February 28, 2011

Why Your Children Will Be Sicker Than You. ~ Julie McGinnis, MS, RD

Photo: USAID U.S. Agency for International Development

The Perfect Storm: The Proof is in the Population

Over the past twenty years, a lot has changed, and we are seeing the results in each (sicker) generation of children. I am always amazed to find out how certain shifts in our environment and culture affect our health. Small changes go long way when significant percentages of the population take part, knowing or unknowingly.

The poor health of each generation can be partly to blame on a weakened immune system and the rising rates of obesity. By a perfect storm, I mean, what happens when breast feeding declines, vaccine schedules and c-sections increase, GMO foods are eaten, and toxins are present everywhere.

We now have epidemic increases in food allergies, asthma, ADHD, diabetes, and autism. It seems the perfect storm is now and we need to figure out how to weather it. Here are the latest statistics (from Allergy Kids) and they are staggering:

Photo: Dan Nicholas

400% increase in food allergies

300% increase in asthma

400% increase in ADHD

400% increase in Celiac Disease

1,500 to 6,000 increase in autism

45% of children will be insulin dependent within ten years

Photo: diluvi

One element to this storm is the major increase in working mothers over the decades. Women in the work force are a great thing, but they have been forced to make decisions about their children that can potentially cause a decline in health. Given only three months off for maternity leave has more than likely been a major cause in the decline of breastfeeding. In the U.S., 75% of mothers start out breastfeeding, but only 13% meet the recommendations for six months of exclusive breastfeeding, and less than quarter are still breastfeeding at one year.

Breast feeding is the perfect food for infants and provides them with exactly what they need to grow and thrive. The decline in breastfeeding coupled with so many other factors makes it just one reason why our immune systems are weakened and digestive issues have been on the rise.

Additionally, when breastfeeding is discontinued formula is given as a substitute. An ingredient used in most non-organic formulas is soybean oil. Today, according to the USDA, 93% of soy, 93% of cotton, and 86% of corn grown in the U.S. were GMO (genetically modified). A GMO plant has been genetically altered using genetic engineering techniques, and is commonly found in crops such as corn, soybeans, cotton and canola. In general, these plants are modified to promote a “natural” resistance to pests and drought. This can be beneficial to farmers and allow for less work and expense on crops.

In 30 other countries around the world, including Australia, Japan, and all of the countries in the European Union, there are significant restrictions or outright bans on the production of GMOs, because they are not considered proven safe. In the U.S. on the other hand, the FDA approved commercial production of GMOs based on studies conducted by the companies who created them and profit from their sale. Many health-conscious shoppers find the lack of rigorous, independent, scientific examination on the impact of consuming GM foods to be cause for concern.

For an excellent research summary: “GM Crops–Just the Science.” This plain-English overview includes nearly 150 citations with a focus on the peer-reviewed science on GMOs here. Animal studies researching the effects of GMO foods when eaten over periods of time have found them to be toxic, allergenic, inflammatory, disruptive to organ function, cancerous and they present risks to human and animal health, the environment, farmers, food security, and export markets.

Photo: André Mouraux

Another factor adding to the storm has been the increase in cesarean rates. This issue is an interesting one and so relevant to the health of this generation. Passing through the birth canal or a natural birth allows the baby to receive its first inoculation of good bacteria (probiotics) from the mother. Babies in the womb have zero good bacteria in their intestines and by passing through the birth canal this gives them their first dose to colonize their guts.

Being born via cesarean does not allow this process to take place. The baby can receive this good bacteria or probiotics from breast milk but given the depleted food supply that we consume most of the population is deficient. Recent studies reaffirm earlier World Health Organization recommendations about optimal cesarean section rates. The best outcomes for mothers and babies appear to occur when cesarean section rates are at 5% to 10%. Rates above 15% seem to do more harm than good (Althabe and Belizan 2006). In 2007, the rate of cesareans was at 31.8%, and about one mother in three now gives birth via cesarean section, a record level for the United States.

So, with the decline in breast feeding and the rise in c-sections it seems that our GI tract, which houses 70% of our immune system, may not be set up for success. With this issue alone, it is easier to understand now why each generation’s immune system is weaker than the previous.

In addition to the changes in our culture, there has also been a change in the environment. In 2009, tests conducted by five laboratories in the U.S., Canada and Europe found up to 232 toxic chemicals in the 10 umbilical cord blood samples. Besides BPA, substances detected for the first time in U.S. newborns included a toxic flame retardant chemical called Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) that permeates computer circuit boards, synthetic fragrances (Galaxolide and Tonalide) used in common cosmetics and detergents, and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFBA, or C4), a member of the notorious Teflon chemical family used to make non-stick and grease-, stain- and water-resistant coatings for cookware, textiles, food packaging and other consumer products.

Additionally, laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Rachel’s Network have detected Bisphenol A (BPA) for the first time in the umbilical cord blood of U.S. newborns. The tests identified the plastics chemical in 9 of 10 cord blood samples from babies of African American, Asian and Hispanic descent. The findings provide hard evidence that U.S. infants are contaminated with BPA beginning in the womb.

(EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.)

Photo: Stephanie Brown

So, toxic exposure is beginning in the womb and then the one-two punch of a c-section and little or no long term breast feeding is a combination that seems to have landed us with many serious epidemics in our laps. We are further weakened by our environment, and the food we eat is filled with nutrient stripped products that are high in sugar and artificial dyes, sweeteners and preservatives. Tap water is filled with toxins and the air is filled with heavy metals and electromagnetic radiation.

Our immune systems can only take so much and when the toxic burden reaches capacity we end up with the epidemic rates in inflammatory conditions like allergies and asthma and the combination has also lead to the rise in autism. Vaccines are also tied into the decline in immune health and we have the most vaccines on the schedule now than ever before. Vaccines contain toxins like formaldehyde and aluminum and trace amounts of mercury. When these toxins are injected into a baby or child’s blood stream one could assume that they must have some implications.

At this point along with everything else that has been mentioned, the proof is in the population. This generation of children is suffering and something has to be done on a large scale to turn things around. Perhaps going back to basics and growing and storing our own food and living off the grid for awhile could start to shift something back. In the meantime, filter the water you drink and bathe in, eat as much organic food as possible, do not consume GMO foods, use chemical-free body care products and cleaning supplies, get outside and exercise and be sure you are getting enough essential fatty acids, probiotics, and vitamin D. Everyone can take small steps to weather the storm and try to prevent it from drenching the next generation.


Julie McGinnis, M.S., R.D., certified herbalist holds a Master’s degree in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut and has been involved in the field of nutrition for twenty years. Upon completion of her herbal certification, she began her career in complimentary health and worked for years in research and development for a professional line of nutrition supplements. She has written professional nutrition and health literature for national retailers and other small businesses. She is one of three owners of The Gluten Free Bistro in Boulder, CO a manufacturer of gluten-free pizza and pasta.

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