Are all BPA-free Plastics Safe? Scientists Question Alternatives
February 21, 2020
Scientists find BPA alternative, bisphenol S, could negatively affect both a mother's placenta and potentially a developing baby's brain. Using BPA-free plastic products could be as harmful to human health -- including a developing brain -- as those products that contain the controversial chemical, suggest scientists in a new study led by the University of Missouri and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
For decades, scientists have studied BPA extensively in animal models with results indicating the chemical plays a role in early pregnancy loss, placental diseases and various negative health outcomes after birth. As these adverse health effects have become more widely known, companies have turned to using alternative chemicals to develop plastic products -- namely water bottles and food containers -- and often labeling them "BPA-free." However, MU scientist Cheryl Rosenfeld warns these chemical alternatives, such as bisphenol S (BPS), still aren't safe for people to use.
In the study, Rosenfeld and her colleagues focused on examining the effects of BPS on a mouse's placenta. She said the placenta serves as a historical record of what an unborn child faces while in the womb; the placenta also can transfer whatever the mother might be exposed to in her blood, such as harmful chemicals, into the developing child.
"Synthetic chemicals like BPS can penetrate through the maternal placenta, so whatever is circulating in the mother's blood can easily be transferred to the developing child," said Rosenfeld, a professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, investigator in the Bond Life Sciences Center, and research faculty member for the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurobehavioral Disorders at MU. "This mouse model is the best model we have now to simulate the possible effects of BPS during human pregnancy, because the placenta has a similar structure in both mice and humans."
Rosenfeld adds that the placenta serves as a primary source of serotonin for fetal brain development in both mice and humans. Serotonin, while commonly associated with the feeling of happiness, is a natural chemical that can impact a person's functions, including their emotions and physical activities such as sleeping, eating and digesting food.
"The placenta responds to both natural chemicals as well as synthetic chemicals that the body misinterprets as natural chemicals, but the body doesn't have the ability to mitigate the detrimental effects of such industrial-made chemicals," Rosenfeld said. "More importantly, these chemicals have the ability to lower the placenta's serotonin production. Lower levels of serotonin can compromise fetal brain development because during this critical time in development the brain relies on the placenta to produce serotonin. Thus, developmental exposure to BPA or even its substitute, BPS, can lead to longstanding health consequences."
Rosenfeld's research is an example of an early step in translational medicine, or research that aims to improve human health by determining the relevance of animal science discoveries to people. This research can provide the foundation for precision medicine, or personalized human health care. Precision medicine will be a key component of the NextGen Precision Health Initiative -- the University of Missouri System's top priority -- by helping to accelerate medical breakthroughs for both patients in Missouri and beyond.
Home Cleaning Products May Up Risk of Childhood Asthma
February 21, 2020
From Reuters Health:
New parents who obsessively clean their homes to protect babies from germs might want to relax a bit, suggests a new study linking high exposure to cleaning products with an increased risk of childhood asthma.
Researchers surveyed parents about how often they used 26 common household cleaners over babies' first three to four months of life. By the time the kids were 3 years old, children with the highest exposure to cleaning products were 37% more likely to have been diagnosed with asthma than those with the least exposure.
With greater exposure to cleaning products, kids were also 35% more likely to have chronic wheezing and 49% more likely to have chronic allergies, the study found.
"Parents are striving to maintain a healthy home for their children," said study coauthor Dr. Tim Takaro of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada.
"We want parents to question the socially accepted norm that a home needs to smell like chemical-based cleaning products in order to be clean," Takaro by email. "Instead, we propose that the smell of a healthy home is no smell at all."
In other words, parents should read labels and look for items that are free of dye and perfume, and consider natural cleaning products instead of chemical alternatives.
The first months of life are critical for development of the immune and respiratory systems, and exposure to chemicals inside the home is particularly problematic because infants spend so much time indoors, the study team writes in the journal CMAJ.
Chemicals in cleaning products can cause chronic inflammation that may contribute to development of asthma or make symptoms more frequent or severe, the researchers note.
Most kids in the study were white, and most parents were non-smokers without any history of asthma.
Because asthma can be difficult to diagnose with breathing tests in very young children, researchers also tested kids' skin for allergies and asked parents how often children experienced symptoms like wheezing.
The most commonly used cleaning products in the study were dishwashing soap, dishwasher detergent, multipurpose spray cleaners, glass cleaners and laundry soap.
The study wasn't designed to prove whether or how any specific cleaning products or chemicals in these products might directly cause asthma symptoms.
The American Lung Association recommends against using cleaning products that contain volatile organic compounds, fragrance and other irritants, but manufacturers in Canada and the United States are not required to list all ingredients in cleaning products. Some "green" products may contain harmful substances, as these products are not regulated, the study team notes.
"While much remains unknown, we think that these cleaning products (and the chemicals they contain) act as irritants to the airways of growing children," Dr. Elissa Abrams of the University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg, Canada, who wrote a commentary accompanying the study.
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New Report on Children's Wellbeing Around the Globe
February 21, 2020
The United States ranks lower than 38 other countries on measurements of children's survival, health, education and nutrition -- and every country in the world has levels of excess carbon emissions that will prevent younger generations from a healthy and sustainable future, according to a new report.
The report, published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday, ranked 180 countries based on a "child flourishing index" and the United States came in at No. 39.
Countries also were ranked by levels of excess carbon emissions -- specifically researchers took a close look at estimated levels for 2030. Based on that data, the United States ranked No. 173 for sustainability, according to the report.
The year 2030 was selected as the threshold because in 2015 governments around the world adopted "Sustainable Development Goals" created by the United Nations to make improvements for people and the planet by 2030.
When contrasting the child flourishing rankings with the carbon emissions rankings, the countries among the top for children "flourishing" were shown to have some of the most concerning levels of excess carbon emissions predicted for the future, according to the report, which was conducted by a commission of the World Health Organization, United Nations Children's Fund and the Lancet.
"No country is in the right place with adequately making children flourish today and in the future," said Dr. Stefan Peterson, chief of health at UNICEF and an independent author of the report.
Norway, South Korea and the Netherlands ranked in the top three, respectively, on current child "flourishing," but those countries were 156th, 166th and 160th, respectively, on the global sustainability index that measured carbon emissions, according to the report.
Some countries had lower, yet still high, excess carbon emissions levels, but those countries did not rank well on the "child flourishing index" in the report. For instance, Burundi, Chad and Somalia ranked first, second and third on the sustainability rankings but 156th, 179th and 178th, respectively, on the "flourishing" rankings.
"I was hoping and thinking that at least some countries somewhere must be doing the right thing for children now and the right thing for children in the future -- but I saw no country was in that ideal place and that quite surprised me," Peterson said.
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