Diets of Pregnant Women Contain Harmful, Hidden Toxins

healthy foods containing hidden toxinsRIVERSIDE, Calif. — Pregnant women regularly consume food and beverages containing toxins believed to pose potential risks to developing fetuses, according to researchers at  the University of California, Riverside, suggesting that health care providers must do more to counsel their patients about the dangers of hidden toxins in the food supply.

In a peer-reviewed study published in the July issue of Nutrition Journal — “Consumption habits of pregnant women and implications for developmental biology: a survey of predominantly Hispanic women in California” — a team of psychologists from UC Riverside and UC San Diego found that the diets of pregnant Hispanic women included tuna, salmon, canned foods, tap water, caffeine, alcohol and over-the-counter medications that contain substances known to cause birth defects.

The study is unique in that it highlights the unseen dangers of consuming toxins in food and beverages that are not typically thought of as unhealthy for a fetus, said Sarah Santiago, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UCR. It also contributes to the body of literature aimed at assessing dietary habits of both Hispanic and non-Hispanic pregnant women.

“Unlike alcohol and nicotine, which carry a certain stigma along with surgeon general warnings on the packaging, tuna, canned foods, caffeine, and a handful of other foods and beverages with associated developmental effects are not typically thought of as unsafe,” Santiago explained. “Hopefully, this study will encourage health care providers to keep pregnant women well informed as to the possible dangers of unhealthy consumption habits.”

The research team — Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside and the paper’s senior author; Santiago; and UCSD undergraduate student Grace Park — surveyed 200 pregnant or recently pregnant women at a private medical group in Downey, Calif., between December 2011 and December 2012. The women ranged in age from 18 to about 40, with Hispanic women accounting for 87 percent of the group. Nearly all had a high school degree, and about one-fourth had a college or post-graduate degree. More than two-thirds had an annual income of $50,000 or less.

Using a food questionnaire, participants reported how often and when during their pregnancy they ate certain foods, drank certain beverages, and ingested prescription and over-the-counter medications. Nearly all of the women reported eating meat while pregnant, with about three-quarters of them eating fish, typically tuna, tilapia and salmon.

All reported eating fresh fruit, but fewer than one-third ate the recommended amount of more than one serving a day. Three-fourths ate canned goods, particularly fruits, vegetables and soup. Most reported drinking water, with 12 percent consuming tap water. Eighty percent consumed caffeinated beverages, and about 6 percent reported drinking alcohol sometime during their pregnancy. Most reported taking prenatal vitamins. Nearly half reported taking an over-the-counter medication — primarily acetaminophen — at least once and most reported taking prescription medications at least once.

The results are concerning, the researchers said.

“Consumption of tuna, salmon, canned goods, sugary desserts, fast foods, and drinking of tap water, caffeinated  beverages, and alcoholic beverages during pregnancy have been deemed unhealthy due to the appearance of environmental toxins found to have harmful effects in the developing offspring,” the researchers wrote.

tuna

 

Tuna contains methylmercury, and prenatal exposure has been associated with numerous developmental deficits involving attention, verbal learning, motor function and delayed performance. “Staggering” levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been found in farmed salmon. Prenatal exposure to PCBs has been linked to lower birth weights, smaller head circumferences, and abnormal reflex abilities in newborns and to mental impairment in older children. Metal food cans are lined with a plastic that contains Bisphenol A (BPA), which leaches from the lining in cans into the food. Prenatal exposure to BPA has been associated in animal studies with hyperactivity, aggression and reproductive problems.

 

“This study has found that income is inversely correlated with canned food consumption, suggesting that women of low socio-economic status in particular may be especially at risk,” the UC Riverside psychologists found.

 

 

tap waterTap water also contains prenatal toxins. In Downey, eight pollutants found in drinking water exceed the health guidelines set by federal and state agencies. Some of those contaminants are known to result in central nervous system defects, oral cleft defects, neural tube defects, low birth weight and risk of fetal death, the researchers said. Pregnant women should be encouraged to drink filtered or bottled water in areas where contamination levels are high, they advised.

Also problematic was the level of caffeine consumption, the research team found. Caffeine consumed during pregnancy is associated with fetal mortality, birth defects and decreased birth weights. Animal studies have found developmental delays, abnormal neuromotor activity, and neurochemical disruptions.

A handful of women in the study — 5.8 percent — reported drinking alcohol at some time during their pregnancy, less than the national estimate of 7.6 percent. Maternal drinking rates are highest among white women ages 35 to 44.

“We do not know whether this is something unique to Hispanic women, or ubiquitous among women of multiple ethnicities,” the researchers wrote. “The implications of this research are twofold:  Women of childbearing age hoping to conceive should be advised to eliminate all alcohol consumption, as effects of maternal drinking have dire consequences in the first trimester when the mother may not know she is pregnant. … It is also clear that prenatal medical professionals should discourage the consumption of dangerous foods, beverages and medications that women commonly report consuming during pregnancy.”

Not enough research has been conducted on certain substances to merit fail-proof labels of teratogenicity — that is, whether a substance causes developmental malformations. “Because regulation of prenatal consumption demands a very high level of evidence of teratogenicity, little-researched substances often go unregulated and health care professionals assume they are healthy,” Santiago explained. “The problem could also lie in reduced access to health care, or time constraints in prenatal consultations. Perhaps health care providers are informed, but fail to pass the information on to their clients for lack of time or because they assume the clients are already informed.”

