Infants are born at considerable risk nowadays. Toxic exposures and lack of nutrition and beneficial microbes in utero and after birth can contribute to a wide variety of health problems. Here, I will cover four commonly overlooked infant dangers:
- Poor gut health
- Flame retardant chemicals
- Insufficient vitamin D
- Exposure to genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
1. Gut Bacteria May Influence Your Baby’s Growth
Research has demonstrated that microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract form an intricate, living fabric of natural controls affecting body weight, energy, and nutrition.
Most recently, a Norwegian study published in the journal PLoS Computational Biology found that the types of bacteria present in an infant’s digestive system influences the child’s growth.
Your child’s digestive tract is quickly populated with a variety of bacteria originating from mother’s vaginal tract (if delivered via vaginal birth), breast milk (if breastfed), and other sources, such as infant formula.
Toxic exposures and certain drugs can also alter your child’s microflora. Examples include pesticides like glyphosate, and antibiotics — both of which can decimate populations of beneficial gut microbes.
Understanding how infants’ microbiota develops over time is important in order to devise strategies to change it for the better; thereby benefiting children’s long-term health. Similar research is being done to determine the impact of different microbiota on adult health and disease through the American Gut Project.
In this study, they found that the presence of Bacteroides in male babies at 30 days of age was significantly associated with reduced growth. In contrast, the presence of E. coli species between the age of four days and one month was linked with normal growth in both boys and girls. According to the authors:
We have created a new way of looking at the development of gut microbiota [the body’s microbial ecosystem] over time and relating this development to health outcomes.
After applying our new method, we found an indication that the composition of early life gut microbiota may be associated with how fast or slow babies grow in early life although there is also the possibility that factors early in life affect both gut microbiota and how fast the baby grows.
Your Baby’s Gut Flora Impacts Far More Than Just Growth
The health implications of variations in gut bacteria acquired from birth is exactly what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s research sheds light upon. Her research shows there’s a profound dynamic interaction between your gut, your brain, and your immune system, starting from birth.
She has developed what might be one of the most profoundly important treatment strategies for a wide range of neurological, psychological, and autoimmune disorders — all of which are heavily influenced by your gut health.
I believe her Gut and Psychology Syndrome, and Gut and Physiology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional program is vitally important for MOST people, as the majority of people have such poor gut health due to poor diet and toxic exposures, but it’s particularly crucial for pregnant women and young children.
Children who are born with severely damaged gut flora are not only more susceptible to disease; they’re also more susceptible to vaccine damage, which may help explain why some children develop symptoms of autism after receiving one or more childhood vaccinations.
It’s important to understand that the gut flora an infant acquires during vaginal birth is dependent on the mother’s gut flora.
So if mother’s microflora is abnormal, the child’s will be abnormal as well. GAPS can manifest as a conglomerate of symptoms that can fit the diagnosis of both physical disorders and brain disorders, including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, dyspraxia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities.
Digestive issues, asthma, allergies, skin problems and autoimmune disorders are also common outgrowths of GAPS, as it can present itself either psychologically or physiologically.
If you’ve taken antibiotics or birth control pills, if you eat a lot of processed or sugary foods, or if you were bottle-fed as a baby — all of these can impact the makeup of bacteria and microbes in your gut, which are then transferred to your child.
For instance, we now know that breastfed babies develop entirely different gut flora compared to bottle-fed babies. Infant formula never was, and never will be, a healthy replacement for breast milk, for a number of reasons — altered gut flora being one of them (and this applies whether the infant formula contains genetically engineered (GE) ingredients or not, although GE ingredients may be far worse).
Maintaining optimal gut flora, and “reseeding” your gut with fermented foods and probiotics when you’re taking an antibiotic, may be one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health, and this is particularly important if you’re planning to become pregnant. If you aren’t eating fermented foods, you most likely need to supplement with a probiotic on a regular basis, especially if you’re eating a lot of processed foods.
