Category Archives: Infants

BPA: Minimize Exposure to Optimize Reproductive Health

I was recently reading a New York Times article entitled “In Plastics and Cans, a Threat to Women,” (1) which talked about some of the more recent research that has been showing the reproductive effects of Bisphenol A, or BPA. The studies quoted in this article show that BPA restricts development of healthy eggs in animal models. Exposure to BPA at any time of life: in the womb, in childhood, and in adulthood all will have a negative effect on female fertility. In a study conducted on discarded eggs from an IVF clinic, they found “Higher levels of BPA were linked to stunted human oocytes, as well as indications of chromosomal damage.” Higher serum levels of BPA have also been linked to greater risk of miscarriage.(2) Studies have also found BPA to have a negative impact on male reproductive function, most profoundly when exposure occurs in utero. Effects on male fetuses included, among other issues, feminization and testicular atrophe. (3)

Although reproductive problems are only one of the ways in which BPA can affect human health (it has also been associated with diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems and weight gain), this issue is particularly alarming because of the profound impact it can have on our and our children’s quality of life. Infertility is a huge issue in the United States, and it is important for us to look to the future to protect the reproductive health of our children. The choices we make for our children during pregnancy and in their early years can profoundly influence their overall health and reproductive capability in the future. So how can we minimize exposure to and negative effects from BPA?

BPA is an extremely common compound; 5-6 billion tons are produced annually worldwide. The CDC estimates that 93% of people in this country have detectable levels of BPA in their bloodstream, so most of us are coming into contact with it on a regular basis. It can be found in:
Protective layers of canned food containers
wine vat linings
lining water pipes
plastic food storage containers
epoxy resin based paints
floorings
dental composites and sealants
CDs
automobile parts
baby bottles
plastic dinnerware
eyeglass lenses
toys
thermal receipts
impact resistant safety equipment
Some PVC plastics (4)
A recent study found that people who had extensive contact with BPA-coated receipts (such as grocery store checkers) did not have significant elevation in their blood levels of BPA. (5) So coming into skin contact with BPA is probably of less concern to most of us. For most people, the primary route of entry into the body is by ingesting food that has been in contact with BPA. For this reason, the primary way to avoid BPA exposure is to be conscientious about how your food is stored.

The good news is that many companies have switched to BPA-free plastics for food storage. Most baby bottles, water bottles, and many storage containers produced in the past 2-3 years will now be BPA free. In general, it is a good idea to avoid any food or water containers made of plastic with a number 7 on the bottom. This is not a guarantee that the plastic contains BPA, but it could. Rubbermaid has switched their storage containers to be BPA-free as well. However, even plastics that are BPA-free may contain other less-studied substances that can also influence the function of the endocrine (hormone) systems, so moving towards glass and ceramic storage containers is generally a good idea.

Another way to avoid BPA is to eat more fresh, homemade foods. There are many companies that have started switching the lining of their cans to be BPA-free (here’s a nice list of these companies)(6), but in addition to all the other health promoting reasons it is a good idea to make your food yourself, you will be minimizing the risk of exposure from BPA-lined cans.

While minimizing exposure to BPA is obviously a primary goal, it is clear that most of us will come into contact with it in our daily lives. Assuming that most of us have BPA in our system, the final question is how we can mitigate its effects. While there is less research so far in this area, one thing we know is that at least some of its negative effects result from oxidative damage to cells or DNA. It stands to reason then to look to some of our natural antioxidants to counteract the oxidative effects of BPA. In one in vitro study, oxidative damage to red blood cells was reversed using green tea.(7) Another study showed that the effects of oxidation by BPA were reduced in young women by consumption of wheat sprout juice. (8)

BPA is an extremely common substance: most of us come into contact with it on a daily basis, and almost all of us have it in our bodies. While we must live in our world and not spend our time worrying about every detail, it makes sense to minimize exposure to BPA, especially during pregnancy and childhood. The best way to do this is to focus on eating fresh, home-prepared foods, store our foods in glass and ceramic containers, and eat plant foods that are rich in antioxidants. This will help us to maintain good health and preserve the reproductive health of our children.
1.http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/in-plastics-and-cans-a-threat-to-women/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&ref=health&_r=1
2. Lathi RB1, Liebert CA2, Brookfield KF3, et al. Conjugated bisphenol A in maternal serum in relation to miscarriage risk.Fertil Steril. 2014 Jul;102(1):123-8.
3.Manfo FP1, Jubendradass R, Nantia EA et al. Adverse effects of bisphenol A on male reproductive function.Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2014;228:57-82. ,
4. http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/BisphenolA_BiomonitoringSummary.html
5. Porras SP1, Heinälä M2, Santonen T2. Bisphenol A exposure via thermal paper receipts.Toxicol Lett. 2014 Aug 28. pii: S0378-4274(14)01310-1.
6. http://www.inspirationgreen.com/bpa-lined-cans.html
7.Suthar H, Verma RJ, Patel S, Jasrai YT. Green tea potentially ameliorates bisphenol a-induced oxidative stress: an in vitro and in silico study. Biochem Res Int. 2014;2014:259763. Epub 2014 Aug 10.
8.Yi B1, Kasai H, Lee HS, et al.Inhibition by wheat sprout (Triticum aestivum) juice of bisphenol A-induced oxidative stress in young women. Mutat Res. 2011 Sep 18;724(1-2):64-8.

