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Flame Retardant Chemical Contamination

A way to detoxify one's body of industrial pollutants found in the food supply.

September 9, 2008 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited



In years past I’ve talked about the industrial chemical carcinogens—DDT, PBCs, dioxins—crawling up the food chain. How the breast milk of vegetarians may only have 1 to 2% of these toxins. How supermarket surveys show that eating fish is the worst and eating vegan is the best. How U.S. fast food was a toxic soup—big mac, cheese pizza, Kentucky fried chicken, Hagen-daaz. showed how the levels were just through the ceiling because these chemicals build up in animal fat. Even worse at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut but nothing like the levels of toxic waste we expose our children to by feeding them chicken. But these studies were done ten years ago.

Thankfully the levels of these toxins are in decline. Agent orange was banned in 1970, DDT banned in 72, lead gas in 73, PCB’s in 79 and we’re seeing the daily intake go down around the world , seeing the levels in our bodies go down.

Just as these other industrial toxins were in decline, though, Swedish researchers noticed an exponential increase in breast milk levels of PBDE, PCB-like chemicals used as flame retardants—in computers, mattresses, drapes, carpeting, teddy bears, all over the place. So U.S. researchers recently started looking here in the United States. Note that by 1996 Sweden was up to 4. By the same year in the U.S. we were over 40, and now and now we are over 400. Nursing women in the U.S. have in their breast milk by far the highest levels of flame retardant chemicals compared to women anywhere in the world, by literally orders of magnitude. Who cares, though? Maybe our babies will become… fire-resistant.

Uh no, these chemicals are likely carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, and developmental neurotoxins. So how are Americans getting so much of it? We didn’t know until this year: “Fire retardants in U.S. food.” Where is it found? Dairy, beef, bacon, fish. And once again, chicken is so contaminated it screws up my graph. Squish the rest down, and chicken fat.

What about vegans? Similar to previous findings of low dioxin levels in vegans vegans have lower PBDE levels and… the longer you’re vegan, the lower you levels fall. Check this out: Vegan PBDE blood levels. The longer you go without consuming animal products the lower your levels fall. It may take 20 years, but your body can eventually cleanse itself. Breast is still best, even when feeding our babies these toxins, but vegan breast milk is better.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on industrial toxins. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

Also, be sure to check out my associated blog posts: Vitamin B12: how much, how often?Cow's Milk Casomorphin, Crib Death, and Autism, How To Reduce Dietary Antibiotic IntakeAvoid Cooked Meat Carcinogens, and Why Are Children Starting Puberty Earlier?

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on industrial toxins. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

  • Toxins

    super interesting

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Vitamin B12: how much, how often?!

    • b00mer

       Is it known where these toxins originate? Are these purely environmental
      for all animals regardless of how they’re raised, or is there something in terms of the industry’s processing and
      that perhaps leads to these levels?

      I had the same question regarding the endotoxemia videos. Could that be a
      result of the rapid pace sloppy butchering practices seen today in
      industrial scale slaughterhouses? Or should people buying local,
      small-scale, carefully butchered animal products be just as worried?

      It’s just that I find that the typical response to any of these
      studies from omnivores is that all negative issues are negated by eating
      grass-fed, organic, free range, etc, etc.

      I wish researchers
      would start to address this as the grass-fed/organic/etc movement grows
      and more and more consumers grow to see it as the “safe and healthy”

      • Toxins

        Grass fed organic beef does not negate the issues seen with consuming meat. As we will see in Dr. Greger’s fure videos putting wild game to the test compared with typical agriculture, the wild game still causes an inflammatory response. chronic inflammation is the cause of todays common degenerative diseases so to eliminate this we must adopt a whole foods plant based diet.

        Looking at the most long lived populations, such as the okinawans who had the most cenetarians per capita, their diet had very little meat. Here is an anylasys of their diet.

        Caloric Restriction, the Traditional
        Okinawan Diet, and Healthy Aging
        The Diet of the World’s Longest-Lived People and Its Potential Impact on Morbidity and Life Span
        Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1114: 434–455 (2007).

        TABLE 1. Traditional dietary intake of Okinawans and other Japanese circa 1950

        Total calories 1785
        Total weight (grams) 1262
        Caloric density (calories/gram) 1.4
        Total protein in grams (% total calories) 39 (9)
        Total carbohydrate in grams (% total calories) 382 (85)
        Total fat in grams (% total calories) 12 (6)
        Saturated fatty acid 3.7
        Monounsaturated fatty acid 3.6
        Polyunsaturated fatty acid 4.8
        Total fiber (grams) 23

        Food group Weight in grams (% total calories)

        Rice 154 (12)
        Wheat, barley, and other grains 38 (7)
        Nuts, seeds

        Sugars 3 (
        Oils 3 (2)
        Legumes (e.g., soy and other beans) 71 (6)

        Fish 15 (1)
        Meat (including poultry) 3 (
        Eggs 1 (Dairy

        Sweet potatoes 849 (69)
        Other potatoes 2 (
        Other vegetables 114 (3)
        Seaweed 1 (
        Pickled vegetables 0 (0)
        Foods: flavors & alcohol 7 (

        Data derived from analysis of U.S. National Archives, archived food records, 1949 and based on survey of 2279 persons.

