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Will my child get sick?

December 9, 2010 •  no comments.

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Submitted by Douglas Abrams

Why do some children and adults get sick from endocrine-disrupting chemical contaminants and others do not? This is an important question that has to do with genes, chemical cocktails, and even possibly stress.

While I was researching my novel, I posed this question to John Peterson Myers, co-author of the pioneering and now classic, Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival? (an excellent exposé on endocrine disruption). Pete replied, “An absolutely vital point is that not all people nor all animals respond in the same way. This is one place where inherited genetics comes into play. For example, work on organophosphate pesticides shows that there can be as much as a 40-fold difference in sensitivity.” In short, our genes have a lot to do with our sensitivity to toxins, just like some people develop allergies while others don’t.

But it’s not just genes. A big factor is that while clinical studies are done with one chemical at a time, we are exposed to great chemical cocktails that can often exacerbate the effects and overwhelm our immune systems.

And even stress can have something to do with it. When tadpoles smell a newt—their traditional predator and a significant source of stress in the tadpole world—they were fifty times more likely to die than tadpoles swimming in uncontaminated water.

There is a silver lining I discovered in all the disturbing research I have read. So many of these diseases that plague our children and ourselves are actually being caused by man-made chemicals. What this means is that they are not inevitable. They are in fact environmental illnesses that are preventable. Today’s epidemics include hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer, autoimmune disorders, learning disabilities, autism, degenerative diseases, preterm birth, obesity and diabetes, asthma, and infertility. As we stop putting these endocrine disrupting chemicals and other toxins into our environment, we will be able to save millions of children—and adults—untold amounts of suffering.

For more information about endocrine disruption, the research mentioned in this blog post, and about Doug’s fact-based eco-thriller, Eye of the Whale, please visit www.DouglasCarltonAbrams.com.

One fish, two fish, boy fish or girl fish?

December 8, 2010 •  no comments.

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Submitted by Douglas Abrams

On June 27, 2009, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times reported that over 80% of the male smallmouth bass swimming in the Potomac River had eggs. You read that right, male fish having eggs. Well, unless a lot has changed since my biology class, males are not supposed to have eggs. Unfortunately a lot has changed.

While you can see a humorous interview of Kristoff on the Colbert Report, this is not really a laughing matter. (It’s worth pointing out, however, that Stephen Colbert and John Stewart are increasingly proving that the really important news is being covered by these two brilliant comedians.) You might think maybe it’s freakish, but this is just about fish, right? Unfortunately, no. The endocrine disrupting chemicals that we are putting into our environment at a staggering rate are creating fundamental changes in the physiology and even anatomy of our children.

These chemicals, often found in plastics, flame retardants, and pesticides look to our bodies like estrogen. What is happening as a result of bathing ourselves and our children in these estrogenic chemicals? In addition to downs syndrome, breast cancer, prostate cancer, low sperm count, and even obesity, they may be contributing to the fact that undescended testes and genital deformities are increasing. Seven percent of boys are born with the first condition and one in a hundred are born with the latter, specifically a condition called hypospadias, where the hole in the penis is in the wrong place.
Perhaps most worrisome of all is the number of boys that are not being born. For the first time in human history, more girls are being born than boys throughout much of the northern hemisphere. The number of missing boys in the U.S. and Japan alone is estimated at over 250,000. In the town of Sarnia, Canada, three girls are born for every one boy.

While I was researching my novel, I worked with some of the leading eco-toxicologists in the world. They explained that what is happening to us is happening to other animals on our shared planet. In fact, they were experiencing these changes first. For a long time we have been noting these disturbing developments in numerous species, but some very old arrogance makes us think that we are separate from the rest of nature. We have believed we could spread chemical pollutants throughout the land and water without it having any effect on us. Increasingly, we are seeing what this alienation from the natural world is doing.

We used to think that the “solution to pollution was dilution.” We could spread this stuff far and wide and as long as we did not ingest too much of it, we’d be fine. We are now seeing how wrong we were. Tiny quantities can alter the expression of our genes and cause lasting health problems. One study exposed pregnant rats to a chemical called BPA (bisphenol-A) and found that their babies had precancerous lesions in their breasts when they reached puberty. In other words, seemingly minute exposures can preprogram adult diseases in the womb.

Let’s hope we learn from the animal studies sooner rather than later. Despite our denial, it’s common sense that what affects them will affect us. After all, we share 96% of our DNA with chimpanzees and 60% of our DNA with something as different a fruit fly. At the biochemical level, we are all connected. Let’s hope we realize this quickly. Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians have begun to sprout extra limbs.

