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5 Dangerous Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy

Written by Dr. Group, DC Founder
Triclosan is a dangerous chemical found in antibacterial soap that women should avoid during pregnancy.

Chemicals infiltrate our food supply, home, and environment; escape is virtually impossible. And, everyone knows, pregnancy is a time when toxin avoidance is absolutely imperative since the developing fetus is highly susceptible to the effects of common chemicals. Even low exposure to everyday toxins could cause abnormal development or birth defects.

5 Common Chemicals and Infant Health

We've come a long way as a society but today’s world still presents many great health risks to babies. Harmful chemicals are rampant, despite concerns voiced by many independent scientists. Here is a list of five chemicals that are risky for pregnant women and how to avoid them.

1. Phthalates

Phthalates are a class of substances used to increase plasticity, durability, transparency, and longevity of building supplies, personal care products, medical devices, detergents and surfactants, food packaging, children's toys, pharmaceuticals, paint, inks, and cosmetics. With extensive use like this, it's no wonder why so many people are having health concerns as a result of exposure. The biggest concern with phthalates is that they're endocrine disruptors, and pregnant women especially are at a higher risk for experiencing ill effects. [1] [2] Studies have implicated phthalates as a potential cause of breast cancer. [3] In fetuses, phthalates may shorten the distance between the anus and genitals, an issue sometimes resulting in sterility. [4] Also, miscarriages have correlated with high levels of phthalates in expectant mothers. [5] Phthalates can contaminate food or beverages if these items are stored in phthalate-containing plastics. Water bottles are a common source of these chemicals. Phthalates can also be found in cars and homes, and breathing in these chemicals is another way through which they may enter the body. Avoiding plastic containers, tin cans, and synthetic fragrances can help reduce exposure to this common chemical. Also, choose phthalate-free baby toys, bottles, pacifiers, and other products to keep your child’s phthalate burden low.

2. Pesticides

Modern agriculture strips the soil of nutrients, introduces genetically-modified organisms into the environment, and uses toxic pesticides. Pesticide-resistant insects and glyphosate-tolerant weeds are becoming the norm due to overuse of pesticides... and the only solution agribusiness has is to use more pesticides. Today, we are living in a world swimming in pesticide poisons. The fact that their purpose is to kill should clarify their danger. [6] Studies have shown that some pesticides induce neurological harms in children and birth defects. [7] This toxic trash is so pervasive and hard to get away from – pesticides have been found in maternal blood, umbilical cord blood, and breast milk. [8]

Pesticides have been associated with:

  • Abnormal behaviors in infants
  • Abnormal reflexes in newborns
  • Developmental delays
  • Lower memory scores and IQs

The best way for pregnant women to avoid pesticides is by eating only organic foods. Now there are other sources (air, water...) to be cautious of but organic will at least protect you in your diet. Choosing organic personal care products, like shampoo or face soap, is also helpful for reducing exposure.

3. Triclosan

Perhaps one of the most insidious chemicals, triclosan is exposed to the body via antibacterial soap. [9] Despite its ability to kill germs, the truth is that triclosan is one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It's been associated with infertility in both genders. Maternal exposure to triclosan has also been shown to impair thyroid function in developing babies. [10] [11] This single fact should be of great concern to expectant mothers because the thyroid regulates energy production in every cell of the body.

The negative health consequences associated with triclosan have become so apparent in recent years that Minnesota recently banned its use. [12] Still, for residents of other states, triclosan can be difficult to avoid. Since the primary use of triclosan is as a disinfectant, one of the simplest and best ways to avoid the compound is by ceasing the use of antibacterial hand gels, soaps, and similar products. [13]

4. Bisphenol A

Commonly referred to as BPA, bisphenol A is an estrogen disruptor used in the production of plastics, as a lining for tin cans, and also provides a glossy feel and appearance to receipts. BPA in an expectant mother’s blood has been tied to low infant birth weight. [14] BPA has also been shown to result in lower infant survival rates. Even low doses have been associated with defects in brain function. [15]

BPA is used with phthalates; therefore, the best way to avoid BPA is to follow the same advice. In general, avoid plastics and only choose food cans that are BPA free.

