This month’s edition of Obstetrics and Gynecology contains a committee opinion on avoidance of toxic chemicals during pregnancy. I wanted to summarize it here for you, but if you wish to read the entire opinion, you can do so here.
Mercury: Most of us are familiar with the risks of mercury in pregnancy. Mercury can be found as a preservative in some vaccines, and also found in various large fish. On the other hand, vaccines protect against baby-killing illnesses like influenza and pertussis and are not associated with any birth defects. (A related topic, the risk of autism in vaccinated children, has been soundly debunked.) Fish is also filled with important nutrients the help the baby’s brain to develop. How do you deal with this?
First, go ahead and get your flu shot and your TDAP. You can ask for thimerisol-free vaccines. Second, the fish that have the highest concentration of mercury are large top-of-the-food-chain types like albacore tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish (aka Chilean sea bass). You can and should eat about 12 ounces of fish per week, and select a variety. Your low-mercury options are canned light tuna, shrimp, salmon, pollock, and catfish. If you want to eat something that’s not on this list, go to www.fda.gov and search for “safe fish list.”
Endocrine disruptors: Bisphenol A is chemical found in plastic bottles and the linings of food cans. Phthalates, PDE, and PCBs are also found in many plastic products. These have been associated with breast cancer, undescended testes, thyroid disease, abnormal brain development, and infertility. It is almost impossible to avoid plastics, but food should not be microwaved in plastic wrap or plastic containers, and plastic food containers can be limited by buying fresh produce that is organic and locally produced. This is a good discussion of some of the issues.
Pesticides: Some pesticides are associated with decreased fetal growth, miscarriage, and childhood cancers. You can avoid this to some degree by choosing organic fruits and vegetables over conventional, and eating them fresh, local, in season, and well-washed. Pesticide levels in kids who were fed in this way dropped dramatically. The white paper is here.
In short, pregnant women and young children need to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially locally grown and organic produce, lean meats, legumes, safe fish, and whole grains, and limit processed and packaged foods as much as possible. Also limiting animal fats can help reduce exposure to some of these chemicals. Don’t microwave in plastic containers. And drink plenty of fresh water.