Birth Defects and Exposure to Toxins and Other Dangerous Substances

us-military-birth-defectsWe have long written about the links between prenatal exposure to toxins and the potential increased risks for birth defects.

For example, we’ve reported for years on birth defects and other health complications—including possible cancer clusters—among U.S. military families and U.S. bases. Some bases were built or are positioned close to facilities or areas that handle or dispose of toxic chemicals, such as Agent Orange. In fact, we recently wrote that according to a statement from Birth Defect Research for Children (BDRC), a growing number of children born into military families believe the birth defects they, their siblings, or their children suffered were the result of the dangerous and toxic chemicals those service members and their families have been exposed to while serving in combat or while living on U.S. military bases. In one case, a soldier who served four tours in Vietnam said, “We have three children: one daughter with a heart defect, another with scoliosis and digestive problems, and a son born with a defective optic nerve that has left him blind in the right eye. There is no history of birth defects on either side of our family.”

We have also written that research reveals that the ubiquitous polycarbonate plastics chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), has been linked to adverse effects in expectant mothers. According to a UC Berkeley study, BPA appears to change thyroid hormones, which are critical to healthy growth. The change was evident in both pregnant women and newborn baby boys, said the researchers. As we’ve long explained, BPA’s links to reproductive system diseases are staggering and span to fetal development. For instance research has found that newborn boys whose mothers tested with increased BPA levels during pregnancy revealed signs of an overactive thyroid. Another study linked BPA to miscarriages and birth defects and discovered what it described as “compelling” evidence that BPA may negatively affect women’s reproductive systems and lead to chromosomal damage, birth defects, and miscarriages.

Phthalates have been linked to a wide array of adverse side effects, including to the developing fetus. Phthalates are the chemicals that make plastic and vinyl more flexible and, like BPA, are part of a group of endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the body’s hormone system. Some studies linked phthalate exposure to effects on the development of the male reproductive system: Infertility, undescended testes, and testicular development; penis and other reproductive tract malformations, such as hypospadias; and reduced testosterone levels. Some phthalates have been associated with problems with the developing fetus and are known to interfere with androgens.

Drugs have also been linked to increased birth defect risks. For example, we’ve long written about SSRIs—selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors—such as Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Lexapro, and Zoloft, which block the re-absorption (reuptake) of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the brain to boost mood. Studies suggest that there is too much of a risk taking SSRIs during pregnancy, including potential increased risks for miscarriage, pre-term births, neonatal health complications, and long-term neurobehavioral abnormalities, such as autism. A growing body of research has also linked SSRIs to birth defects and other issues when used by pregnant women, especially in the early months of pregnancy when many women don’t realize they are pregnant. One study published by researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that taking an SSRI antidepressant during pregnancy was associated with a two-fold increased risk of neonatal pulmonary hypertension (PPHN). Another report published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that babies exposed to SSRI antidepressants before birth exhibit reduced head growth at birth, and are more likely to be born prematurely.

Other substances—for example, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium; pesticides; and pharmaceuticals—represent potent toxins that can wreak havoc on children’s delicate and developing brains and bodies with children suffering from a broad array of issues to any number of bodily systems.

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