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Maricel V. Maffini, PhD’s Blog

Losing our minds: the ongoing chemicals' attack on our children's brains

Maricel V. Maffini, PhD

Posted May 29, 2014 in Health and the Environment

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A bright kid is usually called “a brain.” We often describe him or her as analytical, rational, very smart with high IQ and capable of solving tough problems in less time than everybody else. Those complimentary words are, in a way, how we would describe the brain. The sad reality is that our kids’ brains are under attack by chemicals in our food and the environment. This stealth and continuous exposure even before a baby is born is causing pediatricians and health professionals to raise the alarm. Perhaps a better description of the state of our children’s brains would be ‘scrambled’.   

For the brain to perform properly its many parts have to be assembled correctly. The development of the fetal brain begins very early during gestation and continues for several years after we are born. The brain is such an exquisite organ that even very small or short disruptions to its normal development during these critical times can have terrible consequences years or decades later. A common cause of neurodevelopmental problems is exposure to chemicals during brain development.

In a recent publication Drs. Philippe Grandjean and Philip Landrigan stated that “Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence.” However, there is another source of chemical exposure that could affect the normal development of the brain: chemicals added in the manufacturing of food.

I don’t know about you, but there isn’t a shaker for  2-methyl-3-thioacetoxy-4,5-dihydrofuran on my dinner table. This chemical and thousands of others come in with our food. Because of the unintended, frequent and life-long exposure to chemicals in food, we checked whether FDA has any information about their effect on the brain, especially the developing brain. We also looked at chemicals that affect 1) the thyroid gland because thyroid hormones are fundamental for brain development, maturation and function throughout life, and maternal thyroid hormone deficiency during pregnancy can lead to irreversible brain damage in the fetus; and 2) the hypothalamus which is a specialized area of the brain that bridges the nervous and endocrine systems. Our source was FDA’s Priority-based Assessment of Food Additives (PAFA) database which contains toxicology information for chemicals directly added to food.

PAFA database lists animal studies for 44 food ingredients that FDA identified as having adverse  effects on the brain, the hypothalamus and the thyroid gland. Some were familiar names such as caffeine and brominated vegetable oil and other less so: delta-dodecalactone, 2-phenylpropion aldehyde, ethyl isovalerate or ethoxyquin. Some affected a single organ and other affected more than one. Their uses in food vary from flavor, to sweetener, preservative, stabilizer, dough conditioner, curing salt, antioxidant, nutrient and pesticide residue. The older studies were conducted in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and the newest in the early 2000s. You can read the complete list below.

In 1958, Congress mandated, among other things, that FDA is required to consider “the cumulative effect of the substance in the diet taking into account any chemically or pharmacologically related substance or substances in such a diet” in determining the safe use of a chemical (21 U.S.C. §348(c)(5)) and 21 CFR 170.3(i)). Does FDA know what the cumulative effects of all these chemicals are on the developing brain?

More than 55 years ago, those who wrote the law knew that the safety of a single chemical should not be considered in isolation. There is no indication that the agency or the chemical manufacturers have considered cumulative effects of these additives on the brain. And, to add insult to injury, once a chemical is approved, FDA rarely reassess its safety no matter how old and limited the studies are or whether the chemical had any safety data when approved. The limitations of animals studies found in PAFA should not be an impediment to red-flag these chemicals as potentially affecting the normal development of the brain and reevaluate their safety in light of new scientific knowledge.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has developed a methodology to identify pesticides with similar toxicity profiles so they are evaluated as a group during the cumulative effect assessment an ultimately their cumulative risk assessment. This means that the focus shifted from the chemical’s effect on multiple organs to the multiple chemicals’ effect on one organ or system.  The first two systems experts focused on were the nervous and the thyroid systems; but others are also considered including the liver, reproduction and development. FDA should take a page from EFSA’s methodology and design a systematic safety re-evaluation program that is based on common toxic effects and cumulative toxicity.

Granjean and Landrigan have estimated the loss of almost 40 million IQ points in children younger than 5 years just due to exposure to lead, methylmercury and organophosphate pesticides. Now consider the potential additional effects from food exposures not only on IQ points but behavioral impacts, reduced motor activity, altered sexual development, etc. The impact of chemicals on brain development and the wellbeing of the future generations is too important to keep on waiting. The time has come to overhaul the way chemical safety assessment is done in the US.

 

List of food ingredients[1] with animal studies[2] in PAFA that FDA identified as having adverse effects on the brain, hypothalamus and thyroid gland.