Parental Saliva May Have Beneficial Effect on Baby’s Immune System, Cutting Allergy Risk
Infant growth is just one of many aspects affected by the composition of bacteria in your body. Another study published in the journal Pediatrics found that parents who clean off their child’s pacifier by sucking on it may be inadvertently reducing their child’s risk of developing allergies. This appears to be a side effect of your oral bacteria affecting your child’s gut bacteria.
According to the authors:
Exposure of the infant to parental saliva might accelerate development of a complex oral/pharyngeal microbiota that, similar to a complex gut microbiota, might beneficially affect tolerogenic handling of antigens by the oral/pharyngeal lymphoid tissues. Moreover, oral bacteria are swallowed and hence also affect the composition of the microbiota in the small intestine, which may in turn regulate tolerance development in the gut.
Other studies have similarly shown that your child’s microbiota may influence his or her risk of developing allergies as a result of leaky gut syndrome. Leaky gut is a condition that occurs due to the development of gaps between the cells (enterocytes) that make up the membrane lining your intestinal wall. These tiny gaps allow substances such as undigested food, bacteria and metabolic wastes that should be confined to your digestive tract to escape into your bloodstream — hence the term leaky gut syndrome.
Once the integrity of your intestinal lining is compromised, and there is a flow of toxic substances “leaking out” into your bloodstream, your body experiences significant increases in inflammation. Besides being associated with inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, or celiac disease, leaky gut can also be a contributing factor to allergies.
Interestingly, the study also concluded that vaginal delivery and parental pacifier sucking were independently associated with a reduced likelihood of developing eczema. Prevalence of this skin condition was lowest — 20 percent — among infants covered by both factors, and highest (54 percent) among those born via cesarean birth and whose parents did not clean their pacifiers by sucking on it.
“Thus, vaginal delivery, which is a source for transfer of a complex microbiota from mother to infant and parent and infant sharing of a pacifier might both lead to microbial stimulation, with beneficial effects on allergy development,” the researchers wrote.
2. Parents, Beware of Toxic Flame-Retardant Chemicals Near Your Infant
Next we get into toxins… Here, you could fill an entire library with information, but some toxins are more prevalent and/or more dangerous than others. For example, preliminary research findings suggest that children exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in utero are at increased risk for hyperactivity and lower IQ. PBDEs are fire-retardant chemicals that have been in use for decades in items like carpeting, upholstery, mattresses, baby strollers and electronics, just to name a few.
Animal tests have shown that the chemicals disrupt the endocrine system, and because their chemical structure resembles thyroid hormone, they may affect thyroid function. In children, thyroid hormone is important for proper growth and development, especially brain development.
The researchers measured PBDE levels in the blood of 309 pregnant women, and their children were later evaluated through intelligence and behavior tests once a year until the age of five. They discovered that PBDE exposure in the womb was associated with hyperactivity between the ages of two and five, and with lower IQ scores at age five. A tenfold increase in PBDE exposure during pregnancy was related to about a four-point IQ deficit in five-year-old children. Previous research has also linked PBDE exposure in utero to reductions in IQ, as well as deficits in fine motor function and attention. According to study author Dr. Aimin Chen, assistant professor in the department of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine:
In animal studies, PBDEs can disrupt thyroid hormone and cause hyperactivity and learning problems. Our study adds to several other human studies to highlight the need to reduce exposure to PBDEs in pregnant women … Because PBDEs exist in the home and office environment as they are contained in old furniture, carpet pads, foams and electronics, the study raises further concern about their toxicity in developing children.
3. A Preterm Infant Needs Far More Vitamin D Than Currently Recommended
I’ve previously discussed how the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin D is grossly insufficient for most people, and that goes for young children and infants as well. Vitamin D insufficiency can lead to rickets (soft, weakened bones), and preemies are known to be at particularly high risk. At present, recommendations on how much vitamin D3 preemies should receive range from 400-1,000 IU’s depending on the medical organization you ask.
