What to Do About Chemicals in Pregnant Women: A peek behind the curtain

A major 2011 analysis of typical pregnant women across the US found widespread evidence of toxic chemicals in their blood, often at levels that have been linked to higher risk of developmental and reproductive problems in babies in other studies. Beyond this, the pregnant women in this study were typically exposed to mixtures of various toxic chemicals at one time, with effects we have yet to understand.

Over the next week I’d like to highlight 5 big take home lessons from this study. Today, let’s consider the real value of this study.

Lesson 1: It’s a peek behind the curtain.

While it might be tempting to be anxious because of this study, or to ignore it because it seems overwhelming, I recommend a different response. This study is not a warning of a scary new epidemic of problems arriving with next year’s babies.

Instead, it’s a peak behind the curtain at what might be the hidden story behind the marvelous kids we already see on today’s playgrounds across the country. Most are very healthy – among the healthiest kids in history. Yes, too many are overweight. Too many have asthma. Too many have allergies. Too many have learning problems. Too many start puberty early. More than half have some chronic illness. But this isn’t slowing kids down as much as the devastating infectious diseases of the past. It is a vibrant generation of children.

Our time reminds me of the era when germs were first discovered – invisible, impossibly small organisms that had already been causing human disease. Their detection paved the way for great improvements in health.

We are now able to detect toxic chemicals, at what were recently impossibly low levels to detect, that may already have been causing human disease. I’m hopeful that this will pave the way for great improvements in health.

Read More in this Series:
Lesson 1: It’s a peak behind the curtain.
Lesson 2: All products are eco-products.
Lesson 3: Public policy changes your body.
Lesson 4: Your choices do matter
Lesson 5: A green solution. Leafy green.

Woodruff, TJ, Zota, AR, and Schwartz JM. Environmental Chemicals in Pregnant Women in the US: NHANES 2003-2004 Environmental Health Perspectives 2011. Online 14 Jan doi:10.1289/ehp.1002727

Published on: January 26, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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