How Contaminated Are Our Children?

California Children Are Contaminated
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In a study highlighted in my video, California Childen Are Contaminated, researchers analyzed the diets of California children ages two through seven to determine the cancer and non-cancer health effects from food contaminant exposures. It turns out food may be the primary route of exposure to toxic heavy metals, persistent pollutants, and pesticides. “Though food-borne toxic contaminants are a concern for all ages, they are of greatest concern for children, who are disproportionately impacted because they’re still developing and have greater intake of food and fluids relative to their weight. Pediatric problems that have been linked to preventable environmental toxin exposures include cancer, asthma, lead poisoning, neurobehavioral disorders, learning and developmental disabilities, and birth defects.”

The good news is that changing one’s diet can change one’s exposure. Quoting from the study, “A diet high in fish and animal products, for example, results in greater exposure to persistent pollutants like DDT and dioxins and heavy metals than does a plant-based diet because these compounds bioaccumulate up the food chain.” Plants are at the bottom of the food chain. The sample of California kids, however, was not eating a plant-based diet. Cancer benchmark levels were exceeded by all 364 children for arsenic, the banned pesticide dieldrin, a metabolite of DDT called DDE, and dioxins.

Children exceeded safety levels by a greater margin than adults. This is especially of concern for children because all of these compounds are suspected endocrine disruptors and thus may impact normal development. Cancer risk ratios were exceeded by over a factor of 100 for both arsenic and dioxins.

Which foods were the worst? For preschoolers, the number one food source of arsenic was poultry, though for their parents, it was tuna. The number one source of lead was dairy, and for mercury it was seafood. And the number one source of the banned pesticides and dioxins was dairy. (See Preventing Parkinson’s Disease With Diet.)

The researchers also recommended children should eat lower quantities of chips, cereal, crackers, and other crispy carbs to reduce acrylamide intake. 

The California study didn’t split up the groups by gender, but a similar study in Europe found that men had higher levels of some of these pollutants than women. For example, levels of the banned pesticide chlordane were higher in men, but women who never breastfed were right up there alongside men, with the lowest levels found in women who breastfed over 12 months. Therefore, it is likely that the lactation-related reduction in blood pollutant levels partly explains the lower body burdens among women compared with men. So cows can lower their levels by giving some to us, then we can pass it along to our children.

What non-cancer effects might some of these pollutants have? They can affect our immune system. Studies clearly demonstrate the “ability of dioxins and related compounds to have a long-lasting and deleterious impact on immune function.” This manifests as increased incidences of respiratory infections, ear infections, cough, and sore throat. At first, most of the data was for during infancy, but now we have follow-up studies showing that the immunosuppressive effects of these toxins may persist into early childhood, so we should try to reduce our exposure as much as possible. Because these pollutants accumulate in animal fat, consuming a plant-based diet–decreasing meat, dairy, and fish consumption–may reduce exposure for children and adults alike.

These findings should come as no surprise to those who saw my video Pollutants in California Breast Tissue. For an overview see CDC Report on Environmental Chemical Exposure and President’s Cancer Panel Report on Environmental Risk.

Pollutant exposure may affect the ability to have children in the first place (Male Fertility and Diet and Meat Hormones & Female Infertility). Such a delay, though, may allow one an opportunity to reduce one’s toxic burden through dietary change (Hair Testing for Mercury Before Considering Pregnancy and How Long to Detox From Fish Before Pregnancy?).

During pregnancy, pollutants can be transferred directly (DDT in Umbilical Cord Blood), and after pregnancy through breastfeeding (The Wrong Way to Detox). Once our kids are contaminated, How Fast Can Children Detoxify from PCBs? The chemicals have implications for older children too: Protein, Puberty, and Pollutants.

Seafood is not the only source of toxic heavy metals. See:

Videos on primary food sources of other industrial pollutants include:

There are some things we can eat, though, to counteract some of the toxins:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Kevin Krejci / Flickr

  • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

    ​This blog reminds me of PCBs found in children’s fish oil and how algae-based omega 3 supplements may be much less risky.

  • Doctor Jack

    I may have missed it but has Dr. Gregor addressed the evils of vaccinations, a barbaric practice that directly injects contaminants into the infant or child’s bloodstream. It can’t get more directly poisoning than that.

    • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

      Vaccination is one of the greatest public health triumphs in the history of humanity, not the lest of which for eliminating smallpox, which used to kill hundreds of millions of people.

      • Doctor Jack

        You’re just regurgitating what you’ve been taught but as one of my professors once said, “What’s the use of knowing so much if what you know ain’t so?” So called smallpox is a body initiated and conducted process of elimination through the skin from excessive toxemia. As with any body elimination process, once this process has run it’s course, the patient always recovers. It’s the ones where there’s medical intervention, i.e. vaccines, etc. that die. The causes are cumulative emotional, physical and chemical stressors from dietary, environmental and lifestyle factors.

        • Al Mather

          “Doctor” That is perhaps the most idiotic thing I’ve read in Disqus.In the 60’s millions a year worldwide died from smallpox. The World Health Org joined by dozens of other volunteer, charitable, health orgs and Governments around the world launched a program to eradicate the disease. It took over a decade. The whole world, TV,Newspapers, magazine media watched and documented a massive global vaccination program that encircled and extinguished outbreaks till in 1980 the disease was completely wiped off the planet.Trying to rewrite that or deny that is like trying to deny that WWII happened. You sir are delusional.
          http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dm79sp.html
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6293036
          http://www.sciencemag.org/content/196/4296/1298.short
          http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/health-and-human-body/human-diseases/smallpox-article/
          https://web.stanford.edu/group/virus/pox/history.html#Eradication
          http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/1/1/25.abstract

          • Michael McCarthy

            Wait for it, there’s going to be some response about DDT (or some other chemical) or something like “Germs aren’t real, they are made up by Big Pharma to sell their products”.

          • Doctor Jack

            No, bacteria are very real and they are also present when dis ease processes are made necessary but they are not causative. We have hundreds of billions of micro organisms in and on us. If they caused health complications, humans would not even exists.

          • Michael McCarthy

            Wrong, wrong wrong. There are pathogenic and non-pathogenic microorganisms. Some are symbiotic, some are parasitic. You live in a dreamland.

          • hyperzombie

            Wow, he comes from the land of friendly parasites and non-pathogenic microorganisms. I need to get some of what that Dr is smokin’

          • Michael McCarthy

            Who knew if you just didn’t have any toxemia/contamination you could have avoided smallpox?

          • Al Mather

            Lol..You have to be seriously dedicated to deluding yourself to keep that BS up. ..Like a little kid with his fingers in his ears yelling “Nah-Nah- Nah-Nah ..I can’t hear you!”.. “Germs aren’t real!! All scientists are wrong!!!” Where do they come from?

          • Michael McCarthy

            I wish I knew. That thinking doesn’t really hold water though, considering the number of Native Americans that were killed by smallpox, they lived a pretty clean/natural lifestyle and it surely didn’t save them.

          • Al Mather

            http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/08/09/yes-there-really-are-people-who-dont-acc/ Good read with insight into the denial, what their strawman premises of germ theory are .. and the idiot’s argument against it.

          • Doctor Jack

            Micro organisms feed on waste matter and other toxic substances, not living tissue, number one.
            Number two, do you honestly believe a simple celled organism is capable of overtaking a hundred trillion celled organism, the most sophisticated organism in existence with an army, navy, marines and swat team of defense mechanisms? If you do, then you must also believe that the tine island country of Grenada could invaded and take over the entire United States of America.

          • Michael McCarthy

            Well, it is patently obvious you have never taken a microbiology (and probably not a biology class) in your life. I don’t even know how to respond to that glob of crap.

          • Al Mather

            You obviously have been brainwashed to not understand how small micro organisms are Mike.

          • Michael McCarthy

            I’m breeding an army of them to take over the world, so if they are that small, how many do I need?

          • Doctor Jack

            You’re right, I haven’t. If I did I would probably be as disinformed as you.
            Instead I have undergone an extensive study of Practical Physiology. I skipped all the medically controlled “education” and went directly to useful practical information and my patients thank me for it all the time. If you’re extremely lucky, some day you too may find the right information but its doubltful.

          • Michael McCarthy

            If only you could see me laughing at you right now.

          • Doctor Jack

            I did take biology in high school but that doesn’t really count.

          • Al Mather

            You’ve never acknowledged the Smallpox question… are you in denial that the entire 12 year eradication vaccination campaign even happened???