It was this lack of consensus that prompted the researchers to investigate the dosage necessary to correct vitamin D insufficiency in preemies. The study, which is said to be the largest study to date on preterm infants, was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC on May 5, 2013.
Ninety-six preterm infants born between 28 and 34 weeks’ gestation were included in the study. Their vitamin D status was determined via blood tests, and the infants were randomly selected to receive either 400 or 800 IU’s of vitamin D3. At 40 weeks, the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency was 43 percent lower in the 800 IU group than the 400 IU group. According to lead author Chandra Kumar Natarajan, DM:
The study results show conclusively that in preterm infants with high rates of vitamin D insufficiency at baseline, supplementation with 800 IU of vitamin D3 per day compared to 400 IU per day reduces vitamin D insufficiency at term equivalent age and at 3 months. There also is a trend toward a decrease in the prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency even in the 400 IU group at 3 months. Therefore, 400 IU per day may be sufficient after 3 months.
4. Your Infant — A Lab Rat?
Allergies of all kinds, but food allergies in particular, are on the rise. For example, between 1997 and 2002 the number of peanut allergies doubled, and the number of hospitalizations related to allergic reactions to food increased by a whopping 265 percent. One out of 17 children now has some form of food allergy. Children are also at highest risk of death from food allergy.
What’s causing this rapid incline in allergies, especially in our young?
Well, when you consider that a food allergic reaction occurs when your body responds to a food protein as a foreign invader (just like a virus or bacteria) which triggers an inflammatory response, the obvious answer is that our food now contains something, or things, that were never in it before. Numerous chemicals are today used in processed foods — any of which can cause a problem. But even more insidious are genetically engineered (GE) ingredients.
Shockingly, despite the complete lack of long-term safety studies, infant formulas can contain GE ingredients, without being labeled. Common GE crops include corn, soy and sugar — ingredients that are frequently used in infant formulas. Your child is perhaps never more vulnerable than in the first few months of life, when his or her fragile body is still rapidly developing. Pound for pound, infants experience greater exposure to chemicals than adults, and have immature and porous blood-brain barriers, which allow greater chemical exposures to reach their developing brains. As stated by biologist David Schubert:
Since children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems, if the genetically modified (GM) food is given to them without proper testing, they will be the experimental animals. If there are problems, we will probably never know because the cause will not be traceable and many diseases take a very long time to develop.
To correct this travesty, GMOInside.org launched a campaign urging infant formula makers to phase out all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from their infant formulas. The companies targeted were:
- Abbott Laboratories, maker of Similac
- Mead Johnson Nutrition, maker of Enfamil
- Nestlé, maker of Gerber Good Start
As stated by GMOInside.org:
Babies are particularly vulnerable when it comes to eating GMOs as their digestive and immune systems are not fully developed and GM crops have a much higher exposure to dangerous pesticides such as Roundup. According to pediatrician Michelle Perro, infant livers do not reach maturity for about two years and therefore are less equipped to process toxins in the body, such as the pesticides used on genetically modified foods Adding insult to injury, these companies all spent money to vote down GMO labeling in California last year, thus obstructing a parent’s right to know whether or not the first food they are feeding their newborns contains GMOs.
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Protecting Your Baby’s Long-Term Health Begins in Utero
There’s no doubt that children are at grave risk these days due to toxic exposures, improper nutrition, lack of beneficial microbes, combined with increasing amounts of genetically engineered foods, the full health ramifications of which are still not understood.
As a parent, being vigilant about avoiding toxins, while simultaneously improving your own nutrition, gut health and vitamin D status can go a long way toward protecting your child’s long-term health. Then, once your infant is born, breast feeding while eating an organic diet with plenty of fermented foods, and making sure your baby’s vitamin D levels are optimized, can give them a healthier start.
This article was reprinted with the permission of Dr. Mercola at mercola.com.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician, board-certified in family medicine. He has written two New York Times bestsellers and shared his expertise on ABC News, NBC’s The Today Show, CNN, CBS, Fox News, and in TIME and Forbes magazines.
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