JUL 06, 2016 5:20 AM PDT

Brain Development and Our Environment

They’re making a list, and checking it twice, but they aren’t Santa’s helpers. They are a group of scientists, doctors and children’s advocates who have compiled evidence about several chemicals that are used all around us and that endanger brain development in young children as well as in developing fetuses.
 Chemicals and pollution can impact brain development
The new report, “Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental NeuroDevelopment Risks,” appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Leading the list of chemicals are ones that are well known, like lead and mercury as well as organophosphate pesticides that are used in commercial agriculture as well as may home gardens, flame retardants that are common in children’s clothing and air pollution that arises from wood and fossil fuels.  In addition, the group is concerned about PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls. Even though the use of PCBs was banned in the late 70s, dangerous levels of these chemicals still exist in some locations.
 
University of Illinois comparative biosciences professor Susan Schantz, one of dozens of individual signatories to the consensus statement said in a press release, “These chemicals are pervasive, not only in air and water, but in everyday consumer products that we use on our bodies and in our homes. Reducing exposures to toxic chemicals can be done, and is urgently needed to protect today’s and tomorrow’s children. The human brain develops over a very long period of time, starting in gestation and continuing during childhood and even into early adulthood, but the biggest amount of growth occurs during prenatal development. The neurons are forming and migrating and maturing and differentiating. And if you disrupt this process, you’re likely to have permanent effects.”
 
The researchers believe that a disruption of certain hormones is the culprit in upsetting the neurodevelopment of infants and the unborn. These substances, like phthalates and PBDEs will negatively impact thyroid function and they are pervasive. Research shows that most pregnant women in the United States will test positive for exposure to phthalates and PBDEs Thyroid hormone is a crucial element in almost every part of brain development according to Schantz.   
 
Schantz is the director of the Children’s Environmental Health Research Center at Illinois and this research is the primary focus of the center.  Together with some of her colleagues she is looking at infants and their mothers to track prenatal exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disruptors to see if there is a correlation between that exposure and changes in the brain or behavior. She isn’t the first to consider this; many previous studies link exposure to certain phthalates with attention deficits, lower IQ and conduct disorders in children and she believes it’s imperative to know as much as possible about these substances.
 
The report issued recently and signed by dozens of researchers is heavily critical of lax regulations that have led to chemicals being used in products without any review on their possible effects on health. The video below features Dr. Schantz and explains why this information is important for neuroscience and children’s health, take a look.

Sources: University of Illinois 
Beckman Institute
Project TENDR 
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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