Beware of Toxins in Fish
Mercury, a toxic metal released into the environment from coal-burning power plants and incineration of medical waste, can permanently damage developing brains and nervous systems, particularly of fetuses and young children. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that 16 percent of American women currently have enough mercury in their bloodstreams to increase the risk of harming a fetus.
Before eating freshwater fish, which can contain nervous-system-damaging polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), check advisories from the state health department. Toxins have also been shown to accumulate in farmed salmon at levels up to seven times higher than what appears in the wild, according to a study published in a January 2004 issue of Science magazine.
PCBs are chemicals used in electrical equipment before 1978. Now banned, they persist in air and water. PCBs in fish eaten by women before or during pregnancy can cause impaired learning and memory and lower IQ scores in their children. Adults exposed to PCBs also show learning deficits and memory loss.
Watch Out for Phthalates
Used widely in fragrances, deodorants, nail polishes, hair products, and lotions, the oily texture of phthalates acts like a moisturizer and helps lotions penetrate skin. Various members of this family of chemical plasticizers have been found to produce cancer of the liver and birth defects in lab animals.
Dibutylphthalate (DBP) is of particular concern because documented exposures are high and its health effects are potentially very serious. In nail polish and mascara, DBP helps thin films stay flexible, reducing brittleness and cracking. Animal studies show that DBP causes birth defects and harm to male reproductive organs. Timing of exposure was critical: Harm was done to animals exposed in the womb or shortly after birth. Other commonly used phthalates include dimethylphthalate (DMP) and diethylphthalate (DEP).
Phthalates often "hide" behind the term "fragrance;" choose products labeled "fragrance-free" or that are scented exclusively with pure botanical or essential oils.