Thursday, January 22, 2015

Arsenic, Antibiotics, Hormones: What Is Really In My Chicken?

The headline "70% of chicken sold in the US contains cancer causing arsenic" would freak out any person .  Most of us know that conventional chicken is exposed to antibiotics and other stuff, but arsenic?  The carcinogen arsenic??

A couple of days ago, when this headline was posted on MSN that was going around in Facebook, a couple of friends asked me about it.  I had heard about this about 2 years ago but decided to look into it to see if anything new had been released.   

70% of chicken sold in the US contains cancer causing arsenic.

This was the conclusion of a study that was conducted in 2010-2011 by Johns Hopkins University.  They studied conventional, USDA organic and antibiotic free chicken samples.   Levels of inorganic arsenic (the cancer causing type of arsenic)  were found to be four times higher in conventional chicken than in USDA Organic chicken.  

The reason?  A drug called roxarsone that contains arsenic.  Actually, 4 FDA approved arsenic-based animal drugs were in use for decades in animal feed of chickens, turkeys and pigs.  The rational for approving these drugs was that the organic arsenic (which is not considered a carcinogen like inorganic arsenic) would stayed in its organic form from the time the animal ingested it to the moment it was excreted - thus not creating any danger for human beings eating the poultry

The Johns Hopkins study of 2010/2011 found that this was not true.  In fact, inorganic, cancer causing, arsenic was found in the meat of 70% of chickens.  The study also found that when the chicken treated with this drug were heated/cooked the levels of inorganic (carcinogenic) arsenic increased.

Prior to the Johns Hopkins study, an FDA investigation had found inorganic arsenic in the liver of treated chickens and upon informing the drug manufacturer of their findings, Pfizer, the company that manufactured the arsenic containing drugs, decided to “voluntarily remove roxarsone (the arsenic containing drug) from the (US) market”.  In fact, 3 out of 4 arsenic containing drugs are no longer in use, in the US, in poultry feed. 

  • Roxarsone, the arsenic containing drug used in the chickens studied by Johns Hopkins, is still being used overseas.
  • There is also still one arsenic containing drug being used in the US.  Pfizer still domestically uses the arsenic drug nitarsone which, according to Johns Hopkins, is chemically similar to roxarsone.
  • Currently, no federal laws prohibit the sale or use of arsenic based drugs for poultry.  (In January 2013, Maryland became the first U.S. state to ban the use of most arsenicals in chicken feed.)

The reality is that conventional chicken is, arguably, not the best protein source for your family.  

According to Consumer Reports, 80% of all antiobiotics sold in the US are not used on people but on livestock; to make them grow faster or to prevent disease in crowded and unsanitary conditions (hormones are actually banned from being used on poultry in the US).   So it is not all that surprising that  arsenic was approved to promote growth, plumping up the chicken and giving their skin a plumper pinkish color too.     

The bottom line is that conventional chickens are treated/fed/exposed to a coctail of pesticides and drugs that become incorporated into their very tissue and are passed on to you and your family when you eat them.

Chicken can still be a very healthy part of a balanced diet.... you just have to choose the right kind of chicken.   

The main recommendation is to buy organic chicken.  Especially for young children. USDA organic chicken cannot be treated with any antibiotics.  Not only is organic chicken cleaner, but they also have more omega-3 fatty acids in the breast meat.  

When organic chicken is not available, or is too expensive, choose chicken labelled  “raised without antibiotics”.   Just about every major food retailer sells chicken raised without free and/or organic chicken so it is widely available.  Whole Foods ONLY sells these two types of chicken.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pesticides and Autism: A Very Strong Link

image credit: birthandbeyondmagazine

Last summer, the University of California published a study that found that babies whose moms lived within a mile of crops treated with widely used pesticides were more likely to develop autism.   

This weekend, as we researched what organic fertilizer to buy to help our new backyard and garden, I was reminded of this study, and it resonated.  Especially as I saw how much fun my boys were having rolling around in the grass and touching the plants and dirt in the new garden.

As described in the study, approximately 200 million pounds of active pesticide ingredients are applied throughout California each year  (this number is actually much larger since this figure excludes pesticides used for home-and-garden use and most industrial and institutional uses- which would add a large sum to the total).

Certain commonly used pesticides have been associated with abnormal and impaired neurodevelopment in children, including autism spectrum disorders (ASD).  While the exact cause of autism has not been uncovered, most scientists agree that environmental factors can contribute strongly to risk.

