All over the world mother’s are bemoaning, “What is happening to my child’s brain?” Kids have more autism spectrum disorders, shorter attention, shorter tempers and more illness. It is not just due to TV, movies and electronic equipment. It has much to do with what we have always regarded as our most pristine environment, the womb. Up till the last few years we have thought this was the last safe bastion. Now we see that it too, is under siege. And thus, our children’s brains. (And our thyroid glands).
When I was a distinguished estrogen scholar at Tulane we called this new concept that I am discussing here, the fetal origin of adult disease. New titles are emerging; fetal imprinting or fetal programming.
Whatever it’s name, it’s physiologic legacy. In action.
Fetal programming is the understanding of how a wide range of toxic exposures to a developing fetus can adversely affect its adulthood health.
Fetal programming is actually the basis of the discovery of the new science of endocrine disruption. We first discovered this link, of mom-womb-and baby’s adult health, from the discovery of fetal exposure to the carcinogen DES. I am, as it turns out, a DES daughter. I wrote Hormone Deception, one of the book’s introducing this concept to the public 20 years ago. Only to discover while writing this book, that I myself was a DES daughter. That explained why I had battled lifelong health issues, even though I had been a plant food aficionado and exerciser since my teens (though strategic hormone balancing has ended that, but that’s another blog).
Health is not all about food. It is also about exposure. Especially in the womb (and, by the way, also in the egg and sperm which are high in fat and endocrine disruptors are glutinous for fat).
Fetal exposure to disrupting chemicals, foods, and probably even thoughts, can cause a wide variety of health issues as the child becomes an adult. This is clearly the case for the thyroid gland and the developing brain and nervous system.
The thyroid gland is a very vulnerable organ to environmental assault. This assault can be to the pregnant mom. Or to the not yet born child.
In Hormone Deception I shared the WHO studies that showed the more mercury-based amalgams a mother had in her teeth, the more likely the child suffered with early onset thyroid disease in their infancy or teen-age life. Mercury is a thyroid endocrine disruptor.
We live in a world filled with diverse chemicals that can act as thyroid antagonists. Bisphenol A (BPA), for example, a monomer of polycarbonate plastics, is ubiquitous in our environment. It’s in the linings of food cans (even in most organic foods unless states otherwise, and many of it’s alternatives have not been found to avoid the same nasty issues). BPA is a distinct thyroid disruptor. It can leach into food from protective internal epoxy resin coatings of beverages, cans, polycarbonate tableware, food storage containers, water bottles, and even baby bottles. If the mom is exposed to it, on a daily basis, BPA enters her breast milk and is thus fed to the baby. This shows how important it is for pregnant women, or even young women planning down to the road to conceive, to see a knowledgeable, nutritionist to learn how to avoid disruptors as much as possible. For example, while pregnant, trying to conceive or breast-feeding, don’t eat out of cans. Don’t drive a brand new car. Don’t put in laminate floors. Have quality free standing air filters, etc. I outline many to-dos in Hormone Deception.
It is not just exposure to thyroid blocking chemicals that’s the issue for the developing unborn. But also the health of the mom’s thyroid. A malfunctioning thyroid in the would-be mother can cause neurodevelopmental issues in the fetus that can resonate throughout its lifetime.
In contemporary society thyroid disorders are very common. And often misdiagnosed. Then often mismanaged. Especially in women of reproductive age. Wise assessment and management of pregnant women’s thyroid health disease is critical. The healthier mom’s thyroid, the healthier her baby’s. And her baby’s future. But so is monitoring and addressing exposure to chemicals that can enter the pregnant mom through her air, food, cosmetics, water and even as you just read, her teeth. All these can affect her thyroid. And her child’s. And their brain.
Children born to mothers with thyroid dysfunction (or with exposure to thyroid disruptors) have an increased risk of neurologic and psychiatric diseases later in life. Children born to mothers with thyroid dysfunction (or exposure to chemicals that block thyroid signaling) have increased risk of seizures, autism spectrum disorders, and especially attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders. Mothers who have severe fatigue from malnutrition or malabsorption, can have babies with neurodevelopmental issues. This was clearly shown from the 1944–1946 Dutch-birth study. Individuals born to mothers exposed to severe famine in early pregnancy had children with higher prevalence’s of neurodevelopmental disorders compared to mothers that had appropriate nutrition. I itemize many of these pivotal studies in Hormone Deception.
I had interviewed Elizabeth Gillette PhD and her amazing work. She is an anthropologist that spent years comparing the kids of two identical Mexican Indian societies, whose main difference was exposure to DDT. She showed that DDT in the blood stream of a pregnant mom, at a certain level, reduced IQ, attention, focus and even physical coordination of the child as it grew up. And these levels are what the fetus was exposed to in-utero. These exposures were not demonstrable even at examination of the chord blood. The real deal was/is the womb environment. How GREEN the womb is, (that is what I am calling it—GREEN pregnancy and GREEN womb) is a by-product of all the mom has been exposed to in her past and present.
What and how we live… we carry forward.
Even though DDT is banned, we all carry it in our blood streams. And many more potentially endocrine disrupting chemicals. But good news, adequate detox protocols have been proven to reduce this burden. But how many go through professionally guided detoxes?
This is a call for green pregnancies. Where the would be mom and pop come in, ideally before conception, and get detoxed of these potentially damaging toxins. And have their thyroids “adequately” assessed (free T3, free T4, reverse T3, thyroid antibodies, as well as the classic TSH, and their symptom/life work up – not just their labs). This is where and how we will start to protect our children’s brains and future.
- Hormone Deception McGraw-Hill and Awakened Medicine, by Berkson, 3rd printing coming.
- Foetal Programming by Maternal Thyroid Disease Stine Linding Andersen; Jørn Olsen; Peter Laurberg. Clin Endocrinol. 2015;83(6):751-758.
- Susser, E., Hoek, H.W. & Brown, A. (1998) Neurodevelopmental disorders after prenatal famine: the story of the Dutch Famine Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 147, 213–216.
- Thyroid hormone action is disrupted by bisphenol A as an antagonist.
Moriyama K, Tagami T, Akamizu T, Usui T, Saijo M, Kanamoto N, Hataya Y, Shimatsu A, Kuzuya H, Nakao K. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Nov;87(11):5185-90.