For more information about endocrine disruption, the research mentioned in this blog post, and about Doug’s fact-based eco-thriller, Eye of the Whale, please visit www.DouglasCarltonAbrams.com

An unprecedented experiment on our children

December 7, 2010 •  no comments.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

All posts this week are submitted by Douglas Abrams

From 1973 to 1999, childhood cancers increased by 26 percent, making cancer the greatest health threat to children. Currently, one in a 100 8-year-old children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers, and the number might be as high as 1 in 58 for boys, according to a phone survey in the journal, Pediatrics. According to Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, one out of every three U.S. kids currently suffers from allergies, asthma, ADHD, or autism—our children’s bodies are clearly under assault. But why?

As a concerned father, I set out to try to find out the dangers that our children are facing and how I learned about something called endocrine disruption, or the disruption of the hormones that control everything from mood to gene expression.

As I was researching my fact-based novel, one of the things I discovered was that since World War Two, approximately 80,000 chemicals have been invented, and thousands of these have been produced in excess of millions of pounds per year. Only a small percentage of these chemicals have ever been tested to discover their effects on animals and humans. (If you want to discover how the chemical industry undermined government regulation, watch Bill Moyers brave and brilliant documentary, Trade Secrets.)

We feed these chemicals to our children through the chemicals on the food they eat, in the water they drink, in the lotions we put on their skin, in the products that they touch, and even in the air they breath. A recent study of fetal chord blood—the blood a child is born with before they take their first breath—found 413 chemicals and on average more than 200 different chemicals per child.

Many endocrine disrupting chemicals are plastics. You may have heard of the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, which is a plasticizer that has been used to make plastic bottles (including baby bottles), to coat children’s teeth so they don’t get cavities, and to line canned food. In lab animals (we cannot do controlled studies on people for obvious reasons), BPA has been shown to impair brain development, cause down syndrome, breast cancer, prostate cancer, low sperm count, and even obesity.

Obesity? Have a look at his picture. The mouse on the left is a normal mouse; the one on the right was exposed to tiny amounts of BPA during its gestation. Could exposure to this chemical, seven billion pounds of which is produced and put into our environment every year, play a role in the epidemic in adult and childhood obesity that is spreading around the world?

Why don’t you know about this? Well, let’s just say there are a lot of people who don’t want you to know about this and have worked hard to obscure the facts. On Sunday, May 31, 2009, the Washington Post broke the story that manufacturers of packaging for beverages and foods, including some of their customers, like Coca-Cola, were trying to defend the use of BPA and use “scare tactics” to make sure that the chemical was not banned. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if some of the villains from my novel had come to life. But if I had my characters try to recruit a pregnant woman to discuss the benefits of BPA—as they industry execs apparently did—no one would have believed it.

Out of shortsighted economic interests, also known as greed, we are conducting an unprecedented experiment on the health of our children.

For more information about endocrine disruption, the research mentioned in this blog post, and about Doug’s fact-based eco-thriller, Eye of the Whale, please visit www.DouglasCarltonAbrams.com.

What’s happening to our children?

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AllergyKids Foundation is honored to feature nationally-acclaimed author, Douglas Abrams, on the site this week, and we encourage you to share this knowledge with those that you love.

We tried to raise our children green, but there was much less knowledge about allergies and green parenting when my kids were little….

All this is to say, we know first hand that it is increasingly challenging (and at times frankly terrifying) raising children in an increasingly allergic and toxic world. Despite my doctor-wife’s early awareness about some of the toxins that our children are exposed to, I really didn’t understand what she was worried about. Honestly, I thought it was at times a little overanxious mothering. I knew that the government and its various agencies (the FDA, the EPA, the CDC) were going to keep our children safe. Boy, was I wrong.

The light bulb went off when I was sitting by the fire one cold winter morning with my twin daughters. I was reading them a children’s book about trying to rescue a trapped whale when an old college friend came to visit. My friend was a public health doctoral student, and she began telling me about environmental threats that I had never heard of before. The strange term she used was endocrine disruption (the disruption of our hormonal system). At the time, I didn’t really understand that hormones control everything from our mood to our physiology, and that their disruption is causing widespread health problems from birth defects to autism. I was shocked by what she was saying and couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about it. I also knew that her son had had a birth defect and that so many of my friends and family were having difficulty conceiving or carrying children to term, or were dealing with birth defects or autism. It was also, I would later learn, contributing to the incredible rise in prostate and breast cancer. My father had just been diagnosed with prostate cancer and doctors were suggesting that practically every man, if he lived long enough, would eventually develop prostate cancer.

