According to recent research by Winchester (2009), conceiving a baby in spring and early summer might increase the risk of various birth defects such as spina bifida, cleft palate, and Down syndrome.
The reason for this, Winchester (2009) argues, might be high pesticide levels in ground water in spring and summer due to crop dusting. This of course is not only a local phenomena but the research suggest that pesticide use might play a role in birth defects nationwide.
Winchester (2009) argues that this study does not prove that pesticides cause birth defects, complications with pregnancy and miscarriages. Because Winchester set out to prove that pesticides did not cause birth defects, and because of what he found, he was not reassured.
The study by Winchester is one of the first research projects to look at indirect exposure to agricultural chemicals and birth defects (Boyles. 2009).
The research was conducted by comparing pesticide levels in surface water using data from the U/S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Assessment. The body of data includes samples of 186 streams in the United States, approximating 50% of drinking water. The results show that pesticide water concentrations were at their peak from April through July during the six-year period (1996-2002) of the study (Boyles, 2009).
Interestingly enough, women who conceived in the months of April through July gave birth to babies with birth defects at a 3% higher rate than women who conceived in other months. Three percent does not seem a lot but when figuring in the entire population, we could be talking about several thousand birth defects. What makes the matter even worse is that the data could be an underestimation of birth defects because several localities had passive birth defect monitoring programs (Winchester, 2009).
March of Dimes’ Alan Fleischman MD notes about the limitations of the study, but expresses a need to examine this important topic (Boyles, 2009).
Fleischman is also chairman of the advisory committee to the National Children's Study. If put into motion, this study will be the largest ever prospective study in the United States to look at environmental effects' on children's health. Researchers are currently trying to recruit women for this nationwide trial. One of the items in the study will be environmental chemical exposure before conception, and during pregnancy (Boyles, 2009).
If you are a woman thinking of becoming pregnant and toying with the thought of participating in a study that might span over two decades, please go to the link below:
National Institutes of Health News:
National Children’s Study Begins Recruiting Volunteers
If you are an avid reader of the Alternative Medicine Blog, you might know that I am a great proponent of environmentally responsible agriculture. We chefs of course like to refer to this practice as sustainable agriculture. Ever since Rachel Carlson raised this important topic of pesticide use in her book “Silent Spring,” evidence seems to mount that one way of action to prevent disease is to minimize the use of pesticides. Many farmers have done so in the past decade, totally abandoning use of pesticides and growing food organically.
This post kind of goes hand in hand with the post on Organic Foods and the New Business Model right here on the Alternative Medicine Blog. The post also appeared in the West Michigan Business Review (PDF version).
Boyles S. (2009). Do pesticides make birth defects crop up? Last retrieved April 2, 2009 from WebMd
Winchester, P.D., Acta Paediatrica, 2009; vol 98: pp 664-669.