Not a Moldy Oldy

April 29, 2011

Announcing a new podcast, and it involves mold and other environmental hazards: The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment (podcast download link) (entire podcast archive). It seems everyone is busy with jobs and kids, including Elyse saving the world and Jason Bilotta’s inspection business that deals with mold and other damage. Which is a perfect tie in to the interview with Jerome Paulson, MD of the The Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment.

It is a very informative hour. Give it a listen! Read the rest of this entry »

This Week In Parenting Science 8/1/09

August 1, 2009

It’s been a busy week for science news in the parenting world.  Some weeks we have spurts, and then other weeks the well runs dry.

Cancer and Pesticides – The August issue of Therapeutic Drug Monitoring has some pretty upsetting news. There’s a type of pediatric cancer that’s on the increase, and the cause could be an exposure to residential pesticides.  It was found in a recent study that children were twice as likely to get lymphoblastic leukemia if they had been exposed to the organophosphates in pesticide. Quite disconcerting considering that my next door neighbor uses that crap every spring.

Autism and Breastmilk – Will Jenny McCarthy go on Larry King and demand that we remove the toxins from human breast milk? She might just have to do that if she wishes to remain honest because there are some preliminary studies being done on rats that are showing a connection between autism and PCB molecules in breast milk. You might remember that PCBs are one of the most annoying toxins in the environment because they never go away (eliminated in the 70s). This study focuses on the neural effects of rats breastfed with milk contaminated with non-coplanar PCBs. The exposed rats developed problems interpreting auditory signals, which is a symptom of autism in humans. The difference between the exposed rats and the non-exposed rats were quite striking. Needless to say, this is problematic for the medical community because breast milk has been repeatedly shown to be a better option for a variety of other reasons. It might end up being a “catch-22″ with a similar ethical dilemma to that of the debunked link between autism and vaccines.

Swine Flu & Pregnancy – Let’s not forget that we still have a swine-flu problem, and that it will likely get worse when the cold weather encroaches. Not only will it get worse, there’s a chance that it could get nasty. I’ve started preparing for the worst by stocking up on grains and water. Yeah yeah, it’s over-hasty and alarmist, but a little survival preparation never killed anyone.

Back to the news… pregnant women are more likely to die if they contract swine flu. They have so far accounted for a disproportionate 6% of the total deaths. This fall and winter, pregnant women should be extra careful to wash hands and avoid contact with flu victims, especially in their 3rd trimester.

Autism and GI Problems – Guess what? Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the fraudulent scientist who introduced the idea of a link between autism and MMR vaccine, was wrong when he theorized that the (non-existent) link stemmed from problems in the gut. A recent study has confirmed what everyone in the science community already knew; there is no link between gastro-intestinal disorders and autism. That means that, as I’ve stated before, gluten and casein free diets are an unnecessary inconvenience. What the study did show was a link between autism and constipation, but there can be many reasons for this, not the least of which would be that children with autism can be picky eaters who are put on strict diets.

Toxins In The News – 9/16/08

September 16, 2008

Bisphenol-A is back with a vengeance… just when we thought we were done with that toxin it sucks us back in.  This time the Journal of the American Medical Association has released a study based on a survey of 1,455 American adults that showed a link between the chemical BPA and both heart disease and diabetes.  There were twice as many individuals with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in the group with high amounts of BPA in their urine as there were in the group with low amounts of BPA in their urine.  This alarming news comes after the FDA has made waves by declaring BPA safe.

We would all do well to remember that the correlation between diseases and a single documentation of chemical levels does not actually prove that one causes the other.  For instance, my wife pointed out that people who eat processed garbage out of heated up plastic are likely to have both high levels of BPA and diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  I agreed with her and pointed out that measuring BPA in a person’s urine sample tells us how much BPA that person consumed since their last urination.