This study is the third to specifically link autism spectrum disorders to pesticide exposure.  Researchers tracked pesticide exposures during pregnancy for the mothers of 970 children.  They found:

  • Children born to mothers who had lived within a mile of fields treated with pesticides were 60 percent more likely to have an ASD than children of non-exposed mothers.
  • Organophosphates  pesticides showed the strongest links, but other pesticides, including pyrethroid insecticides,  also showed strong links with autism (ASD). 

How the women were exposed to pesticides, whether  air or consumed through water or food was not determined.   Because the study only looked at physical proximity to agricultural pesticides exposure it DID NOT take into account many other potential sources of exposure to these chemicals, including:  nonagricultural sources (e.g., institutional use, such as around schools); residential indoor use; pesticide application for gardening, landscaping or other pest control; and dietary sources.


WE already knew that prenatal exposure (to pesticides) is associated with lower IQ, but this study  suggests that mothers’ exposures during pregnancy may play a role in the development, specifically, of autism spectrum disorders.

It also strengthens the evidence linking neurodevelopmental disorders specifically with organophosphates, and provides novel results of ASD  with,  pyrethroids. Application of pyrethroids just prior to conception meant an increased risk of 82 percent, and during the third trimester, the risk was 87 percent higher.  This is of special concern since pyrethroids were supposed to be less toxic than organophosphates and have thus increased in popularity in recent years, both on farms and in the home, due to bans of other insecticides.


Yes.  This study strengthens the realization that pesticides should be avoided, even in small quantities, especially if you are pregnant or have young children.

While families living near agricultural land being sprayed with pesticides are exposed to these chemicals at a larger scale, many families are inadvertently exposing themselves and their young children to these same pesticides on a daily basis too.    

  •  IN YOUR BACKYARD:  avoid using pesticides in your garden or lawn.  This is especially important if you are thinking of getting pregnant, are already pregnant, or have small children rolling around in the lawn.  The National Academy of Sciences reports that 50 percent of contact with pesticides occurs within the first five years of life.

  • PUBLIC PARKS:  look around your favorite public park  (and even schools!) and you
    a notice at Central Park's Sheep Meadow
    might see signs that warn of pesticide use which can be harmful to children and pets. I will repeat: 50 percent of contact with pesticides occurs within the first five years of life. 

      - If the sign says the park has recently been sprayed, avoid playing there for some time.       

      - Every time you leave a park it is always a good idea to wash little hands with soap and water thoroughly.       
        - Another good practice?  Take your shoes off when you get home.   Every time you      walk around your house with shoes on you are spreading traces of, among other things,  pesticides you might have stepped on, throughout your house. This is especially  problematic if you have small children who love to play or crawl on the floor.

  •   ROACH OR OTHER INSECT PROBLEMS: Instead of spraying for cockroaches or other insects with products that contain these toxic pesticides, try integrated pest management which starts by sealing up cracks and crevices in the home first, cleaning up food residue and trying relatively non-toxic options.

  • FOOD: When possible choose organic fruits and vegetables.   Always thoroughly wash your produce before eating.  to remove certain pesticides and bacteria from your fresh produce. (for most fruit, excluding porous berries I recommend  you mix 10% white vinegar to 90 percent water as a bath to briefly soak produce.  Excellent and natural way to remove pesticides and bacteria from your fruits and veggies).

Remember, this study is not saying that being exposed to pesticides alone will give your child autism.  The risks reported in the study, most scientists can agree,  pale in comparison to some hereditary factors, but are comparable to other risks for autism, such as advanced parental age or not taking prenatal vitamins.

" In California alone, autism diagnoses were up 600 percent between 1990 and 2001. Yet researchers found that only about one-third of the rise could be explained by changing diagnoses or kids being diagnosed at increasingly younger ages. Some experts suggest that environmental exposures may also be contributing to the climbing rates.
Earlier last year, scientists examining more than two million births in Sweden reported that inherited genes make up about 50 percent of a child’s autism risk, while other factors make up the other half....
Some studies are starting to look how environmental exposures may act differently in people whose genetics make them more susceptible. Next, this study's author hopes to look for autism risk from pesticide exposure among mothers with certain genetic variations.
“We need to know if some moms are at higher risk than others and what that risk is. Knowing who is most vulnerable is key to understanding how to better protect them,” she said.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Smell It: This Is What Air Fresheners Should Smell Like

My New Years resolutions this year is to try new things.  While I hope to experience a couple of big, perhaps life changing, things I also want to try smaller things at home, with the kids, cleaning etc. 

