Is it back to stainless steel for the sake of your baby's health?
An eye-opening study has found that in children exposed to high levels of chemical compounds known as PFCs—used in some non-stick cookware, stain-resistant coatings, fast-food packaging, and microwave popcorn bags—routine childhood vaccines may not work as well, likely because PFCs interfere with the body's immune system.
Conducted by a Harvard University-led team of researchers, the study included approximately 600 mothers and children living on the Faroe Islands of Denmark. After measuring mothers' PFC levels during pregnancy, children were checked for PFCs when they reached age 5. Researchers then evaluated vaccine effectiveness by testing children's immune response after receiving routine diphtheria and tetanus shots.
According to researchers, children with the highest prenatal PFC exposure had the lowest response to vaccinations, as measured by the antibodies produced after they received the shots. For example, among children at age 5 with elevated PFC levels, 26 percent had antibody concentrations too low to protect them from tetanus and 37 percent had levels too low to protect from diphtheria.
"That's a pretty impressive effect, and one that deserves attention," Peter Hotez, director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, who wasn't involved in the study, tells USA Today. It "gives us pause for concern."
Children who demonstrated low counts of antibodies were given booster shots to provide additional protection.
PFCs have thousands of industrial and consumer uses, and most Americans have traces of the chemical compounds in their bodies. As USA Today reports, six of 10 paper bags and cardboard boxes used for food packaging in the US contain PFCs, making the compounds difficult—but not impossible—to avoid.
- Reduce greasy packaged foods and fast foods in your diet
- Avoid stain-resistant furniture and carpets
- Avoid non-stick cookware
- Avoid clothing labeled as water or stain-resistant
- Read the labels of your personal care products. Items, such as dental floss or shaving cream, that contain the terms "fluoro" or "perfluoro" in their ingredients list, may contain PFCs
In the meantime, the medical community appears prepared to not allow this issue to fade away. "Routine childhood immunizations are a mainstay of modern disease prevention. The negative impact on childhood vaccinations from PFCs should be viewed as a potential threat to public health," says study lead author Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at Harvard School of Public Health.