ?
The reason they are on scientists radar, is because they have been shown to be capable of disrupting our hormones. The official term used to describe chemicals with this capability is an EDC i.e. an endocrine disrupting chemical.
Since our hormones run our body chemistry. Chemicals that look a lot like our hormones, can cause a great deal of trouble inside our body’s. Enzymes, transporters and receptors are not always “savvy” enough to realize, they dealing with a “fake” version.
- sometimes they end up “artificially” increasing the level of a specific hormone, and
- sometimes they shut down the hormonal system completely.
We are all vulnerable.
But developing babies are extra vulnerable – because the building process is in full swing and building a body, correctly, requires the construction crew to do the building according to a very complicated blueprint.
Hormones act as the foremen in this process…..
The team asked 328 about-to-be Moms from New York’s inner city, to pee in a cup. All the Moms were in their third trimester of their pregnancy at the time, the urine samples were then tested for specific phthalates, including
- di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP),
- butylbenzyl phthalate (BBzP),
- di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP),
- di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate and
- diethyl phthalate
Pretty much every Mom-2-be had phthalates in her urine.
I told you they were EVERYWHERE.
Everyone had them, but not equally
Despite finding them IN EVERYONE, the levels showed quite a bit of variability – some Moms had more, some Moms had less.
Armed with this information about phthalate levels in pregnancy, the researchers turned their attention to what happened to the little ones.
At the age of 7, all the kids exposed in the womb, to these phthalates, were evaluated for “smartness”. The team used the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for children. This is the IQ test of IQ tests, it is designed to test out a variety of facets of “intelligence”, there is the
- The verbal comprehension index
- The perceptual reasoning index
- The working memory index
- The processing speed index
So what happened ?
Phthalates did impact smartness
Overall, kids who had been exposed to higher levels of two of the phthalates – were not quite as smart as the kids who had been exposed to lower levels.
- In the case of DnBP, IQ dropped by 6.7.
- In the case of DiBP, IQ dropped by 7.6.
The differences are only a couple of points on the scale, but when it comes to getting a good job and a great education, a small difference can influence a child’s ability to GET AHEAD.
It’s not cut and dry
The data from this study isn’t able to say exposure to phthalates, makes a kid dumber…..
Too many things determine a child’s level of smartness.
- Exposure to stress
- Exposure to alcohol
- Birth weight
- The home environment
- The quality and type of education
The team tried to compensate for these factors in this study, even when they did this, they still found a difference.
In this study, children exposed to higher levels of phthalates in the womb, were “intellectually” disadvantaged. The fact that the effect is dose dependent, lends weight to the idea that it is not just a co-incidence.
In this study, a greater exposure, resulted in less “intelligence”
Enough to raise a red flag ?
Pay attention to the red flag
As a Mom aiming to give your baby the best start possible, it would seem prudent to limit your baby’s exposure to phthalates.
Can you avoid exposure completely.
They’re ubiquitous – which means, they are everywhere and most of the time, you haven’t even got a clue what products have them.
Two big sources of phthalates
Probably your two big exposure points are your kitchen and your bathroom – remember I said, they associated with plastics and personal care products.
The kitchen phthalates
“Cooking” in plastic – ups your exposure.
I know, I know….. it is impossible to actually cook in plastic, in two twos it turns into a heap of goo, but you can pop plastic into a microwave to heat things up. Many meals on the go, come in PLASTIC.
The bathroom phthalates
When it comes to personal care products, the phthalates help things smell GOOD – watch out for “smelly” products. As a rule, things that smell TOO GOOD to be true or have “FRAGRANCES” in their list of ingredients, more than likely include phthalates.
Obviously everything that smells good, is not a phthalate spewing product, but whilst you’re pregnant, it pays to be vigilant.
Protect your precious cargo
It is impossible to avoid exposure to these man-made chemicals…..
But, during your pregnancy, it is worth paying that little bit more for a product which is phthalate free and taking the extra minute to take that food item, out of the plastic wrapping and popping it onto a plate, before hitting the “NUKE IT” button on the microwave.
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