          • Doctor Jack

            I’m not in denial about any of this. What I am is correctly educated as to what dis ease is, what purpose these physiological processes serve and what makes them necessary. And also that there’s no such thing as vaccine. It’s just a concept like the moon is made out of cheese is a concept but obviously it has on validity, neither does so called vaccine. The human body can only use a limited number of substances and the ingredients in so called vaccines, (embalming fluid, razor sharp micro slivers of aluminum, MSG, polysorbate 80, mercury derivatives, macerated putrefied monkey kidneys, etc.), are definitely not on the list. They belong in the witch’s cauldron straight out of “Macbeth”. If you don’t think such a caustic chemical soup injected directly into the body – no chance to be partially neutralized by the digestive system – damages healthy cells and cellular function or even can kill the entire organism, you’re certifiably imbecilic. Perhaps YOU should make your own “cocktail” of the above “vaccine” ingredients and down a glass full and see how that works for you. It will probably make your completely immune to everything for eternity as I’ve seen other morons do who were medically tricked by “experts” like yourself into believing they caught something and took “medicine” and it cured them alright…they all died!

          • Al Mather

            Again I ask are you denying the eradication of smallpox took place?

          • Al Mather

            There it is… Something even more laughably ignorant than your other post.. Doctor…what a joke.

          • Al Mather

            There it is… A post more laughably ignorant than your first post… Doctor…what a joke.

          • Al Mather

            And you dodged the question.

          • Doctor Jack

            Blah blah blah…

          • Al Mather

            I’m sure your imaginary patients feel extremely lucky they found you. Do they give you a link to a colorful printable diploma once you’ve “passed” that extensive study?

          • Doctor Jack

            Troll…

          • Al Mather

            Delusional faker.

          • Doctor Jack

            Nope, I’m correct. You have been medically brainwashed but you wouldn’t know that because if you knew you were brainwashed you wouldn’t be brainwashed but you are – irreversibly brainwashed. You’ve only studied wrong information that is promulgated by medical interests which definitely include CDC, WHO, NIH, etcetera so that they can “save the day” with their lab synthesized chemicals and make billions. Medicine’s top priority is to make sure the public never suspects that the on going complications people experience are from their underlying illness and not from the “medicines” but that’s slowly changing as more and more people wake up to the delusion of so called medicine. You haven’t found the correct information yet, keep searching. As always, health is only produced by healthful living and not from drugging people, duh…

          • Al Mather

            And the 12 year vaccination campaign that the entire world witnessed as the scourge was eradicated at the cost of millions to the governments and entities.. that provided the doctors and nurses and aide workers AND vaccines (manufactured and contributed by the Russians mostly).. that went at their own peril into disease ridden 3rd world hot spots.. the millions that died ..that was all what? A dream.. an elaborate hoax ? It happened.. The whole world watched and participated..it’s not a matter of being misinformed moron. You are in some kind of deep grand delusion if you think you can spin Smallpox away with germ theory denialist BS. DUH…

  • Robert Ireland

    Dr. Greger,
    I believe it is very important that you do a video segment on “the vegan diet” which you talk about so much. People need to know many things all at once, in one video: such as how there are many canned foods that are extremely high in salt; soluble and insoluble fats, vitamins, and fibers; electrolytes (especially important for developing teens who get dead arms while sleeping/sitting); steamed vs raw for absorption; probably juicing too; celtic sea salt (for electrolytes); and I could probably think of a few other things too but there are things new vegans need to know before they switch or there could be serious problems that arise…it needs to be done.

    Thanks Doc. Love the info and the vids.

    • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

      Hey Robert. I appreciate the suggestion. We do not promote a particular “diet” so a video on vegan diets would not be appropriate. I can send you loads of resources to organizations who promote vegan diets and have menu plans and recipe options. For those following a vegan diet or looking to transition I love Dr. Greger’s Optimal Nutrition Recommendations. Of course, as you point out, he covers many research studies conducted on vegan diets or populations who follow a vegetarian or even a more plant-based type of diet. I am happy to help answer any questions you have about a healthful vegan diet. Maybe I can write a post about what consists of a healthful vegan diet? If that is something our site visitors would like I’ll ask Dr. Greger if I can post something in my Ask the Dietitian section under “Nutrition Questions”

      Thanks again for your thoughts,
      Joseph

  • MEC

    This is a great blog post. Thanks for writing it. I often read the abstracts you refer to. I read the California one and the abstract also implicated vegetables and fruit with heavy metal contamination, right up there with dairy. I am assuming the actual article (not the abstract) went into more detail and showed tuna, poultry and the other animal foods you mention are higher risk factors. Or was it more a leap of faith/understanding that the higher up the food chain you go, the worse it gets? I just want to be certain I’m passing on reliable information to people, and not just reading with a ‘vegan is best’ slant.

    • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

      Hi MEC. Thanks for utilizing the abstracts. I wouldn’t assume anything! It’s always great to double check to make sure Dr. Greger and myself are reporting the study findings correctly. We are pretty quick to fix any errors, so please, if you ever see anything “off” just ask. Are you referring to Fig. 3 in that study? You are right it seems that the selected fruits and vegetables mentioned in the abstract contributed to pesticide exposure. The good news is that finding organic options essentially eliminates this concern. Plus, eating organic may be healthier and safer. Let me know if this helps. Thanks again for your comments.

      • MEC

        Thanks for your fast reply. I was able to read the whole article (linked to the video referred to in this article) and it did make it clear that the more animal foods we eat, the more contamination. That’s what the actual researchers said. Then in the breakdown they pointed out repeatedly the fact that various plant foods also added to the heavy metal risk. I have always found Dr Gregor’s articles and videos reliable information, and am glad to say this has also proven to be the case.

        I think as vegans, it becomes a habit of ‘putting down’ animal foods, but forgetting to mention that we need to aim for nutritional excellence in plant foods also. In fact, even though I had read often about heterocyclic amines in cooked meat, I had heard nothing about acrylamides until this week when i both studied it in my nutrition degree as well as read this article on Dr Gregor’s website. Vegans are always baking vegetables, grilling vegetables, stir-frying vegetables in water till they ‘caramelise’ (or should I say ‘acrylamidise’), baking vegan type cakes and cookies – and no one says a thing about the carcinogens caused by these cooking methods. Maybe this is why vegans also get cancer, despite meat avoidance. It might be time to bring this to light, for the good of the whole vegan community.

  • Charzie

    Joseph, do you know if it’s true or not that lacto fermenting veggies can break down pesticides and certain pollutants, as I’ve read in many separate places that say also it reduces the need to buy everything organic, which I just can’t afford to do, (so am progressively growing more of my own.) Not everyone provides the studies like you do here! If only! Thanks!

    • Joseph Gonzales R.D.

      Hi Charzie. I’m not familiar with any research. If you find any links post them! I think organics are preferred, but please don’t let that stop you from eating whole foods! Often finances keep us from buying the most healthful items in the market, but we still have to eat. The benefits of eating conventional veggies outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. I agree that if you have the space growing your own is preferred.

    • hyperzombie

      Hey Charzie, Organic is an expensive Premium product like Fancy cigars and Expensive brandy, so save your money and eat more conventional fruits and veggies, you will be far more healthy in the long run and you might even have a bit of extra coin in your pocket to treat yourself to some fancy chocolate or a night out. Best wishes

      • Michael McCarthy

        Mercola says lacto fermenting works, so it surely must.

        • hyperzombie

          What the hell is Lacto fermenting? Will it make my pizza taste better?

          • Michael McCarthy

            Think kimchi and sauerkraut. I don’t think those things would make pizza better, rather the opposite.

          • JoeFarmer

            Canadian bacon and sauerkraut pizza. Sounds gross, but it’s delicious.

          • Michael McCarthy

            I’m going with gross on that one, mostly because I find sauerkraut repulsive.

        • hyperzombie
          • Michael McCarthy

            no pickled pigs feet or chicken feet? What kind of a second rate operation produced that!

  • Alan

    So lets eat our fruits and veggies !!!!!!!!!!

  • curious george

    @disqus_wnYOIlS4ks:disqus Its that time of the year I would love to hear you guys cover is the the topic of
    SAFE effective Mosquito repellents, the internet is filled with anecdotes, but what are the FACTS? what does the science say

  • vegank

    One question I have is that if Neuro-behavioral disorders are caused by the environment and common food we consume, why is it that only some children and not all are affected by it ?
    I am being very simplistic but have always wondered about this.