In California, furniture manufactures must meet some of the stringent regulations in not just the country, but the world. Stuffed furniture such as couches and beds must withstand 12 seconds of flame without catching on fire. To comply with standards, manufacturers drench stuffing in a chemical called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) to make it flame resistance.
But a new study of pregnant women in California suggests that exposure to this chemical may be doing more harm than good.
The study followed 416 mainly Mexican women in Monterey County, California from 1999 to 2000. With each year that the women lived in the U.S., their blood level of PBDE increased 4%. Pregnant women who had the highest levels of PBDE in their blood suffered from reduced thyroid hormone concentrations and difficulties becoming pregnant. Other studies with animal and humans have also linked PBDE to neurological disorders in both the mother and her offspring.
Old furniture is believed to pose the biggest risk. In 2006, California law makers banned the use of pentaBDE, the most commonly used flame retardant, but furniture built before 2006 would still contain this chemical. As old furniture breaks down, the toxin is released and contaminates household dust that can then be breathed directly into the body.
Foam items such as mattresses, pillows and car seats will likely contain PBDEs if made before 2005. Be careful around fabrics that are not completely encased in protective fabric. You can also use a vacuum fitted with HEPA filter to help remove contaminants.
Researchers will now turn their focus to how children born to women with high blood levels of PBDE are affected. The study will be looking for links with modern day health issues such as changes in the start of puberty in children, neurodevelopment and behavioral disorders such as autism.
Lack of access to health food has long been blamed for the rise of obesity in low income neighborhoods. We are often reminded of the abundance of McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC's and Chinese food carry outs compared to the scarcity of green grocers.
But a new study out of the University of North Carolina has found that simply building super markets isn't enough to improve diets. The study tracked 5,000 adults, ages 18-30 in Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland for 15 years. Researchers found that those who lived in food deserts and had access to large grocery stores did not necessarily eat a healthier diet.
A food desert is defined as an area with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, typically found in low income communities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 23 million Americans live in such a place and as a result eat more fatty, cheap food.
While proximity to fast food restaurants increases one's consumption of fast food, proximity to grocery stores does bring increases to consumption of fruits and vegetables. For one thing, grocery stores also sell plenty of cheap, fatty and processed foods.
Penny Gordon-Larsen, an author of the study and associate professor at University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, says that multiple approaches are needed to effect positive changes in people's dietary habits. "Dietary behaviors are complex. There needs to be attention to the quality and costs of foods offered, promotion of healthier food items [and] educational efforts."
Obesity experts are calling for a comprehensive plan to improve what people are eating that involves programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The program provides year round vouchers to low income women for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Education is equally important in the voucher program as the money. In a 2010 study, educating voucher recipients of the program was key to helping them make better choices in the super market.
Pollution and chemicals have long been blamed for disrupting our hormone systems and permanently altering how our bodies carry out vital functions. Evidence has pointed to endocrine disruptors causing girls to hit puberty at younger and younger ages, causing undescended testicles in young boys and lowering the sperm counts in men. Now, yet another study is pointing to toxic chemicals in the environment that are causing women to experience menopause at much younger ages than average.
The study done by London's Imperial College found that one in every sixteen women are experiencing premature menopause or Premature Ovarian Failure (POF) in the UK. In some cases women are experiencing menopause 15 years earlier than the average age of about 50. Researchers examined the health records of 4,968 of 50 year old women across the UK and found links to smoking, poor diet and PFC's which are chemicals found in non stick cookware and food packaging. Women who had the highest levels of PFCs were found to have the lowest levels of estrogen in their blood.
Endocrine disruptors such as PFCs not only affect estrogen levels but also can disrupt the pituitary and thyroid gland which plays an important role in regulating hormones. The study found that hydrocarbons in cigarette smoke led to egg cell death.
Poorer women were more at risk due to increased chances of a combination of poor diet, smoking and inadequate health care. Poor women are not the only women at risk however. In a Daily Mail interview, leading nutritionist Dr. Marilyn Glenville said that "as we become more of a stress driven, sedentary society with young girls exercising less and drinking much more than previous generations, we may be looking at an epidemic of POF in years to come."
The study did produce some good news however. Premature menopause was not found to be linked to birth control pills and although there were hereditary links found in some cases, genetics did not always decide a woman's fate. Rather, POF was found to be an auto-immune response as a result of stress, poor diet and trauma. However, once a woman's reproductive system shuts down, she may never regain her ability to have children.