Sitting with your legs crossed could cause varicose and spider veins…Cookie dough made with raw eggs could contain salmonella bacteria and could cause food poisoning…More than 5 percent of over-the-counter cosmetic makeup samples contain fungi and molds…Trying to stop a sneeze may rupture blood vessel in your head or damage your eardrums…Bicycle seats can cause male impotence…Lions and tigers and bears – Oh, my!
Although such warnings hold some measure of truth, they are usually meant for entertainment purposes in popular health magazines, and there’s no need to go overboard worrying about everything that could cause some potential health threat. But the fact is children and teenagers do not always know when they are doing something seriously bad for them. So for the parents reading this, I want to share with you five practical ways to protect your kids from things that threaten their health and well-being.
1. Minimize Exposure to Environment Toxins
In 2002 the US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that more than 7.1 billion pounds of 650 different chemicals had been released into the air or water – and that 266 of these chemicals have been linked to birth defects. Further, many of the chemicals our children are exposed to on a daily basis did not exist even 10 years ago, and we do not know the effects they have on the body.
Dr. Mark Schauss, MBA, DB, has been studying the effects of toxins on the body for more than 29 years. He is the author of Achieving Victory over a Toxic World
(AuthorHouse 2008). For the layman, Schauss makes it simple to understand what a toxin is: “Something from the outside gets into our system that our bodies view as being foreign and causes negative effects.” His book provides details on the many adverse effects of toxins. One problem that most parents are not aware of is that toxins may be one of the primary causes of childhood obesity.
Government reports have estimated that approximately 25 percent of children in the US are overweight, and of those, 11 percent are obese. An estimated two thirds of overweight children are expected to continue being overweight into adulthood. This is a relatively recent trend; the rate of obesity in teenagers has tripled since 1980. Schauss says that one reason may be because the average American’s body temperature is dropping.
According to Schauss, when laboratory rats are exposed to toxins, their metabolism and internal temperature drop. Schauss says this type of hypothermia may be a protective response to reduce the effects of toxins, and that the American Medical Association is considering dropping the average healthy body temperature standard from 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit to 98.0 degrees – not because it’s considered healthier but because so few patients that doctors are seeing have a temperature of 98.6. The result of this hypothermia is that fewer calories are being burned. Further, Schauss says that toxins may also promote obesity, such as by interfering with the body’s ability to produce energy from carbohydrates and by impairing the endocrine system.
In his book Schauss provides many practical ways to reduce your children’s exposure to toxins, including the following:
• Do not heat or microwave anything stored in or covered with plastic
• Wait two days before wearing clothes that were dry cleaned
• Don’t use aerosol sprays or air fresheners
• Never let a plastic water bottle get hot
To this list I would add that you should use glass drinking glasses instead of plastic cups and glasses, get a stainless steel water bottle, and don’t use plastic dishes or utensils. Also, give your kids only natural shampoos, conditioners and other personal care products – if you see initials such as DBP, DEP, DEHP, BzBP or DMP in the ingredients, it’s not natural. Also, consider investing in supplements for your children that can help with detoxing. Schauss says some of the most effective are glycine, vitamin C, selenium and N-acetyl-cysteine.
2. Avoid Processed Foods and GMOs
One of the primary purposes of processed foods is to lengthen shelf life, but such processing often reduces the quality of the food; and these foods may contain harmful additives and other unnatural products. For example, many microwave bacon products can significantly raise blood triglycerides – in fact, one study found that eating processed meats increased the risk of heart disease by 42 percent! These unhealthy products also can more easily make your children fat.
In a study conducted by Pomona College in California, it was found that the thermogenic (fat burning) effect of eating a whole-food meal was nearly double that of eating a processed food meal. The dramatic difference in calorie burn is due to variations in the quality of the ingredients and fiber content. The refined quality of the processed food ingredients means it is more easily processed – requiring less enzyme production and being more simply metabolized by the body – and ultimately burning fewer calories in the process.
GMO is an acronym for genetically modified organisms. GMOs are made by taking the genes of one species and forcing them into the DNA of a food or animal to introduce a new trait. This practice helps to increase crop yields, making crops better able to tolerate toxic herbicides, and increasing their resistance to E. coli and salmonella.
GMO foods not only have less nutritional value but also may contribute to the increase in allergies we’re seeing among children and teenagers. In 1996 there was widespread use of genetically engineered crops. From 1997 to 2002 emergency room visits for allergies doubled. Perhaps this was completely coincidental or it may have been due to the influence of environmental toxins, but there are many reasons to suspect GMOs are responsible: Their modified proteins possess properties of known allergies, and genetically modified crops have residues of toxic herbicides that can cause allergic reactions.
Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to get around the problem of hidden GMOs, such as buying organic foods, looking for products that say they are non-GMO, consulting a non-GMO shopping guide and avoiding foods that are likely to contain GMOs. Regarding this last suggestion, be aware that in the United States 91 percent of soy products and 85 percent of corn products contain GMOs. To help you find out what foods are GMOs, you can download a free guidebook from www.ResponsibleTechnology.org
3. Reduce the Use of Plastic Products
BPA, or Bisphenol-A, is a chemical used to make plastic and other products, and there is an abundance of evidence that it is toxic for humans – and that includes your kids!
BPA is an estrogenic, meaning it mimics estrogen in the body and binds to estrogen hormone receptors. When it is ingested, BPA can influence endocrine response – essentially, it alters hormone levels in both women and men. Hormones affect just about everything, including brain function (concentration), nervous system activity (sleep and energy levels), metabolism (insulin health and fat burning), and organ function (heart and liver health). Indeed, research has linked BPA exposure to weight gain and obesity, disruption of the neurological system, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to BPA is particularly bad for infants and young children, and a new widely publicized study links BPA exposure during gestation to behavior problems in young girls.
Schauss says excess estrogen can stimulate an earlier onset of puberty. Along with the emotional problems often associated with girls developing early, there are many potential physical risks. According to a 1996 paper published in the Annual Review of Public Health, girls who begin their periods before the age of 12 (compared to girls who begin their periods at the age of 14) have a 20 percent greater risk of breast cancer.
One way to limit your children’s exposure to BPA is to allow them to drink only from BPA-free water bottles. Stainless steel water bottles are also a good choice – and make certain these bottles are lead free as well. Also, don’t let your children eat out of plastic containers (even BPA-free ones, because there’s concern with toxicity from all plastics).
4. Reduce Sugar Consumption
In 1801, it was estimated that each person in the US consumed 8.4 pounds of sugar, which comes to 2.2 teaspoons a day. By 2007 it had climbed to about 170 pounds of added caloric sweeteners per day, with corn sweeteners contributing 83.5 pounds of those pounds. When you do the math, that is just short of a cup a day. And one of the results of our national sweet tooth is that, according to US government estimates, one third of children born in 2000 or later will eventually suffer from diabetes.
To reduce the amount of sugar your kids consume, do not give them processed carbohydrate foods such as bagels and candy bars. Also, avoid foods labeled “fat free,” as the manufacturers often replace the fat with sugar.
For an excellent review on the health problems associated with excess sugar consumption and what to do about it, I highly recommend Sugar Shock
by Connie Bennett and Dr. Stephen Sinatra (The Berkley Publishing Group 2007).
5. Be Cell Phone Smart
Young people should not have to be concerned about brain cancer or fertility, but the excessive and improper use of cell phones will make these problems a national health care crisis.
Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, is the former director of the Center for Environmental Oncology of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and is the author of Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation (Dutton, 2010). Davis says that children will absorb more radiation than an adult because the skull and bone marrow of children are thinner.
Davis says that cell phone radiation can potentially affect sperm health and sperm count, and may also damage DNA and lead to brain cancer. Davis says we know from observational studies on those who were exposed to atomic bomb radiation that it can take up to 40 years after exposure to radiation to develop brain cancer. “So the fact that we haven’t seen an increase in brain cancer yet doesn’t tell us that we will be fine in the future – and many of us have only been using cell phones in a very heavy way for a few years,” says Davis.
An indirect danger to children from cell phones occurs when adults text and drive. Supported by statistics from the Department of Transportation, Davis says that driving while texting is equivalent to driving drunk in terms of safety. Texting occupies two senses, as opposed to talking on a cell phone, which requires one, and as such it is a more neurologically complex task to switch between texting and focusing all your attention on driving.
Davis’s book offers many practical suggestions on how to reduce your children’s exposure to cell phone radiation. First, young children should only have a cell phone for emergencies, and older children should try to text rather than talk and should use the speakerphone function when they do talk. She also recommends investing in a headset with a low-power Bluetooth emitter and using the speakerphone function whenever possible.
You don’t have to become paranoid to keep your children healthy, but you do have to be aware of the major threats and use your knowledge to stop them. Those are the facts – and it’s no laughing matter.