So far this month I tried skiing (loved it), tubing (loved it), am trying to a new approach disciplining my 4 year old (not being as strict - both my son and I are happier and more relaxed), and we planted a (organic of course!)  garden at home (arugula, broccoli, strawberries and cilantro for now).  

I am also trying some green cleaning home-made recipes around the house and I must say : I AM LOVING IT.   Seriously, after trying these ‘recipes’ you might never go back to   buying cleaning supplies.... among my favorite and EASIEST ‘do-it-yourself-green-solution'?  Air fresheners! 

Ever since we moved into an old house back in September, I have noticed that when I get home the house always smells.... well old.  Living in California,  I have the windows opened most of the day BUT I do close them when I go out and that old musty smell always comes back when the house has been closed for a bit.  

Store bought air fresheners, like ‘plug ins’ are extremely toxic (and in my opinion smell way too strong) and are made of a toxic cocktail of endocrine disruptors, among other chemicals ( common endocrine disruptors include phthalates, BPA, Fire Retardants, Lead, Teflon, organophosphate.  To read more on  why they are bad please read our blog post  Phthalates ABC's) .  Basically these ‘fresheners’ pollute the air inside your house.  Most of these plug-ins actually state that they should be used only in well ventilated rooms.

Non-Toxic Alternative?  Cook up your own sweet smelling freshener.   This could not be easier   - in fact as I write I have rosemary, lemons and vanilla simmering in the stovetop.  All it takes is adding a couple of ingredients to a large boiling pot of water and letting it simmer away... the smell will subtly spread throughout your house without assaulting your sense of smell.  Once the water starts boiling, lower the heat and allow it to simmer.  Make sure to put an alarm to remind yourself too check up on the water level to avoid having it evaporate and causing a fire!  There are countless recipes you can play around with, here are a few of my favorite;

  • 4 fresh rosemary sprigs, tsp of vanilla extract and a sliced lemon
  •  sliced lemons
  • sliced oranges
  • 5 cinnamon sticks, 1 sliced orange  and 1 Tbsp of cloves
  • 1 slice orange and 1 Tbsp almond extract

I still have nightmares when I think back to a certain College roomate who sprayed Febreze EVERYWHERE.   Back then I didnt know how toxic these ‘air freshener’ sprays were, but the smell made me gag.   Today I know better and am not surprised to find that The Environmental Working Group has found over 87 chemicals in some Febreze products, getting Febreze listed on the EWG Database Cleaners Hall of Shame" list.

According to the Environmental Working Group, Sprays like Febreze and Lysol products contain quaternary ammonium compounds or ethanolamine, which are chemicals that can trigger asthma attacks and can cause new cases of the disease in people who are asthma-free.  They have found that if misused (by a child or pet, for example) they could cause serious harm: Glade air freshener sprays warn that “intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.” 

Non-Toxic Alternative:
Make your own room spray. Blend ten drops of essential oil in seven tablespoons of water. Shake well before filling the sprayer.  Make sure you are purchasing pure essential oils (synthetic essential oils exist and are commonly found for a cheaper price.) and remember, while they might seem a bit expensive, a little goes a long way:  they are very potent. 

Another simple solution?  
Place a bowl of baking soda or vinegar in any room to absorb odors.

Who doesn't like receiving a pretty (sometimes quite expensive)  candle as a gift?  The flicker of a candle can be relaxing (or romantic!) and the smell, which even I can admit can smell amazing, can leave your house smelling fresh and rich.  Candles, however, can be pretty toxic too.   

PARAFFIN: Most candles contain paraffin which is a waste product from petroleum and which, when burned, releases carcinogenic chemicals. 
LEAD: many scented candles have lead in the wick, which when burned releases this very well known toxic chemical into your house ( lead in candles has been banned in the US, however they are can be found in candles made overseas )
OTHER: many scented candles have also been found to release carcinogens like benzene and obesity-promoting fragrance chemicals (pthlalates)

Non-Toxic Alternative?
You do not have to ban candles from your home! Choose 100 percent beeswax candles with cotton wicks.  Beeswax is much more costly than paraffin so these two are often blended together:  make sure the candle says it is 100% beeswax.