  1. 2-methyl-3-thioacetoxy-4,5-dihyrofuran (CAS[3]#26486-14-6) used as a flavor. It affects the brain and thyroid based on 1972 study.
  2. 2-phenylpropionaldehyde (CAS#93-53-8) used as a flavor. It affects brain and thyroid based on 1976 study.
  3. Acetaldehyde (CAS#75-07-0) used as a flavor. It affects the brain based on 1992 study.
  4. Allyl isothiocyanate (CAS#57-06-7) used as a flavor. It affect thyroid based on 1985 study.
  5. Aluminum sulfate (CAS#10043-01-3) used as a starch. It affects the brain based on a 1999 study.
  6. Aspartame (CAS#22839-47-0) used as a sweetener. It affects hypothalamus in brain based on 2002 study.
  7. Brominated vegetable oil (CAS#8016-94-2) used as a flavor.  It affects thyroid based on 1971 study.
  8. Butyl alcohol (CAS#71-36-3) used as a flavor.  It affects the brain based on 1994 study.
  9. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) (CAS#25013-16-5) used as a preservative and a flavor. It affects brain and thyroid based on studies from 1983 to 2005.
  10. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) (CAS#128-37-0) used as a preservative and a flavor. It affects the brain and thyroid based on 1956 and 1982 studies.
  11. Caffeine (CAS#58-08-2) used as a flavor.  It affects the brain based on studies from 1979 to 2005.
  12. Copper sulfate (CAS#7758-98-7) used as a nutrient. It affects brain based on 1975 study.
  13. Delta-dodecalactone (CAS#713-95-1) used as a flavor. It affects thyroid based on 1963 study.
  14. Ethoxyquin (CAS#91-53-2) used as a preservative and a pesticide. It affects the thyroid based on 1954 study.
  15. Ethyl isovalerate (CAS#108-64-5) used as a flavor.  It affects thyroid based on 1980 study.
  16. Ethylene oxide / propylene oxide copolymer (CAS#9003-11-6) used as a stabilizer and a wetting agent. It affects brain and thyroid based on studies from 1964 to 1972.
  17. FD&C Red No. 3 (CAS#16423-68-0) used as color. It affects thyroid based on 1973 and 1976 studies.
  18. Ferrous fumerate (CAS#141-01-5) used as a nutrient.  It affects thyroid based on 1960 study.
  19. Heptyl paraben (CAS#1085-12-7) used as a preservative. It affects the thyroid based on a 1967 study.
  20. Ketone musk (CAS#81-14-1) used as a flavor. It affects thyroid based on 1969 study.
  21. L-tryptophan (CAS#73-22-3) used to a nutrient. It affects the brain based on a 1997 study.
  22. L-tyrosine (CAS#60-18-4) used as a flavor. It affects the brain based on 1968 and 1994 studies.
  23. Maltol *CAS#118-71-8) used as a flavor.  It affects brain based on 1980 study.
  24. Manganese chloride (CAS#13446-34-9) used as a nutrient. It affects the brain based on studies from 1974 to 2002.
  25. Monosodium glutamate (CAS#142-47-2) used as flavor enhancer. It affects hypothalamus based on 1970 and 1976 studies.
  26. Neotame (CAS#165450-17-9) used as a sweetener. It affects thyroid based on 1994 study.
  27. Oleic acid from tall oil fatty acids (CAS#977047-39-4) used to coat fruit. It affects the brain based on 1969 study.
  28. Peppermint oil (CAS#8006-90-4) used as a flavor.  It affects the brain based on a 1983 study.
  29. Phenol (CAS#108-95-2) used as a flavor.  It affects the brain based on a 1992 study.
  30. Potassium bromate (CAS#7758-01-2) used to condition dough.  It affects the thyroid based on a 1987 study.
  31. Potassium bromide (CAS7758-02-3) used to wash fruits and byproduct of potassium bromate use in dough. It affects thyroid based on 1997 study.
  32. Potassium iodide (CAS#7681-11-0) used as a nutrient.  It affects the thyroid based on a 1982 study.
  33. Potassium nitrate (CAS#7757-79-1) used to cure cod food. It affects thyroid based on studies from 1996 to 2004.
  34. Pulegone (CAS#89-82-7) used as a flavor.  It affects the brain based on a 1983 study.
  35. Sodium acetate (CAS#977127-84-6) used as a flavor. It affects the thyroid based on 1981 study.
  36. Sodium dehydroacetate (CAS#4418-26-2) used as preservative. It affects brain based on 1981 study.
  37. Sodium nitrite (CAS#7632-00-0) used as a preservative.  It affects thyroid based on 1989 study. 
  38. Stannous chloride (CAS#7772-99-8) used as an antioxidant.  It affects the brain based on 2005 study.
  39. Styrene (CAS#100-42-5) used as a flavor. It affects the brain based on 1994 study.
  40. Taurine (CAS#107-35-7) used as a flavor.  It affects the brain based on 1997 and 2001 studies.
  41. Theobromine (CAS#83-67-0) used as a flavor. It affects the brain based on 1984 study.
  42. Tocopherols (CAS#1406-66-2 and 58-95-7) used as a nutrient. It affects the thyroid based on studies from 1947 to 1986.
  43. Tumeric oleoresin (CAS#129828-29-1) used as a flavor. It affects thyroid based on 1985 study.
  44. Vitamin D-3 (CAS#67-97-0) used as a nutrient. It affects thyroid based on 2001 study.

 


[1] Chemicals are added directly to food during production or as ingredients. 

[2] Chemicals with no observed adverse effect levels (NOAEL) above 100 mg/kg body weight and lowest observed adverse effect level (LOAEL) above 500 mg/kg bw were excluded.

[3] CAS: Chemical Abstract Service Registry Number assigned by the American Chemical Society.

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Comments

Chris LeeMay 29 2014 11:07 PM

What a SUPERB piece of journalism by the author. THank you so much for your efforts.

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