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First Years Aug 28, 2019
6 Minutes

HOW TO: Top ten science backed tips to protect a developing brain….

Neurodevelopmental issues seem to be on the rise in kids today. The question is why and more importantly what can we do about it?

As with anything like this, there are of course MANY reasons behind with unfortunately no one single obvious cause. Click here for more.

However: there are some things we CAN do to reduce our risks:

In many cases current research is pointing to a combination of genetics and environmental factors: also known as epigenetics. As we know, our environment looks very different to the one that existed even thirty years ago…

The good news is that we have identified some of the highest risk contributors and awareness is such a big part of the battle – click here for much more, including research from one of the leading medical journals The Lancet.

Next, best thing to do is do is take that information and reduce risks wherever we can.

So we have taken some of this research looking at the highest risk factors and translated it into a quick and practical guide as to how you can reduce your risks:

ONE: Inorganic Arsenic: yes – arsenic – the stuff they tend to poison bond villains with! Really?! Well, believe it or not the World Health Organisation has identified an issue with this and contamination in groundwater. The WHO have identified areas within at least 50 countries where the levels in drinking water are greater than the provisional guideline value of 10 micrograms/litre.

What to do? Invest in a good water filter. The good news is that there are many excellent ones now available to suit your budget. If you have money to spend on this, then the best way to eliminate risk here is to use a filter which uses ion exchange, reverse osmosis (which just be aware can also strip many minerals out also) or distillation. A carbon filter (Brita for example) will reduce it by between 40-70% and isn’t quite as effective as the others – however, it is better than nothing, and tests showed it did bring the arsenic level down to below the 10 micrograms/litre level – friendlier to your bank balance too! The reality is they each have their plus/minus points (more to come on this).

TWO: Fluoride: we were all once led to believe that this was the biggest step forward against tooth decay, so it was added to drinking water. However, we have realised that a) fluoride only works really effective when it is topically applied (in your toothpaste for example) and b) we have learnt that it can be toxic particularly in larger amounts c) according to research conducted by Stephanie Seneff at MIT it can react with other toxins and worsen their effects.

What to do? Well firstly find out if Fluoride is even added to your water supply – as it isn’t added everywhere. It is not in my area for example. You can easily find this out with a bit of investigative work on Google or just contact your local authority. Next, if it is added, you need to consider a filter. Which work? Unfortunately the carbon style ie. Brita isn’t as effective against Fluoride. Once again Reverse Osmosis works well here (not cheap and does remove some minerals and makes the water more acidic) and water distillation. Take some time considering which filter works best for your needs/budget. It is a great investment for your future health.

THREE: Manganese is another that has been identified as an issue when at the wrong level. It’s interesting as the body actually needs a small amount, however, we are increasingly getting too much which is proving to be potentially neurotoxic, especially for a developing brain. Common sources: air pollution, water, certain fungicides and even baby formula can bring intake too high.

What to do? When it comes to air pollution, MMT which is added to certain fuels is a problem and is easily absorbed via the lungs. Obviously avoiding areas of high traffic is one thing, however, if you live near a busy road then it is probably worth investing in an air filter for any room you spend a lot of time in. Look for a HEPA filter. Baby Formula: we all know that breastfeeding is absolutely the way to go – click here for more specifically on effect for brain development – but we also know that sometimes even with the best will in the world it isn’t possible. Now before you worry too much, studies have not shown conclusive evidence that manganese levels in formula cause any real harm, however, we do know that reducing exposure wherever you can seems to be the smartest approach. Click here for the different brands and their Manganese concentrations. Soy formula has by far the greatest amount and the brand with the least is Hipp Organic.

FOUR: Methylmercury: widely regarded as a neurotoxin. Unfortunately however the most common source is fish and fish has many benefits including (ironically) DHA which is crucial for healthy brain development! Never easy is it?!

So, instead of avoiding fish, it’s about being smart about which fish you eat. Mercury bioaccumulates which means that if a small fish is eaten by a bigger fish, the bigger fish has its own mercury and also then the mercury of the smaller fish ie. it doesn’t break down.

What to do? It is fantastic if you/your baby can consume at least a couple of portions of fish a week because of the positive effects of DHA – click here for more – the best way to do this and to avoid too much mercury is to simply eat fish lower down the food chain. That means go for: sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, trout, crayfish and cod. The ones to avoid: the larger fish higher up the food chain: Swordfish, King Mackerel and Shark.

FIVE: BPA. This is a compound found in many plastics. It is a known endocrine disruptor (disrupts the levels of your hormones) and developing people are most vulnerable. BPA is usually pretty easily identified by the following characteristics: it is usually rigid, clear and NOT labelled BPA free (most people are now keen to tell you when it does not have BPA in it). Other hints: it is usually labelled ‘unbreakable’ or ‘microwave safe’ which is ironic as the more it is heated the more it will leach into your food/drink and the more goes into your body. Recycling number: ones to avoid is 7 and the ones without BPA are numbers 1, 2, 4 and 5. Click here for more.

SIX: Phthalates: the trouble with the cosmetic and personal care industry is that it is frighteningly unregulated. Phthalates are another very broad set of compounds that have been shown to play havoc with our bodies. Click here for more. They are very often contained in anything that has ‘fragrance’ or ‘parfum’ so one very simple trick? Go fragrance free – you smell sweet enough!

SEVEN: our friends the pesticides/herbicides etc. More and more research is emerging about just how toxic these can be. Glyphosate and Chlorpyrifos are just two that we know increasing amounts about their toxicity particularly when it comes to the developing brain (amongst other things).

What to do? Well an obvious way is to buy organic, however, there are other ways. Using the Environmental Working Group’s Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen list is a great start and Activated Charcoal is another. Click here for much more.

EIGHT: Toluene: found in hair dyes and certain nail polish and removers. This obviously applies if you’re pregnant in particular as research shows that it can cross the placenta (I’m not sure your baby will be dyeing their hair and painting their nails!).

What to do? Well one thing is to avoid dyeing your hair and painting your nails during pregnancy. However that may not be for everyone, so the next best idea is to check the brands you use for Toluene and to ensure you are in a very well ventilated area during application. One excellent resource to check this out is the Skin Deep Resource by the Environmental Working Group. You can check what’s in your brand – Toluene is the thing to avoid particularly if you’re pregnant.

NINE: Trichlorethylene: commonly found in dry cleaning fluids. Pretty straight forward here. If you’re pregnant you probably want to avoid too much exposure here and certainly for your little one putting them in clothes/sheets that have been dry cleaned is not a great idea.

TEN: Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers: aka. Flame retardants (particularly Bromine/Chlorine based). Official warnings have been issued by health agencies over the effects of this and the most harmful ones have been banned, however, they remain pervasive around us and the alternatives are often not great either particularly for young children and pregnant women.

What to do? first thing to do is to check the labels on any furniture you buy or in your home, particularly when you’re choosing furniture for your nursery. One of the risk factors is some products for children contain Polyurethane foam so watch out when you’re buying a mattress for example. Finally – they are often found in decent quantities in household dust. So, making sure you wash you/your child’s hands regularly (particularly before meals), dust and vacuum thoroughly and often to reduce the dust exposure as unfortunately these compounds are everywhere.

There are of course others, but, these are the ones where we have a decent amount of science based research to back up the potential neurotoxicity to particularly a developing brain. More needs to be done as many of these new chemicals that are now rife in our environment have not been adequately tested for this (for many reasons…). Focusing on natural based, fewer ingredients is always a smart strategy.


This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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