It should also be noted that endocrinologists are worried that skeptics are treating this chemical as a traditional toxin (the dose makes the poison).  To the contrary, some scientists are actually concerned that BPA is more dangerous at low levels over a long duration, but if this is true then why are we not seeing more adverse effects from our BPA-exposed population?  There has yet to be a satisfactory answer.

PVC plastics – If you want to hyperventilate about plastic toxins, then you may be interested in the list of PVC-free school supplies provided by The Center for Health, Environment, and Justice.  This whole thing is starting to get ridiculous.  Are we now worried that kids are going to eat their backpacks and notebooks?  BPA plastics are hard and PVC plastics are soft, so now you know that healthy plastics are neither hard nor soft.  Good luck figuring that one out!

Fire RetardantsThe Environmental Working Group did a study and found that children had three times as many toxic chemicals from flame retardants in their systems as their mothers.  These toxins called polybrominated diphenyl ethers were not found in great quantities overall, so this study is designed to sound scarier than it actually should be.  Think of it this way, if I have 2 cents in my pocket and my kid has 6 cents in her pocket, you could say that she is three times as rich as me.  You could say that, but why would you?

This is a situation where the risks are unproven and overblown and the benefits include safety from the dangers of a fire.  But if you are worried about flame retardant toxins, you should dust more.  Now you have an excuse.  :)

Toxins in the News: August 1st Edition

August 2, 2008

I’ve given up and decided to give “toxins” their own special recurring segment here at Skeptic Dad.  There seems to be no end to the debate on different toxic ingredients, so I might as well succumb and highlight such news as it begins to aggregate.

PhthalatesRule #1 of toxins is that if you can’t pronounce it, then it is probably a toxin.  Who comes up with these names anyway?  Phthalates are used as a way to turn a hard plastic into a soft plastic, like the kind of plastic in your kid’s rubber duck or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, in your average dildo.  Though not a human carcinogen, phthalates are like many toxins in that they mess with hormones and, I kid you not, may cause undescended testicles and a smaller taint size.  BWAHAHAHAHA!

I’m sorry, it’s very hard to take this toxin seriously if those are the primary complaints.  Moving on…

It should come as no surprise that congress is moving to ban the use of pthalates in children’s toys and products.  It should also not be a shocker that our president may veto any phthalate law that reaches him.  This toxin is so hard to weasel into a political talking point that they’re actually trying to argue that banning the ingredient will only cause more harmful ingredients.  The stupid is sizzling hot in the white house lately.  While I do understand that the jury is still out on phthalates, I can’t see a good reason to continue to include the ingredient in toys that routinely go into the mouths of children.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – These extremely toxic carcinogens have not been produced since 1977, and yet, they persist in the environment to this day as one of those “oops, my bad!” chemistry debacles that perpetually screw things up ad infinitum.  Not only is this multi-use chemical fluid contaminating our rivers, lakes, and soil, but you can also find it abundantly floating around in our atmosphere.  You may suspect that you have PCB poisoning if you develop a strange skin problems, compromised immunity, liver damage, and a disrupted endocrine gland.  And what will happen with a dirupted endocrine?  Glad you asked… it means that PCB-poisoned offspring could have gender issues, such as a possible increase in… hermaphrodites, or in the case of the indigenous population of Greenland, female offspring at the rate of 2:1.  I don’t think anyone can argue with a toxin that produces more ladies.  Yowza!

LeadAccording to recent tests, we can safely send our kids back onto football and soccer fields with artificial turf.  The Consumer Products Safety Commission has been testing whether artificial turf is contaminated with high amounts of lead, as previously declared by environmental watchdog group, The Center for Environmental Health.  There is truth that lead is in artificial turf, but extensive testing of multiple fields has shown that the toxin is in no danger of being absorbed at dangerous levels into the athlete’s body.

Good grief!  I think parents of football players have more serious dangers to worry about than lead-filled turf.  Although I think CEH is blowing this issue way out of proportion, they make a good case that the government study had multiple flaws.

Bisphenol-A: Cleared of All Charges?

July 27, 2008

The good news is that Bisphenol-A is likely not the health risk that we once thought.

