Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

July 30, 2018

(working title)

Epigenetics and chemicals

10 Americans Study: the story continues

In the last few chapters, we have looked at stress and chemicals as two of the major epigenetic triggers to childhood disease risk. Randy Jirtle's work with the Agouti mouse opened the door for a greater understanding of how our genes can be environmentally manipulated for good or bad.

in 2004, Ken Cook and the senior researchers at the Environmental Working Group undertook a project

to evaluate the blood samples of 10 random children at birth via their umbilical cord blood. They specifically wanted to know whether these babies were being exposed to chemicals before they were even released into the world. What they were asking, scientifically, was are we at potential risk before birth because of unknown exposures to chemicals from our chemically laden environment.

This was not a popular research project for anyone to undertake as it's outcome was almost certainly going to upset multinational chemical companies and the government. The study was simply a "does it exist" analysis.

The researchers looked at the cord blood of 10 random American newborns and analyzed it for chemical exposure. The results were depressing. They found 287 chemicals in the classes of pollutants, pesticides and industrial chemicals. They repeated the study in 2009 in a minority group and found equally daunting results.

"We know the developing fetus is one of the most vulnerable populations, if not the most vulnerable, to environmental exposure," said Anila Jacobs, EWG senior scientist. "Their organ systems aren't mature and their detox methods are not in place, so cord blood gives us a good picture of exposure during this most vulnerable time of life." (Scientific American 2009)

Based on this data, we clearly know that babies are being bathed in differing volumes of chemicals right from birth depending on maternal exposure. If we put all of the research together with our current knowledge of epigenetics, we start to develop a picture whereby these chemicals are potentially affecting us unknowingly before we have a chance to start the game of life.

What the 10 Americans study does not do is prove causation. It does prove existence of risk. That is where we should start the conversation from. What about the volumes? Is there a point at which issues arise?

The prevailing theory in toxicology is that you need to have a certain level of a chemical in a biological system for a negative effect to occur. While it is true that there is a clear toxic burden at a certain level, what is less clear is the theory that there are times where at very low doses we can have negative or positive effects.

The theory of hormesis talks directly to this point. This is the toxicologic theory that at very low doses the chemical can have an effect. (M. Mattson 2008) The effect of many, if not most, of these environmental chemicals is unknown.There in lies the problem. In the United States, we have no laws on the books that mandate a company test these chemicals for safety in humans before putting them in our world. Why this reality persists in modern America is a question that I cannot answer logically. The only real possible answer is "money".

The CDC publishes data on human chemical exposure called the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. In 2018, the fourth edition of this report came out. It is chock full of data that is worth your time to read.

At some point, we need to consider the serious possibility that we are destroying our future by exposing ourselves to chemicals at any level while pregnant. There is clear evidence that high doses of toxic chemicals causes disease. There is hypothetical evidence for epigenetic effects of chemicals at lower doses. For example, we used to think that lead was safe at levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter. Current research is telling us that there are no safe levels of lead in children or pregnant women.

I really worry about two ubiquitous chemicals, bisphenol A and glyphosate. These chemicals are also known as BPA and Roundup. They are everywhere in our environment. BPA is well known to be dangerous to human cells as an endocrine disruptor while glyphosate is hotly debated for safety. The European Union has been looking deeply into the safety of glyphosate. They have banned the co administered chemical POE-tallowamine, but have currently allowed glyphosate to continue being used with new restrictions.

The other major caveat that I have not discussed and will only briefly touch on now is the knowledge that some of us are at much higher risk for chemical disruption because of our detoxification genome. If you are unfortunate enough to have genomic SNP's for detox pathways like SOD2, GSTP1, NQO1, etc..., then your risk of disease based on chemical toxicity and hormesis may be significantly higher and more rapid in onset.

I submit to you that after reading reams of data, I am 100% in the camp of "these chemicals cannot be good for us". What we do not know is how bad they are for babies and pregnant women. Every statistic tells us that we as a population are getting sicker, pregnancies are more risky and children are developing disease at earlier ages and with more morbidity. We known that epigenetic mechanisms are the route to chemical induced damage. Therefore, chemicals are for me and should be for all, avoided at all costs especially while young, pregnant or a teenager.

What I cannot understand is why we would not do everything that we could to give the next generation the best start that we can.

Next week: what to do.

Dr. M

10 Americans Article
10 Americans Video
Scientific American Article 2009
CDC/EWG Article
Full CDC Report
M. Mattson Article Hormesis
ACOG Lead Article
Scientific American Article on Glyphosate
European Union Commission on Glyphosate