Teratogenic substances often have subtle, though serious, effects that manifest later in development. “Research suggesting that a given substance does not cause physical abnormalities at birth may be misinterpreted as a green light for consumption — a grave mistake, considering that other research may exist demonstrating the long-term neural or behavioral abnormalities that result from consuming that substance during pregnancy,” Santiago added.

The research team continues to collect data on beliefs and attitudes about consumption of these substances during pregnancy in a search for clues as to why women continue to eat these substances, and where in the system interventions would be most appropriate.

Breast Milk Contains More Than 700 Bacteria

Microbes Taken From Breast Milk By The Infant Are Identified

Lactobacillus

Lactobacillus Janice Carr.

Spanish researchers have traced the bacterial microbiota map in breast milk, which is the main source of nourishment for newborns. The study has revealed a larger microbial diversity than originally thought: more than 700 species.

The breast milk received from the mother is one of the factors determining how the bacterial flora will develop in the newborn baby. However, the composition and the biological role of these bacteria in infants remain unknown.

A group of Spanish scientists have now used a technique based on massive DNA sequencing to identify the set of bacteria contained within breast milk called microbiome. Thanks to their study, pre- and postnatal variables influencing the micriobial richness of milk can now be determined.

Colostrum is the first secretion of the mammary glands after giving birth. In some of the samples taken of this liquid, more than 700 species of these microorganisms were found, which is more than originally expected by experts. The results have been published in the ‘American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’.

“This is one of the first studies to document such diversity using the pyrosequencing technique (a large scale DNA sequencing determination technique) on colostrum samples on the one hand, and breast milk on the other, the latter being collected after one and six months of breastfeeding,” explain the coauthors, María Carmen Collado, researcher at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA-CSIC) and Alex Mira, researcher at the Higher Public Health Research Centre (CSISP-GVA).

The most common bacterial genera in the colostrum samples were Weissella, Leuconostoc, Staphylococcus, Streptococcus and Lactococcus. In the fluid developed between the first and sixth month of breastfeeding, bacteria typical of the oral cavity were observed, such as Veillonella, Leptotrichia and Prevotella.

“We are not yet able to determine if these bacteria colonise the mouth of the baby or whether oral bacteria of the breast-fed baby enter the breast milk and thus change its composition,” outline the authors.

The heavier the mother, the fewer the bacteria

The study also reveals that the milk of overweight mothers or those who put on more weight than recommended during pregnancy contains a lesser diversity of species.

The type of labor also affects the microbiome within the breast milk: that of mothers who underwent a planned caesarean is different and not as rich in microorganisms as that of mothers who had a vaginal birth. However, when the caesarean is unplanned (intrapartum), milk composition is very similar to that of mothers who have a vaginal birth.

These results suggest that the hormonal state of the mother at the time of labor also plays a role: “The lack of signals of physiological stress, as well as hormonal signals specific to labor, could influence the microbial composition and diversity of breast milk,” state the authors.

 

 

Help for the food industry

Thumb_Probiotics_CoverGiven that the bacteria present in breast milk constitute one of initial instances of contact with microorganisms that colonize the infant’s digestive system, the researchers are now working to determine if their role is metabolic (it helps the breast-fed baby to digest the milk) or immune (it helps to distinguish beneficial or foreign organisms).

For the authors, the results have opened up new doors for the design of child nutrition strategies that improve health. “If the breast milk bacteria discovered in this study were important for the development of the immune system, its addition to infant formula could decrease the risk of allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases,” conclude the authors.

Fewer Iron Supplements During Pregnancy Work Just As Well For Preventing Anaemia

Taking iron supplements one to three times a week instead of every day is just as effective at preventing anaemia in pregnant women, according to the findings of a new Cochrane systematic review. The authors of the review also showed that women experienced fewer side effects when taking iron supplements intermittently rather than daily.

Lack of iron can cause anaemia in pregnant women, potentially increasing the risk of complications at delivery. It may also be harmful to their babies, through increased risk of low birth weight and even delayed growth and development later in life. Anaemia is diagnosed as a low level of haemoglobin in the blood. However, haemoglobin levels should be carefully controlled during pregnancy, as high concentrations have also been associated with an increased risk of babies being born early or with low birthweight. Traditionally, anaemia during pregnancy is prevented by daily supplements containing iron and folic acid, started as early in the pregnancy as possible. However, some countries, such as the UK, do not recommend routine preventive iron supplementation to all women.

The researchers analysed data from 18 trials involving a total of 4,072 pregnant women who took iron supplements alone, with folic acid or with multi-vitamin and mineral supplements. According to the results, women who took iron supplements once, twice or three times a week on non-consecutive days were no more likely to suffer from anaemia by the end of their pregnancies than those who took them daily, and their babies were no more likely to be born early or have a low birth weight. Furthermore, those taking the supplements intermittently rather than daily were less likely to experience side effects including nausea, constipation and high haemoglobin levels during pregnancy.

“Intermittent iron supplementation could be considered as a feasible alternative to daily supplementation for preventing anaemia during pregnancy, particularly in developed countries where anaemia in pregnancy is not a public health problem and there is good antenatal care for monitoring anaemia status,” said lead author Juan Pablo Peña-Rosas, Coordinator of Evidence and Programme Guidance of the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. “At the moment evidence is limited and the quality of the trials included in our review was generally low.”

The review authors say further research is needed to clarify safe maternal iron doses and their effects on infants. “It is important to evaluate new regimens to be able to respond to the need of the different countries that face different challenges in anaemia prevention during pregnancy. We would advise that trials make an effort to evaluate the health of newborns and infants from birth to six months of life or more,” said Peña-Rosas.

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