The bad news is that I bought all new BPA-Free bottles and sippie cups.

Oh well.  One of the benefits of trusting the scientific process is that I can take measured precautions to alarming science-based health warnings  (such as the cell phone scare of 08), and I still have the opportunity to stay flexible and change my mind when those risky products are given the “all clear”.   I stand by my advice for families to avoid unnecessary and potentially toxic products that are in the process of being vetted by scientists; certainly, when there are options that objectively pose fewer hypothetical health risks.

The European Food Safety Authority has issued a statement that the plastic ingredient Bisphenol-A is safe for humans after all.  (Glad it’s the Europeans, or nobody would believe it.)  The reason for the drastic change in opinion?  It turns out that new information proves that humans (even newborns) are much better able to metabolize BPA than rats , which means that instead of it junking up our hormones, we fire it all out in a stream of warm urine.  I knew those kidneys were good for something!

Something tells me that this news is going to take a while to filter out to the population, and even when it does, few will believe it.  Granted, this does not completely end the debate on BPA, but it does swing the evidence strongly in favor of it’s safety.  I’m glad that we have one less toxin to panic about.

I Throw Soy Milk Under the Bus!!!

July 14, 2008

Our family drinks a lot of soy milk.  Perhaps too much.

We even briefly used soy milk to wean our one year old off of the breast, which caused our pediatrician to scold us for choosing soy over formula.  We didn’t feel we deserved the reprimand because we were also supplemeting her diet with full fat yogurt and meat baby foods for protein and fat.

Just to be safe and balanced, we’ve since included whole dairy milk into the routine and eased off of the soy.

I recently read about a vegan couple who were wreckless with their baby’s diet.  They fed their infant nothing but apple juice and soy milk, which ultimately lead to her death.  Vegans!!!  They were sentenced to life in prison for the stupidity.  It was this trial, and some previous knowledge about soy’s link to estrogen, that made me want to examine the beverage further.

Based on my research so far, I can safely say that soy is an imperfect health food.  Vegans and health alternative parents, including myself, should limit or eliminate their daily use of soy milk.

I’ve found so many contradictions in the scientific literature about soy milk:  it gives you cancer, it prevents cancer, it makes you smarter, it gives you dementia.  Since researching the topic, I’ve decided that soy milk is both good for you and bad for you, depending on your specualtive perspective, but the science on both sides of the debate is being manipulated to serve those informed speculations.  The truth lies somewhere inbetween, and as always, that makes me lean to the side of caution, since it’s unfair to my kids to gamble their health for the sake of neutral critical inquiry.

The contradictions of soy milk begin with it’s high amount of heart-healthy isoflavone phytochemicals that mimic estrogen and potentially disturb the body’s reproductive hormones (the one’s that are already being disturbed by bisphenol-a and triclosan).   Lab rat studies show that soy increases reproduction problems with puberty (and all that) and induces thyroid disease.  Its been said that feeding a child soy formula is the equivalent of giving them four or five birth control pills.  Needless to say, I’m skeptical of that claim.

It’s been shown that the phytochemicals in soy can be effective and beneficial for women during menopause.  Two glasses of soy milk a day is even enough estrogen to throw off a woman’s cycle.  That’s a crapload of estrogen, and to think that most baby’s are getting all that in BPA plastic bottles cleaned out with triclosan antibacterial soap.  Who knows what kind of reproductive problems we’ll see down the road.

Soy should be a good protein alternative for children who are (mis)diagnosed as lactose intolerant.  Soy milk and other soy products contain a processed ingredient called Soy Protein Isolate (SPI).  But looking at SPI further reveals some unsettling facts.   SPI is a soy waste product that is recycled back into the product, after being processed in vats of aluminum.  Of course, the aluminum contaminates the soy milk (about a 100 times more than cow formula).  The processing also creates nitrites, a carcinogen found in deli meats that slightly scare me, and lysinoalanine, a pseudo-toxin that doesn’t really scare me yet.  The FDA has yet to deem SPI safe for consumption, even though some vegans are eating it nearly every day.

