Monday, February 24, 2014

Our Sensitive Sons

The common belief within the toxic illness community seems to be that women are more likely than men to develop the condition. This belief is reinforced by the fact that online support groups appear to have a greater percentage of female than male participants. I was somewhat surprised, then, to read an article this week that detailed ways in which boys may be more vulnerable to environmental pollutants than their female counterparts are.

The article, published in Environmental Health News, makes the following points:

  • There’s a stronger link between air pollution and autism in boys.

  • The insecticide chlorpyrifos, found in Dursban and other products, seems to reduce the IQs of boys more than girls.

  • Boys are more susceptible to damage from low-level lead exposure.

  • Phthalates, found in vinyl and many other products, have been linked to larger behavioral changes, primarily aggression and attention disorders, in boys
  • A study found that high in-utero exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), another ubiquitous chemical, caused hyperactivity, aggression, and anxiety in boys, but not girls. The boys were also born with lower thyroid hormones, while female levels were normal.

The author explains the findings by noting that the pre-birth development of a female is simpler than that of a male. It takes a greater number of cell divisions to make a male, and with each division comes a greater vulnerability to toxic exposures.

After birth, these vulnerabilities continue. In females, the XX chromosome offers a bit of back-up protection, with a healthy X able to take over for one with a genetic defect. Males, with their XY makeup, have no such backup system. The article also notes that X chromosomes carry more genetic information, so the XY combination may mean a loss of brain development proteins or repair mechanisms.

In addition, estrogen protects the brain. Their lower estrogen levels mean that male brains are more fragile and prone to injury. Hormone imbalances may contribute to a wide range of chemical-related health effects, because many chemicals are endocrine disruptors which suppress or mimic hormones.

If it’s true that the common belief is that women are more vulnerable to chemical illness and the truth is the opposite, why is that?  Perhaps it’s because we still have a lot to learn as a culture about all the possible symptoms that toxic exposures can cause. There will always be differences between boys and girls, but maybe some of the “natural boy” traits we’ve assigned to the gender, such as aggression, hyperactivity, and lack of focus, aren’t entirely natural after all.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Brain Drain

In 2006, physicians associated with the Harvard School of Public Health and Mount Sinai hospital authored an article linking common chemicals to neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Although they noted that hundreds of chemicals are known to have neurotoxic effects, they singled out five chemicals of special concern for developing brains. Last week, in an article published in the journal Lancet Neurology, authors Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan added six more chemicals to the list.

Key points from the study and reports of it by Forbes and CNN include the following:

  • Young and pre-born children are especially sensitive to the effects of neurotoxins. Effects include autism and lowered IQ. Landrigan notes, "Beyond IQ, we're talking about behavior problems -- shortening of attention span, increased risk of ADHD. We're talking about emotional problems, less impulse control, (being) more likely to make bad decisions, get into trouble, be dyslexic and drop out of school. ... These are problems that are established early, but travel through childhood, adolescence, even into adult life."

  • The chemicals are known to cross the blood brain barrier. When this happens to children with developing brains the effects are permanent.

  • Chemicals of concern include pesticides, solvents, flame retardants, and more. The authors note that at least 1,000 chemicals have demonstrated an ability to interfere with brain function in animal studies. Landrigan adds, "We are very worried that there are a number of other chemicals out there in consumer products that we all contact every day that have the potential to damage the developing brain, but have never been safety tested.” Grandjean notes, "We are not just talking about single chemicals anymore. We are talking about chemicals in general."

  • The authors call for testing of all chemicals. Landrigan notes that the problem is not one of capability, but of political will.
The Safe Chemicals Act continues to languish in Washington. Other countries have taken action. In 2007, the European Union enacted REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). Landrigan remarks, "I find it very irritating some of the multinational manufacturers are now marketing products in Europe and the U.S. with the same brand name and same label, but in Europe (they) are free of toxic chemicals and in the U.S. they contain toxic chemicals."

Yep. I too, find it irritating.  The words infuriating and ridiculous also come to mind.  If the brain health of our most vulnerable doesn't move us to action, I'm not sure what will.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Why Christians Should Care About Chemicals

Does God care about the issue of chemical toxins in common products?  I believe the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”  I also firmly believe he wants us to care about it, too. Here’s why:

1. God created us with physical bodies. Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . . Your workmanship is marvelous.”  God could have created us as disembodied spirits, but he chose to house our spirits in intricately designed physical forms.
2. God pays attention to the state of our bodies. He knows us so completely and cares about our minds, souls, and bodies so deeply that he is aware of how many hairs are on each person’s head (Matthew 10:30). We are told in 1 Corinthians 6:13 that “our bodies . . . were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies.”

3. Our bodies don’t belong to us. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”  Verse 15 says, “Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? “

4. Because God owns our bodies, they are to be used to honor and glorify him. We are called to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), presenting our bodies to God for his use.

5. Being good stewards of our physical forms means doing our best to keep them healthy and functioning well. God can and does work through people with broken bodies, but that doesn’t negate our responsibility to faithfully manage the physical resources we’ve been given. The Bible instructs us on many aspects of physical health, including diet, drinking, overeating, and the importance of rest.

6. The Bible also addresses the issue of toxins. Although the man-made chemicals that saturate our present-day world didn’t exist in Biblical times, the Bible gives us some important clues on how to deal with them when it discusses household mold. Mold can produce mycotoxins, which can affect the body in much the same way that chemical toxins can. In Leviticus 14, God gave the Israelites detailed instructions on how to proceed when they found mold in a home. The instructions included scraping walls and removing affected stones, then tearing down the house if the mold continued to spread. The instruction wasn’t to expect or pray for protection from the toxin. The instruction was to go to great lengths to avoid it.

7. We are called not just to care for our own bodies, but to care for others, as well. No one can process an unlimited amount of toxic material, but there are differences, due to age, size, genetics, nutritional status, and other factors that affect how efficiently any given body can detoxify any given chemical. A product that doesn’t produce obvious symptoms in one person can cause another great suffering. Avoiding toxins is not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of those who share the air. Galatians 5:13-14 says, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Philippians 2:4 says, “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

8. The use of toxic products can prevent people from hearing the gospel, participating in Christian fellowship, or using their gifts within the context of a church body. Chemicals can contaminate schools, workplaces, stores, medical buildings, and any other public place. When they contaminate a church building, however, there may be serious spiritual ramifications. When people have reactions to building, cleaning, personal care or other products used in a church building or on the bodies, clothes, and hair of other people there, they are likely to look for fellowship and spiritual food elsewhere. Likewise, toxic products used within a home limit the degree to which it can be used for hospitality and ministry.

Life is busy, and the world is full of both important and not-so-important things that claim our attention. It’s impossible to focus on everything. I do believe, however, that choosing whether or not to use toxic products is a foundational issue. Lack of health limits the extent to which we can fully address other important needs, and causing others unnecessary suffering just isn’t acceptable. We should care about this.