        Some points

        Their diet was 85% carb, and 6% fat. Sweet potatoes (a Japanese sweet potato) made up almost 70% of their calories. Nuts were less than 1% of calories (the equivalent of 1/10 of an ounce a day) Oil was less than 2% of calories (which is about 1 tsp a day) and sugars were less than 1% of calories (less than a tsp a day)

        The total animal products including fish was less than 4% of calories which is less then 70 calories a day. That is the equivalent of around 2 oz of animal products or less a day

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Also be sure to check out my associated blog post Vitamin B12: how much, how often?!

  • beccadoggie10

    I read the book by Neal Barnard, M.D. and nutritonal researcher, Foods That Fight Pain after a neurosurgeon to whom I was referred asked me if I ever considered cortisone steroid injections in my spine. That made me cringe. I knew that cortisone steroid damaged the immune system and was also linked to osteoporosis, and wanted nothing to do with this. I fractured the lumbar (5-L)region of my spine in March of this year, and neither wanted surgery, steroid injections in my spine to reduce pain, nor recombinant DNA, and was open to a diet change.
    After eliminating dairy, meat (all flesh and of course fats, from animals), wheat, corn, [sugars were already gone], so-called vegetable oils, nuts, and eating lentils, beans, rice or quinoa, certified organic everything, especially tofu, 3 high quality fruits per day including 5 figs, lots of calcium rich veggies, but all high nutrition veggies, I found that the pain just disappeared and with it, I lost 60 pounds in 6 months. I have more energy than ever.
    Began taking certain supplements recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil for bone support. Dr. Weil believes in mostly vitamins from food, but adding certain supplements. I was eating 1000 mg of calcium per day, and ingesting about 400 mg calcium citrate; 2,000 IU of vitamin D from wild, Alaskan sockeye salmon, krill oil.
    I knew where organochlorines came from from my years as an environmental activist and avoid animals high on the food web. The salmon I was getting were small sport fish, not large salmon and always wild from Alaska. However, I limit my fish meals because of dioxins, PCBs, and organochlorines.
    I have not read your talk, but I was hoping for any input on how my diet looks to be. I’m eating roughly 5-6 cups of broccoli, or bok choy, or kale, or collard greens per day, adding sweet potatoes or yams when I avoid rice. Eating oatmeal with certified organic low fat tofu and figs for breakfast, along with an orange, strawberries, grapefruit, or other citrus.
    My supplements are always taken with meals.
    For exercise, I’m trying to build up with weight bearing to reverse my osteoporosis as I do not want to do recombinant DNA Ibandronate –Boniva. I’m trying hard not to eat GMO’s and pesticides, I don’t want to swallow or inject recombinant DNA pharms. Don’t trust them!

  • Fibi;

    Interesting, thankyou;

  • Richard Frazee

    Hi Doc. Ok, I get it, don’t eat any chicken or meat for that matter. BUT here is my tiny little problem, “I am a Vietnam Veteran who was sprayed with Agent Orange for over a year and now I’m suffering the long term effects. What can I and so many others do to get rid of this crap from our systems?” By the way, where I was stationed, we also were sprayed with JP-4 every time a jet came in to land at Da Nang Airport. (ya godda love Monsanto & the US government).

    • Thea

      Richard: I’m so sorry to hear about what was done to you. It’s not fair and it sucks. Unfortunately, I don’t have any actual help for you, but I wanted to express my sympathies and my hope that someone will have some good ideas for you. Good luck.

      • Richard Frazee

        Hi Thea, listen, every time I walk through the valley of death, God tells me, “Don’t sweat the little things.” This is another one of those little things, so I’m not gonna sweat it, but I would enjoy knowing what I can eat to clean all that crap out of my arteries. I’m grinding a tablespoon of Flax every morning for my Smoothie and adding a teaspoon of Amla to it as well. About the only thing I’m almost not willing to give up are my cigarettes, but maybe time will change that too. I am on a first name bases with Kale, red beans, garlic, ground cloves & cinnamon and a bunch of other good foods. Another thing, my time has long ago passed, show your pride and sad feelings for the men & women coming back now. They deserve it a lot more than me. I just did the job I was trained to do. Simper Fi, my brothers & sisters, Simper Fi.

        Subject: Re: New comment posted on Flame Retardant Chemical Contamination