Soy is popular in the diet of Japanese, who have low rates of heart disease and cancer, but they generally consume unprocessed fermented soy and a lot less of it.  The fermentation of tofu eliminates many of the aformentioned toxins that pose a health threat to soy milk drinkers, including phytic acid, a toxin that inhibits vitamin absorption.

The list of negative soy studies is long and complicated.  I’m extremely disappointed that soy milk hasn’t stood up to scientific scrutiny.  It seems so healthy, but any critical thinker would be quick to put me in my place on that simplification.  As with any product I serve up to my children, I must choose safety over comfort, health over principle, and science over hype.  I guess the cow industry just received a permanent convert.  Yay!

As with all controversial topics, I welcome and encourage topical comments and thoughts from relevant experts and random visitors.  Thanks for the feedback!

*UPDATE 7/23/08*  Soy milk may lower a man’s sperm count!

**UPDATE 10/3/08 – Soy does not lower LDL cholesterol as claimed.**

***UPDATE 10/3/08- Soy may help stroke victims***

Toxins and Chemicals: Bug Spray and Antibacterial Soap

June 16, 2008

I generally try to be careful when it comes to child safety and health.  When forced to decide between two products, one of which is known to be safe and one which has limited evidence of harm, I will switch to the possibly safer product.  Skeptical Inquiry is a tool that I use to weed out the paranormal, pseudo science, alternative medicine, and other such claims, but it isn’t a method that can reveal ultimate truth in all things.  I rely on science and peer review to take me only so far, and then I must submit to my instincts and judgement (unless my instincts would cause more harm to my child- ex: not vaccinating).

Listed here are three ways that you can possibly make your home more safe.  I say “possibly” because the scientific literature is not concrete.  But why take any chances when you can switch to products that don’t show any evidence of harm?

Bug Spray – Deet (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is an ingredient in most bug sprays.  It works really well, but it’s been connected to siezures, irritated skin, and other rare complications (such as death).  While it would be unlikely for anyone to experience side effects from Deet, it should be noted that there are safer options that are equally as effective.  Why not try a bug spray with the ingredient Picaridin (also called Icaridin)?  Picaridin has not been connected to any health concerns, and it works better than Deet.  Try Cutter Advanced for the best Picaridin bug spray alternative.  Lemon Eucalyptus is also a decent option, but it’s not recommended for children under age 3.

Antibacterial Soap – Debate rages as to whether antibacterial soap is doing more harm than good by the undeniable fact that it’s advancing the evolution of bacteria to be resistant to treatment.  We’re already seeing problems with MRSA at hospitals that are being blamed on such soaps.  Now antibacterial soap is being investigated for two other reasons:  the ingredients triclosan and triclocarban.  These two ingredients are not looking too good.  A team from University of California in Davis has done several studies on triclosan and triclocarban, and each time they affect sex horomones and mess with the nervous system.  Other tests indicate that triclosan can attach to brain cells and possibly burn out neural circuits by amping up the calcium in the cell.  The individuals most affected by the potential dangers of triclosan are pregnant mothers, infants, and the elderly.  The horrifying aspect to this story is that triclosan doesn’t break down easily, it’s hard to filter out of treated water at sewage plants, and some studies have found it in 70% of urine samples.  Try a triclosan-free soap such as Vermont Soap.

Sippie Cups – I’ve written about Bisphenol-A before, so I won’t go into too much detail.  I just want to remind everyone that there are quality BPA-Free bottles and sippie cups at Born Free and Sigg.  BPA was originally designed to be synthetic estrogen and somebody decided it would make a fine ingredient in plastic.  Now, we’re looking at rat studies that show it altering genes and messing with sex hormones.  The government has “some concern” about the disconcerting studies.

I welcome suggestions in the comments for other products that are safe precautions to potentially harmful products.  And, of course, I also welcome anyone who wants to dispute my precautions.