When it comes to children, most parents would do anything and everything to help protect them. Often, however, some of the things we assume are helping children can actually be quite harmful. We may unwittingly put our children at risk for autism or other neurological developmental disabilities every day. While doctors and scientists are scrambling to try to make sense out of the surge in cases of autism, they have discovered that not only genetics, but environmental factors are often behind the many cases of autism diagnosed each year. Today, 1 in 88 children under 8 years old is diagnosed with autism. While it has been difficult to pinpoint the exact causes of autism, there have been links including a July, 2011 Stanford University study implicating environmental factors as the cause of autism in 62% of the cases. Here are just six environmental factors to avoid during pregnancy and childhood.
Most of us know the dangers associated with exposure to lead. Although lead-based paints have been banned for quite some time, there are still traces of lead in old plumbing and in old paint. Paint that is in home built prior to 1978 is often lead-based and, once it begins flaking and chipping, it can present a major health risk to pregnant women and to children–including leading to symptoms of autism.
Solution: Avoid all lead-based products, and replace any old plumbing which may contain lead to keep you and your family safe from the negative effects of lead toxicity.
Another heavy metal–mercury is present in trace amounts in a lot of sea life. Larger, fattier, and longer-living fish are the highest in mercury levels. The more fish you eat which contains mercury, the higher the levels of mercury get in your system. Mercury is lipophilic; therefore it concentrates in fatty tissues; especially in the brain. In pregnant women, it can cause major birth defects including spina biffida, and in younger children this mineral can create a host of health problems as well as being a key contributor to autism.
Solution: The best thing to do in order to avoid mercury is to eat smaller fish, or fish with shorter life spans and avoid fish like mackerel, tuna, and swordfish.
3. Organichlorine Pesticides
It sounds like a mouthful, and it truly is. These types of pesticides are used in many agricultural areas, and include the now banned DDT. These pesticides keep insects from destroying crops, but they have also been known to cause a variety of developmental issues. Pregnant women in areas where there is a lot of pesticide use are more likely to deliver babies who have a greater risk of autism and other neurological and behavioral disorders.
Solution: Avoiding these pesticides, using non-toxic pest control remedies and opting for organically grown produce can greatly reduce the risks associated with these harmful poisons.
4. Car Exhaust
It is surprising, but true: children who live near highways or major thoroughfares with high volumes of traffic are twice as likely to develop autism than children who do not live near major roadways. The poisons and toxins in automobile exhaust can rob the brain of vital oxygen, which is crucial in all people, but particularly important in the brains of developing children.
Solution: Help protect your children by avoiding driving when feasible. Carpool whenever possible to avoid contributing to environmental pollution to keep your children’s air clean, and invest in a good, high-quality air purifier if possible to keep the toxins and poisons at a minimum.
Most of us have heard about how BPA (Bisphenol A) is bad for us, but most of us don’t know why. These chemicals are disruptive to human hormones and hormone production, and can build up within the body to toxic levels. BPA is prevalent in numerous products we encounter daily, and it used to be the key ingredient in baby’s bottles. While it isn’t as prevalent in baby bottles anymore, it is still present in small quantities in thermal paper (ie: paper used in receipts), canned goods, dental sealants, electrical and electronic equipment, and reusable food & drink containers.
Solution: Avoid plastics whenever possible–use glass bottles and jars as a safe alternative to avoid the potentially toxic effects of these chemicals on the body, brain, and development of your children.
6. Non-stick coatings and Stain Protectants
This is another surprising source of potentially dangerous chemicals. The non-stick surface on most cookware contains chemicals called PFC (perflourinated compounds) which can be harmful to children and pregnant women. Scotch-guard and other stain resistant fabric protectants are also another source of toxic chemicals.
Solution: Dispose safely of cookware that is beginning to chip and peel its non-stick coating, and avoid stain-resistant treatments–particularly during pregnancy–to help avoid harmful exposure and problems related to these toxins. Use stainless steel or cast iron cookware to avoid the possibility of the non-stick coating chipping or scratching.
This is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of possible exposures to chemicals linked to autism. Everyday activities and exposures can inadvertently lead to harmful exposure to these types of toxins and poisons. Often, quite literally, the air we breathe can be a potential risk for pregnant women and young children in their neurological and behavior development. By avoiding some of these more well-known substances, pregnant women and young children can greatly reduce their risks of autism.