The Medicinal Value of Culinary Herbs (With a recipe for Tummy Soother Sleep Tea)

One of my favorite ways to help people connect with nature and health is to take them out on medicinal herb walks.  Often, as we walk around in a wild space, someone will point to something and say “is that an herb or a weed?”  Well, the difference is really just semantics: when we decide that a plant is valuable to us personally, we call it an herb.  When we decide we don’t like it, it’s in the way of something else we’d prefer to have in that spot, or we just don’t know what to do with it, it’s a weed.

The dividing line between medicinal and culinary herbs can also often be thin.  On a broad level, the differences are obvious: medicinal herbs serve a health promoting purpose and culinary herbs taste good.  Also, many medicinal herbs have potential toxicity so they must be taken in specific dosages to avoid causing problems.  However, on the other hand many culinary herbs have potent medicinal properties of which we are often unaware.  Often these herbs are dried, concentrated, or distilled to create medicines, but they also have value fresh from your backyard or the fridge.

For many culinary herbs, they are medicinal for the same reason that they are delicious.  Their flavoring properties come from volatile oils contained in the seeds or foliage of the plant.  Those oils can also be medicinal.  Oregano and thyme oils are quite good at killing yeasts, and lavender and garlic are useful for killing bacteria.  Rosemary oil has been found to be an excellent antioxidant and is actually used as a preservative in many natural foods.

Beyond this, we can find that almost all of our common culinary herbs can be of use to promote health.  Mint and lemon balm teas are quite good for soothing an upset stomach, and fennel is quite good at helping to dispel gas.  Parsley (most often the root) has traditionally been used to promote kidney health.  Cilantro is an excellent adjunct to a detoxification regimen as it helps to move toxins from the body.  And sorrel is a very cooling plant that can be eaten to reduce a fever (raspberries and mushrooms are good for this as well)!

Every parent is a nurse and a doctor at some point and it always helps to have some tricks up your sleeve when a little one is feeling yucky.  The recipe below is handy for babies, kids, and adults with a colicky or upset tummy and helps to promote restful sleep through the night.

Soothing Tummy Sleep Tea

In a glass jar, combine equal parts (start with ¼ oz or 3 Tbsp of each):
Peppermint
Lemon balm
Chamomile
Lavender
Put 1 tsp of the mixture in a tea ball or bag.  Pour 1 cup boiled water over the tea, steep 5-8 minutes (you don’t need to take the tea ball out when it’s done steeping).  For adults and kids over 12 months, add 1 tsp honey.  For babies over 4 months, add 1 oz apple juice and give them 1-2 oz of the mixture  in a bottle (can combine with breast milk or other milk without the sweetener).

Food Introduction for Infants


During the springtime we focus on setting the stage for good absorption and low inflammation.  For kids and adults, much of this will include some sort of spring cleaning.  However, for infants, we focus simply on developing a healthy digestive tract and giving optimal nutrition.  Many parents ask me for information about when to start infants on different types of foods. The needs of each infant will vary somewhat; however, the following is a guideline for food introduction and timing.

A good rule of thumb is to wait until baby seems very interested in what you’re eating—reaches for the spoon or food etc.  Baby spends his or her last months in the womb storing iron to use in the first few months of life because milk is a poor source of iron.  For this reason, many of the first foods listed are higher in iron.  Rice cereal is often recommended as a first food; this is not necessarily a problem but it tends to be somewhat lower in nutrients and can be quite constipating so in this chart  isn’t recommended until 7-8 months.  Remember, at the beginning foods are more something to explore rather than a source of nutrition; let baby experiment and see what he or she likes.

At first, food should of course be pureed—a stick blender is a wonderful tool for this job!  Over time, though, baby may start to prefer food cut in small pieces (and soft!) that he or she can feed herself.  Some babies will quickly tire of the texture of pureed food.  Baby food in jars can be very handy in a pinch, but it is much more economical (and tastes better!) to make your own and freeze it in larger quantities.  When choosing jarred food, keep in mind whether you would want to eat it yourself—if the food is a nice color and tastes like the food (aka carrots should taste like carrots and be orange!) then baby is more likely to enjoy it.

Before 6 months, unless in a very specific situation that would require extra hydration, baby should not require any drinks other than breast milk.  Between 6 and 12 months water should be the only other drink; juices tend to be very high in sugar and unnecessary.

The reason for waiting for specific foods is to ensure that baby’s digestive tract is as well developed as possible to avoid digestive problems or other allergies.  Because of their high allergenicity, it is best to wait to introduce the following foods until 18-24 months, especially if there are known allergies or food allergies in the family:  Whole cow milk, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts.

Food Introduction Schedule

6 Months 7-8 Months 9-10 Months 12 Months
Banana Blackberries Papaya Yogurt (cow milk)
Prunes Carrot Nectarines/stone fruit Goat’s milk
Applesauce Spinach/Chard Mashed potato Barley
Pears Beet Peas Blackstrap molasses
Winter squash Cherries String beans Tofu
Yam/sweet potato Oatmeal Beans Onion/garlic
Blueberries (frozen for teething) Basmati rice Egg(yolk) Sunflower seeds
Avocado Broth Meats (very well cooked and ground) Egg (white)
Split peas Honey