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Detoxification and pregnancy toxicity exposure risk- The vegan argument

by Milos Pokimica ND

by Milos Pokimica ND

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"Pregnancy toxicity exposure level for an average woman is tested to be around 35 different chemicals including both banned and contemporary contaminants."

There are thousands of different man-made chemical toxins in the environment and this can be a risk for fetal pregnancy toxicity. Most people are familiar with pesticides because they are used regularly in millions of tons annually. Then they are different industrial chemical pollutants, heavy metals and other men made pollution. There are even levels of prescribed drugs in wild fish. Most of the drugs we take are extracted in urine and can end up in waterways. Drugs that are stable like Prozac, for example, end up polluting waterways. Chemicals we do not drink but use for cosmetics like hair dyes or creams with hundreds of different chemicals like paraben for example also end up in waterways. Several studies had confirmed the presence of trace concentrations of PPCPs (Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products) in all types of waters. Surface water and finished drinking water has it. Do they pose any health risk is largely unknown?

The concentrations are low, but there is concern that some of them can bioaccumulate. The point of this argument is that even the small pills that people take from time to time like ibuprofen can be detected in the environment. Dumping the tens of thousands of tons of chemicals produced in factories every year that do not degrade and stay in the environment for eternity, usually is not a good thing. If we count all of the industries around 700 new chemicals are introduced into the US market. That is just the US without any other country in the world. In the US alone more than 84,000 chemicals are used in processing, manufacturing, and other types of industries. This does not count all the drugs from the pharmacy.

baby pesticides commercial vintage
Good Old Days

These chemicals are everywhere, but the scary fact is that there is no safety data on most of them. They are in the water, air, soil, our food supply, and everyday products. Some groups of people also have higher exposure to these toxic environmental chemicals than others. For instance, workers who work on farms have higher exposures to chemicals used on the crops.

One especially susceptible group is a pregnant woman. Some pollutants can have a negative impact on fetus development. The amount of pollution in the environment will affect the fetus much more than the mother.

During pregnancy, the baby’s nervous system and all of the other organs are developing rapidly and the baby does not have the immune system and developed detoxifying mechanisms and can be more sensitive to the toxic effects of pesticides. Exposure to these substances directly causes birth defects, stillbirth, and spontaneous abortion.

babies ddt nursery
Good Old Days

We now know that pregnant women exposed to DDT have a significantly increased risk of premature birth. They are also at risk if they go full-term to have low birth weight babies. Studies in mice have found that DDE (DDT metabolite) blocks the binding of the hormone progesterone to its receptors. Home abortion pills like Misoprostol work by the same mechanism by blocking the binding of progesterone. It is the same mechanism of action with no difference. In the environment, DDT in some species that are more sensitive to it can cause the extinction of the entire species. For instance, DDT is linked with severe declines in bald eagle populations due to its effect on the thinning of eggshells. After the DDT ban was in place, it took decades but bald eagle’s numbers had returned to optimal levels, and they are not endangered species anymore. Because of its toxic effects, DDT is banned in the developed world, but in Africa, it is still used. It is cheap and can combat malaria which is two conditions that force the use of DDT to this day. But what about thousands of other toxic man-made chemicals and heavy metals and other forms of environmental pollution?

DDT is good for me
Good Old Days

The logical step is to minimize exposure. One of the ways is going low on a food chain, and the other is eating organic. That is it. The only thing we can do. Go natural. Natural meaning natural human diet. Diet low on the food chain. If not, we will get exposed to neurotoxic substances like mercury and lead and endocrine disruptive substances like POP’s (persistent organic pollutants) and all of the carcinogens and pro-inflammatory compounds with systematic and chronic effects on our health.

Biomagnification in the food chain
Biomagnification in the food chain

When they tested the U.S. pregnant woman in a study done in 2011, they found that almost all of the pregnant women had toxicity from multiple chemicals and with some that were banned since the 1970s. Every couple of years CDC measures the number of environmental pollutants in the bodies of Americans across the country. In this study (1) they analyzed biomonitoring data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES). Analyzing data for 163 chemicals they found that certain pesticides, toxic solvents, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and heavy metals were detected in 99–100% of pregnant women.

On average pregnant woman is polluted with around 35 different chemicals including both banned and contemporary contaminants. Chemical cocktail levels of many of these chemicals were comparable to the levels incorporated in investigations and studies dealing with pregnancy and in levels that can have fatal adverse effects. Pregnant women were exposed to multiple chemical cocktails at one time, many of which can affect the same adverse outcomes later in life. Having one or two chemicals is bad enough but having 35 of them all the time and having hundreds of them running through your body from time to time is toxic overload with synergistic effects that will have a significant impact on your health from pregnancy toxicity to chronic inflammation to full-blown disease.

If you want to become pregnant and decide to detoxify the short answer is that you cannot. Detoxification depends on the individual half-life of these pollutants with the presumption that you would never have any pollution in your life again. Which is not possible no matter what you do. In this study (2) aim was to design the diet to prevent or reduce the body load of organochlorines (OC) in humans. Organochlorines are chemical compounds that were widely used after World War 2 as insecticides in the industry but were banned in the 1970s. They are resistant to degradation, so they still continue to be present in most of the food chains, and because they are fat-soluble, they accumulate in the adipose tissue of organisms. Study 1 compared plasma OC concentrations between vegans and omnivores. Study 2 looked into dietary fat substitute olestra. They wanted to test if olestra could prevent the increase in OC concentrations that happen during dieting. What they observed was that OC plasma concentrations were significantly lower in vegans.

In conclusion, there was a trend toward significantly lesser contamination in vegans than omnivores, and olestra did not prevent plasma hyper-concentration of the OC during ongoing weight loss. What surprised the researchers is that vegans had as much as they did because theoretically they should not be exposed to a high degree to these pesticides. Vegans tend to have around 30 to 40 percent lower plasma concentrations. The conclusion was that vegans may be exposed to mother milk at the time of lactation and that becoming vegan or vegetarian is often a decision that is made in adulthood. Thus the omnivore diet during childhood and puberty result is contamination that is still detectable in adults. In addition, vegans may occasionally depart from their diet and eat animal products.

Detoxification is a slow process and cannot be done on a weekend of detox diet cleansing or fasting. Detox starts with clean food. If we chose to go vegan, we would still get exposed because we live in our environment, not in a bubble. Most of the plant food has some pollution in them. Some have more pesticides or heavy metals, or other types of toxins some have less, and even organic food is not truly organic because it will pick up some of the toxins from the environment. We could not have clean food in a filthy environment only thing we could hope for is cleaner food, and that cleaner food is much more expensive, so if we look realistically, we will get exposed no matter what we do.

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Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]

  1. Environmental chemicals in pregnant women in the United States: NHANES 2003-2004. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jun; 119(6):878-85.
  2. Impact of adopting a vegan diet or an olestra supplementation on plasma organochlorine concentrations: results from two pilot studies. Br J Nutr. 2010 May;103(10):1433-41.

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GoVeganWay.com brings you reviews of the latest nutrition and health-related research. The information provided represents the personal opinion of the author and is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider.



In the event of a medical emergency, call a doctor or 911 immediately. GoVeganWay.com does not recommend or endorse any specific groups, organizations, tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned inside.

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October 21, 2021


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