Tag Archives: chemicals

Epigenetics 101: How Our Environment Affects Our Genes

Although your DNA is inherited from your parents, the environment still plays a major role in determining which genes are activated and when. Harmful chemicals in the environment can throw a wrench in your body’s genetic game plan.

(Why you should watch what you eat and expose yourself to on a daily basis )

DNA cartoon edited                                                                            IMG_3758.JPG

How do the wrong chemicals end up in your body in the first place?

1. Diet. Ingesting food or beverages containing harmful chemicals.

2. Exposure to harmful chemicals in the environment, either through inhalation or skin absorption.

Once these chemicals have entered your body, they can alter your genes in a few different ways:

1. Directly mutate a gene. This can result in an alteration of the gene’s function, complete loss of function, or no effect at all depending on the type and location of the mutation. All cells in our bodies have DNA repair mechanisms to identify and “fix” damaged or mutated DNA, however the efficiency of this mechanism varies from person to person. Just as some people have stronger immune systems and don’t get sick as often as others, some individuals have better DNA repair mechanisms and thus their bodies can handle more mutation-causing chemicals.

2. Act directly on a gene to turn it on or off. Chemicals can bind to genes in ways that can either activate or deactivate them.

3. Act on a regulatory gene that then turns another gene on or off. Many genes are part of pathways in which one gene’s product activates the next gene in the pathway and so on and so on.

Most of our DNA does not code for anything. Some genes code for proteins or RNA molecules that have some sort of perpetual function in the body. Other genes are only needed during development and are thus only turned “on” when appropriate. Certain toxic chemicals that enter our bodies can activate or deactivate genes at incorrect times. This is why exposure to chemicals is even more harmful during pregnancy. As the fetus develops, different gene pathways are turned on and off at key stages of development to ensure every part is formed correctly. Interference of the wrong chemicals (through exposure to toxins or extreme stress) or absence of the right chemicals (due to nutritional deficiencies or stress) could sabotage a certain stage of development resulting in a birth defect. There are even some genes that are only activated by extreme conditions (ex. during starvation of the body) as a survival mechanism.

Some people, although few, are lucky enough to have “good genes”. Their DNA codes for strong immune systems and highly efficient DNA repair systems. They can throw caution to the wind regarding their lifestyle choices yet still make it to old age with their health intact. However, for the majority of us, a good diet and conscientious lifestyle choices are our best shot at living out our retirement days disease-free and with our wits intact. Even those with “bad genes” (those genetically predisposed to illnesses), can change their fate by being extra conscientious of their surroundings, and of what they put both on and in their bodies.

Advertisements

Need vs. Want: 5 things we could live without

Many of the harmful chemicals that we expose ourselves to on a regular basis can easily be avoided. We don’t need a lot of products that contain hazardous synthetic chemicals, we just think we do. The following is a list of some avoidable, yet common products that contain chemicals which are hazardous to our health.

1. Artificial food coloring. Food dyes have been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in numerous studies and although they are not the only cause of ADHD, they definitely have a negative impact on most children with the disorder (Stevens et al. 2011) Food coloring has also been speculated to be linked to cancer but there is no solid evidence to support this theory yet. So why do people keep buying food with added colors? You don’t need your cheddar cheese products to be yellow or your juice to be bright red. There’s nothing wrong with eating pale food. It’s providing your body with nourishment, not being entered into a beauty contest.

2. Cosmetics. Now even if you are entering a beauty pageant, you still don’t need conventional beauty products. Many of them contain carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals (David Suzuki Foundation, 2010). Going makeup-free would be the safest bet, but I’d be a hypocrite if I advocated that. Luckily, there are plenty of safer, more natural alternatives out there these days for us beauty-obsessed, media-brainwashed gals.

3. Fragrance. Chemicals used in fragrances have been found to worsen both allergy and asthma symptoms, and could even possibly cause asthma in kids (David Suzuki Foundation, 2010). For these reasons, hospitals as well as an increasing number of schools are becoming “scent free zones”. So how else can people ensure that they smell good? Take a shower. Wear clean clothing. Use deodorant. It’s simple, really.

4. Dryer Sheets/Fabric softener. They make your clothes smell good and keep static at bay. They also potentially cause cancer (CBS NEWS, 2011). Use dryer balls instead.

5. Antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers. What is the difference between regular soap and antibacterial soap? A chemical called triclosan. Does this chemical make a difference? According to this study, NO! Not only does it not make a difference in the amount of bacteria left on your hands but it also creates antibiotic-resistant strains. And it may be an endocrine disruptor (David Suzuki Foundation, 2010). Yet it’s still on the market. Way to go Health Canada and FDA…

References

1. Aiello, A. E., Larson, E. L., Levy S.B. (2007). Consumer Antibacterial Soaps: Effective Or Just Risky?. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 45, 137-47.
DOI: 10.1086/519255

2. David Suzuki Foundation. (2010).
THE “DIRTY DOZEN” INGREDIENTS INVESTIGATED IN THE DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION SURVEY OF CHEMICALS IN COSMETICS. Retrieved from http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/downloads/Dirty-dozen-backgrounder.pdf

3. Jaslow, R. (2011, August 26). Scented laundry products release carcinogens, study finds. CBS NEWS. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/scented-laundry-products-release-carcinogens-study-finds/

4. Stevens LJ, Kuczek T, Burgess JR, Hurt E, Arnold LE. (April 2011). Dietary sensitivities and ADHD symptoms: thirty-five years of research. Clinical Pediatrics (Philadelphia), volume 50, issue 4, pages 279-293.
doi: 10.1177/0009922810384728.

When Germophobia Meets Chemophobia: My daughters first trip to the park

20140210-021625.jpg

I remember taking my baby to the park for the first time last summer. It was a beautiful sunny day. I decided to sit on a swing with my daughter in my lap. She was cooing and babbling happily as we swung gently back and forth. It was a lovely mommy-baby moment.

Until she reached up with her precious little hand and grabbed hold of the filthy, grimey chain.

I cringed. I didn’t know whether I should immediately wipe her hands with an antibacterial hand wipe or wait until we got home to wash them. She was very likely to put them in her mouth before we made it home. If I didn’t use the wipe I would run the risk of who-knows-what-germs getting into her mouth. If I did use it however, she would be getting some not-so-safe antibacterial chemicals in her mouth.

I decided that the germs were the lesser of the two evils and waited until we got home to wash her hands with regular soap and water. I figured a few germs could be good for her immune system anyway.

Later that day I decided to google how many germs can be found in an average playground. I came across an abcNEWS report by Good Morning America that tested samples taken from 12 playgrounds in 4 major cities in the U.S. All of the playgrounds were found to have evidence of fecal flora. Some of the samples contained illness-causing germs like E.Coli. Salmonella, Hepatitis A, and norovirus among others.

Next playground visit I’ll opt for the antibacterial hand wipe. Or dress my child in a hazmat suit.

As I was researching germs and playgrounds I stumbled across another issue: developmental toxins in and around playgrounds. Weed killers and other pesticides are commonly used for lawn-keeping at parks and schools, and synthetic turf has been found to contain harmful chemicals, some of which are known carcinogens. Some playground equipment is also treated with harmful preservatives and insecticides (Environmental Working Group, 2001). A lot of newer playgrounds have flooring made of recycled rubber tires which have been found to contain PAHs, pthalates, BHT, benzothiazole as well as other hazardous chemicals (Llompart et al. 2013). The vapour phase above synthetic flooring made from rubber tires also contains these chemicals, which means not only are young children exposed to them via ingestion (hand-mouth transfer) and skin absorption, but they may also be inhaling them while playing (Llompart et al. 2013).

After reading this you may feel like avoiding playgrounds altogether, but we can’t deprive our kids of fun. Here are some rational tips for choosing which playground to take your children to:

1. Look for playground equipment that is not shaded from sunlight by trees or buildings. According to the abcNews report, UV rays kill germs.

2. Call the parks department and ask them about their cleaning schedule. Some parks clean their equipment more frequently than others.

3. Avoid playgrounds adjacent to farms or large fields where pesticides are sprayed.

4. Make sure children wash their hands after playing on playgrounds, to remove both germs and toxic chemicals.

5. Avoid playgrounds with synthetic turf

Remember that occasional exposure to these chemicals is not the end of the world. You can’t put your kids in a bubble. Do your best to keep them safe, but also let them be kids and enjoy watching them grow up instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

I should go take my daughter out of her hazmat suit now.

References:

1. Environmental Working Group (2001). Poisoned Playgrounds. Washington, D.C.: Sharp, R., Walker, B.

2. Llompart, M., Sanchez-Prado, L., Lamos, J.P., Garcia-Jares, C., Roca, E., Dagnac, T. (January 2013). Hazardous organic chemicals in rubber recycled tire playgrounds and pavers. Chemosphere, volume 90, issue 2, pages 423-431. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2012.07.053 .