5. Aluminum

Aluminum is a lot more pervasive than most people would guess. Whether it’s food packaging, personal care products, or a cooking utensil, many people are exposed to aluminum every day. [16] This metal has been linked to behavioral changes in rats, possibly translating to behavioral disorders in humans. [17] Independent research is showing that aluminum may have neurodegenerative properties, possibly influencing an individual’s risk for developing cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, later on in life. [18]

Vaccines are one exposure route through which babies are exposed to this metal. Pregnant women who receive aluminum-containing vaccines also expose their unborn baby to aluminum. Babies and developing fetuses, because of their small body weight, have a greater ability to uptake certain compounds.

Avoiding conventional antiperspirant may be a viable way for expectant mothers to reduce their infant’s exposure. The active ingredient in most deodorant, unless labeled otherwise, is aluminum. Baking soda is perhaps the most inexpensive – not to mention the most effective – natural, aluminum-free deodorant. Most prepared foods contain aluminum and should be avoided, this includes organic processed food.

The Bottom Line

The health effects from chemical toxicity are ever evolving and illnesses that were once thought to be associated with adults are now becoming routine in children. Diabetes, asthma, allergies, and neurological concerns affect more kids now than ever before.

References (18)
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  2. Téllez-Rojo MM, Cantoral A, Cantonwine DE, Schnaas L, Peterson K, Hu H, Meeker JD. Prenatal urinary phthalate metabolites levels and neurodevelopment in children at two and three years of age. The Science of the Total Environment. 2013 Jun 4;461-462C:386-390. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.05.021.
  3. Lopez-Carrillo L, Hernandez-Ramirez RU, Calafat AM, Torres-Sanchez L, Galvan-Portillo M, Needham LL, Ruiz-Ramos R, Cebrian ME. Exposure to phthalates and breast cancer risk in northern Mexico. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Apri;118(4):539-44. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901091.
  4. Zehr, JL, Gans SE, McClintock, MK. Variation in reproductive traits is associated with short anogenital distance in female rats. Developmental Psychobiology. 2001 May;38(4):229-38. PMID: 11319729.
  5. News Medical. Exposure to phthalates during pregnancy may increase risk of developmental problems in children. September 6, 2011.
  6. LM Pastore, I Hertz-Picciotto, JJ Beaumont. Risk of stillbirth from occupational and residential exposures. Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 1997;54:511-518 doi:10.1136/oem.54.7.511.
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  8. Kongtip P, Nankongnab N, Woskie S, Phamonphon A, Tharnpoophasiam P, Wilaiwan K, Srasom P. Organophosphate Urinary Metabolite Levels during Pregnancy, Delivery, and Postpartum in Women Living in Agricultural Areas in Thailand. Journal of Occupational Health. 2013 Jul 26 PMID: 23892639.
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  10. Rodriguez PE, Sanchez MS. Maternal exposure to triclosan impair thyroid homeostasis and female pubertal development in Wistar rat offspring. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health. 2010;73(24):1678-88. doi: 10.1080/15287394.2010.516241.
  11. Paul KB, Hedge JM, Devito MJ, Crofton KM. Developmental triclosan exposure decreases maternal and neonatal thyroxine in rats. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 2010 Dec;29(12):2840-4. doi: 10.1002/etc.339.
  12. Elizabeth Landau and Saundra Young. Minnesota issues ban on antibacterial ingredient. CNN Health. Wed May 21, 2014.
  13. EWG’s Skin Deep. Skin Care. EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
  14. Harley KG, Gunier RB, Kogut K, Johnson C, Bradman A, Calafat AM, Eskenazi B. Prenatal and early childhood bisphenol A concentrations and behavior in school-aged children. Environmental Research. 2013 Jul 16. pii: S0013-9351(13)00112-6. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2013.06.004.
  15. Kundakovic M, Gudsnuk K, Franks B, Madrid J, Miller RL, Perera FP, Champagne FA. Sex-specific epigenetic disruption and behavioral changes following low-dose in utero bisphenol-A exposure. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. 2013 Jun 11;110(24):9956-61. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1214056110.
  16. Zhang Q, Xu L, Sabbioni E, Piao L, Di Gioacchino M, Niu Q. Lysosomes involved in the cellular toxicity of nano-alumina: combined effects of particle size and chemical composition. Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents. 2013 Apr-Jun;27(2):365-75. PMID: 23830387.
  17. Abdel-Aal RA, Assi AA, Kistandy BB. Rivastigmine reverses aluminum-induced behavioral changes in rats. Eur J Pharmacol. 2011 Jun 1;659(2-3):169-76. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2011.03.011.
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†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.


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