What, I wondered were we doing to ourselves and to our children? What was causing all of these health problems? I had to know. I have spent the last several years on a journey to put the puzzle pieces together, a journey that has taken me to distinct countries, to swimming with whales and cage-diving with white sharks, and to working with many of the world’s leading scientists.

What I learned is that children are now born “pre-polluted” with over two hundred toxic industrial chemicals in their bodies. I also learned that beluga whales in the remote Hudson Bay are so filled with these same industrial chemicals that when their dead bodies wash up on shore, they must be handled like toxic waste. Chemical pollution, it turns out, is a threat to human and environmental health perhaps as great as global warming. Indeed, what global warming is doing to our climate, endocrine disruption is doing to our bodies. Over the next week I will share with you the journey I took, what I discovered, and ultimately ways to try to keep your family safe.

Since you are reading this on the Allergy Kids Foundation website you already know the value of knowing the truth. Some people have asked me whether I wish I didn’t know what I now do. In actual fact, ignorance is not bliss. Numbness and denial are not blissful. As my wife would explain, healing often requires pain, which is simply our body’s acknowledgment that something is wrong and needs to be addressed. There is a great deal of hope and opportunity in what I discovered, but we must quickly learn the dangers we—and especially our children—face.

For more information about endocrine disruption, the research mentioned in this blog post, and about Doug’s fact-based eco-thriller, Eye of the Whale, please visit www.DouglasCarltonAbrams.com.

Got One Minute for Kids?

December 4, 2010 •  one comment.

 •  Blog, News, Uncategorized

I recently posted the following question on Facebook, and it garnered some inspired and candid responses, as seen below:

If you had one minute to deliver a speech about children’s health to an audience that includes some of the world’s most influential people, what would you say?

Mark S.: We must make their world a less toxic one and we must start before they are conceived right through to adulthood.

Renee D.: Children are our future, they are not guinea pigs & we should treat them with the best care, love & respect both inside & out!! ♥

Carolyn R.: Every act taken to reduce toxics, improve diet, alleviate poverty, and create beautiful walkable communities is an act of preventing suffering in children and families. All of these things add up in surprising ways. Prevention costs less by every metric than trying to cure the terrible ills wrought by our carelessness and stinginess.

Jen M.‎: “Wake up. It’s the food and environment, dammit.”

Kristen H.Y.: Our children aren’t little Democrats or little Republicans, it’s time for us to set aside our ideological differences and work together to reduce our childhood illness statistics. If we don’t fight for them, who will? Our children are counting on us, let’s roll!

Danika C. : The precautionary principle is the only way we are going to protect children. Forcing companies to prove whatever they produce isn’t harmful, whether it’s food, toys, shampoo, etc is the only way. Otherwise, corporate interests and profit will always come first. And, as a MD once said to me, waiting for the absolute scientific proof can be dangerous.

Susan H.S. : If you are over 40, the world you grew up in was fundamentally different than the world our children face today. Your mattress wasn’t off-gassing chemicals. Your milk wasn’t spiked with hormones and your meat didn’t come with a heavy dose… of antibiotics. Your food wasn’t engineered to destroy stomach linings of bugs and ooops–perhaps your own stomach too. You weren’t eating off plates and cups that leaked toxins or putting on lotion that messed with your endocrine system.

Ask any parent with a child under 10, or any teacher, and they will tell you the sad truth about the state of kids health in America. Our kids are allergic to way more than they should be. Our kids are overweight. Our kids can’t pay attention and way too many can’t breathe.

And I like the precautionary principle point, the democratic/republican point, and the dammit! But then inspire the pants off them because we CAN turn this around if we put improving kids health as a strategic imperative for the success of this nation.

Janelle S. : Much of the chronic illness and disease children suffer today (at least in the US) is due to human created risks. And, if we created them, we also have the power to eliminate them.

Daniela K. : Our children – our future – our nation needs a sound foundation. If we do not take care of the health of our kids and if we don’t raise them on healthy food and won’t protect them from hazardous chemicals in the food and in the environment …- we will soon have no children, no future, no nation.

It is up to us to reverse on what harm has been done – since we provoked it.

I want our children to have healthy food not only at home, but also in the schools and no chemical hazards and other that undermines their health and very life, too.

They have a right to it and we have the responsibility to protect them and our planet. It is very possible to bring about a change – and there are a few school districts out there which have been successfully applying it all. There is NO excuse to delay and deny our children what they need for their right to life.

Danika C. : I think there’s a whole speech right here in the comments :)