How to avoid potential toxic metals exposure in pregnancy

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not not reflect the opinions or views of Ovia Health.

If you ask a pregnant woman, chances are her doctor gave her advice to avoid alcohol and smoking, to follow a healthy diet, and stay active and exercise. But most moms are told little or nothing about the importance of reducing exposure to certain chemicals and toxic metals despite evidence suggesting that materials present in our everyday lives, from cookware to food, can have a profound impact on babies health.

The good news is that expert organizations are starting to create awareness about how important it is to avoid toxin exposure in these precious months. From the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), they all call for reducing chemical exposures that can interfere with fetal and children’s brain development.

In the words of Dr. James Adams, Director of Autism and Asperger’s Research Program, Arizona State University and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Neurological Health Foundation, “one of the big problems in the US is the growing exposure to toxic metals and toxic chemicals. In my generation, the average person lost four to seven IQ points from lead poisoning. Today one in six women has too much mercury causing increased risk of brain damage in their infants. It’s very important that we reduce exposure to toxic chemicals and toxic metals, and that we look at the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat”.

At healthynest, we want to be a trusted resource for you to know what the latest science says, and especially what to do to bring it into your everyday routine. With the help of our team of experts and doctors, we have curated a list of 5 fundamental things to watch out for during pregnancy and beyond, to reduce your exposure to toxins and harmful chemicals:

1. Avoid toxins in your home environment, by incorporating simple healthy routines such as frequently opening your home windows to improve air quality, taking off your shoes, avoiding garden pesticides, and choosing non-toxic products for your cleaning and laundry needs. If you are unsure about what makes for non-toxic household products, look for the sign that shows that the product is EWG VERIFIED™. This mark is given by the Environmental Working Group, an independent organization that since 1993 recognizes products that meet the strictest standards, and excludes any ingredients with health, ecotoxicity and contamination concerns. Additionally, to improve the air quality in your home you can consider using a HEPA air purifier to filter out harmful particles. Last but not least, it is also helpful to avoid dry-cleaning, as many systems use toxic chemicals.

2. Eat Clean, ideally choosing whole organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides. If buying organic is not possible, choose the fruits and vegetables with the least pesticide residue and avoid the most contaminated ones. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes an annual update to their “Dirty 12” and “Clean 15” list of produce to help you avoid the ones with the highest content of pesticides and toxins. Additionally, it’s best to avoid canned foods and drinks to reduce potential exposure to bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic substance used in the lining of most cans. If you eat meat, experts recommend to limit foods high in fat, as many toxic substances can build up in animal fat.

3. Drink pure water and avoid additives such as refined sugar, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and monosodium glutamate. An excellent resource to find out more about the quality of the tap water in your area is the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database, where you can enter your zip code and access valuable information from data collected from nearly 50,000 local utilities in 50 states – everything their required annual tests found in your community’s drinking water.

4. Take a high quality prenatal vitamin: make sure that they are not only tested for the level of toxic metals in every ingredient, but also that the purest ingredients are included in the right quantities. As per Dr. Adam’s recommendation, the healthynest prenatal fulfills all these criteria in both quality and quantity of the ingredients included, and is the only comprehensive prenatal adapted to the changing needs of each trimester.

5. Cook clean: prepare and cook meals at home as much as possible, using pure water. The quality of the food you cook matters, but the pots, pans and china that you use can also have an impact on your exposure to toxins. Use cookware, foodware and drinkware made of steel, glass or ceramics. Avoid pots and pans that contain Teflon (a plastic polymer that can release harmful and carcinogenic gases at temperatures exceeding 500 F), and those that are aluminum based. Wherever possible, avoid ceramic-coated pans and cutlery, as this coating usually only lasts for about one year and it can easily wear off or get scratched even before. At that point, toxic metals can begin leaching into your food, depending on the material underneath the coating.

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  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Clinical Guidance; Committee Opinion: Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents. Issued jointly with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Practice Committee, and the San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment from the University of California. ACOG Number 575 (Reaffirmed 2016)
  • Center for Disease Control (CDC), Reproductive Health Guidelines, Exposure to Lead and other heavy metals, November 15, 2019. Adapted from data by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
  • US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC – Guidelines for the identification and management of lead exposure in pregnant and lactating women, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, edited by Adrienne S. Ettinger, ScD, MPH Anne Guthrie Wengrovitz, MPH. National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Christopher Portier, PhD / Director; Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch Mary Jean Brown, ScD, RN. November 2010
  • FDA sponsored clinical study: Characterizing biopersistence potential of the metabolite 5:3 fluorotelomer carboxylic acid after repeated oral exposure to the 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology Volume 388, 1 February 2020, 114878 Shruti V. Kabadi, Jeffrey W. Fisher, Daniel R. Doerge, Darshan Mehta, Jason Aungst, Penelope Rice.
  • FDA sponsored clinical study: Internal exposure-based pharmacokinetic evaluation of potential for biopersistence of 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (FTOH) and its metabolites. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology Volume 112, February 2018. Shruti V. Kabadi, Jeffrey W. Fisher, Jason Aungst, Penelope Rice.
  • Neurological Health Foundation, Healthy Child Guide. NHF Scientific Advisory Board Professor James B. Adams, Ph.D. Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board Neurological Health Foundation; Chris Willhite Chairman of the Board of Directors Neurological Health Foundation.
  • American Chemical Society – Occurrence and Maternal Transfer of Multiple Bisphenols, Including an Emerging Derivative with Unexpectedly High Concentrations, in the Human Maternal–Fetal–Placental Unit. Yanan Pan, Man Deng, Juan LiBibai Du, Shenyu Lan, Xinxin Liang, Lixi Zeng. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2020, 54, 6, 3476-3486. February 24, 2020
  • Prenatal pesticide exposure and childhood leukemia – A California statewide case-control study. Park, Ritz, Yu, Cockburn, Heck. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020 Feb 19; 226:113486
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