Tracing the health outcomes associated with environmental exposures is very complicated. Though there are some substances and behaviors that we know result in negative health outcomes, there are many others which take years or decades to develop. Sometimes health outcomes can be related to a great many different factors and it is hard to determine which factor was most important and how much more this factor might effect one's health. Because of how slowly some conditions develop, as well as how intricate and microscopic many bodily functions are, it can be difficult to say that any one exposure or action caused a specific health outcome. It is often more accurate to say that an exposure or action increased the likelihood  that a health outcome occurs. 


Female Reproductive Health

The female reproductive system consists of body parts contributing to reproduction, such as ovulation and pregnancy, including ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina.

 

Female Reproductive System Diagram 

 

This system plays an important role in maintaining balance in the body through hormone production and interaction and is important to the overall health of the woman, as well as her potential child.

 

What are some female reproductive health issues?

Birth Outcomes-

  • The time when a baby is in the womb is a delicate and rapid period of growth for the baby. This period is surpassed only by puberty in developmental importance during the human life.
  • As a result, the fetus and its future health is particularly vulnerable to harm from exposure to toxins and chemicals, food, and other factors through it’s connection to its mother.
  • One of the most significant birth health outcomes is a shorter length of time spent in the womb, which implies less time for developmental processes like building the body’s important physical structures, as well as brain, nerve, and immune system function. Birth outcomes that are often related to length or quality of gestation include reduced birth weight, size, and head circumference, poorer reflexes, poorer neonatal and later-life immune function, and others.

 

Infertility/ Increased Time to Pregnancy-

  • Infertility refers to difficulty becoming pregnant after trying for more than one year, or having repeated miscarriages.
  • Female infertility or other delays in becoming pregnant can result from physical problems, hormone problems, lifestyle, or environmental factors.

 

Cancer-

  • Female reproductive cancers include ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers.
  • Cancer occurs when cells in the body replicate themselves out of control, usually leading to a mass of tissue, impairment of normal biological functions in the area, and often leading to serious illness or death.
  • Certain cancers — particularly female reproductive cancers — often severely impair female fertility.
  • Both radiation and chemotherapy may affect a woman’s ability to reproduce. Chemotherapy may impair reproductive function and fertility in men and women.
  • For more information, visit the National Institutes of Health: Info on Cancer(link is external)

 

Puberty-

  • Puberty is the time when one’s body changes to become sexually mature.
  • Puberty includes rapid growth of bones and muscles, changes in body shape and size, and development of the body’s ability to reproduce.
  • Both genes and environmental factors play a role in determining when someone will enter puberty.
  • For girls, puberty usually takes place between ages 10-14, and for boys, between ages 12-16.
  • Some people enter puberty earlier than usual, around ages 8-9. This is called precocious puberty, and it can be caused by structural or chemical factors in the body, but sometimes there is no known cause.
  • For more information, visit the National Institute of Child Health: Info on Puberty

 

Uterine Fibroids-

  • Uterine Fibroids are benign tumors in the wall of the uterus and are common in women in their 30s and 40s.
  • Sometimes, fibroids interfere with proper implantation of the fertilized egg.
  • Rarely, they cause infertility by blocking the fallopian tubes.
  • For more information, visit the Mayo Clinic: Info on Uterine Fibroids(link is external)

 

Endometriosis-

  • Endometriosis occurs when the uterine tissue implants and grows outside of the uterus.
  • Endometriosis can affect fertility by interrupting the function of the sperm, egg and ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes.
  • For more information, visit the Mayo Clinic: Info on Endometriosis(link is external)

 

Thyroid problems-

  • Disorders of the thyroid gland, either too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism), can interrupt the menstrual cycle and cause infertility.
  • For more information, visit the Mayo Clinic: Info on Hypothyroidism

Neurodevelopment and IQ

Neurodevelopment refers to the growth of the nervous system, especially the brain. The term refers to the healthy establishment of brain structures that in turn support movement and thinking abilities (ex. reflexes, and intelligence). The process of neurodevelopment can be disrupted by chemical changes in the body, through environmental exposures, or other factors.

 

Child Thinking Hard

 

What is neurodevelopment?

  • Mainly occurs while in the womb, during infancy, and in adolescence.
  • Includes development of our abilities to think and move. Disorders of neurodevelopment include mental retardation and autism.
  • Changes in the environment inside or immediately surrounding the body of the fetus, infant or adolescent can change the course of neurodevelopment and have lifelong impacts.
  • Messenger chemicals in the body like thyroid hormones play an important role in supporting healthy neurodevelopment, and disruption can have serious health effects.

 

What does Intelligence Quotient (IQ) mean?

  • IQ is a term used to discuss someone’s performance on tests of thinking skills.
  • IQ can be impacted by problems with neurodevelopment, so evaluating IQ can suggest the possible presence of neurodevelopmental problems.
  • IQ tests evaluate “general intelligence” but only measure of certain kinds of thinking abilities and IQ may not be indicative of a person’s full range of cognitive abilities.
  • For more information, visit the National Library of Medicine: Info on IQ

Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

Obese/Overweight means that one weights more than is considered healthy for a given height. Metabolic Syndrome is a group of conditions, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol levels, and excess body fat/obesity. Obesity and metabolic syndrome can greatly increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

 

What are the causes of obesity and metabolic syndrome?

  • Behaviors like eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity, one’s metabolism, genetics, income level and culture can all play a role in causing people to become obese or overweight.
  • Environmental exposures are increasingly recognized. Chemicals that we are exposed to, and the quantities/type of food and drink we consume, can alter our bodies’ energy balance and cause overweight/obesity.
  • Metabolic syndrome is related to the body’s metabolism, or energy usage and balance. Insulin resistance, where your body’s ability to burn the fuel from food is impaired, can play a significant role in developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
  • Insulin resistance probably results from a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Some people may be genetically prone to insulin resistance, genetically inheriting it.
 

How common are obesity and metabolic syndrome?

  • Over 1/3rd of Americans are obese.
  • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are some of the leading causes of death in the United States.
  • In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion in the United States.
  • Compared to other ethnic groups, adults of Mexican origin are at increased risk of developing diseases related to obesity, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and uncontrolled hypertension.
  • Metabolic syndrome incidence is higher in people over age 60 than in younger people, and is higher in Latinos and Asians than in other racial-ethinic groups.
  • According to the American Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, metabolic syndrome is becoming more common due to a rise in obesity among adults. Metabolic syndrome may overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for heart disease.
  • For more information, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Info on Obesity(link is external)Info on Metabolic Syndrome(link is external)

 

What is childhood obesity?

  • Since 1980, obesity rates among children and adolescents in the United States has almost tripled.
  • Rates of child obesity vary by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group.
  • About 33% of young Mexican-American children in the US are considered overweight or obese, higher than non-Hispanic white (25%) and black (24%) children.
  • Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.
  • For more information, visit the Mayo Clinic: Info on Childhood Obesity(link is external)

 

What can you do?

  • Lifestyle changes are the best way to prevent or delay metabolic syndrome and obesity. Eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of physical activity are important for protecting yourself.
  • Successfully controlling metabolic syndrome and obesity require long-term effort and teamwork with your health care providers.

Attention and Behavioral Challenges

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a particularly well known challenge which involves inattentiveness, over-activity (hyperactivity), and/or impulsive behavior (impulsivity).

 

Child Taking Attention Test

 

What is ADHD?

  • ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed childhood behavioral disorder. It affects about 3 – 5% of school aged children. ADHD is diagnosed much more often in boys than in girls.
  • For symptoms to be diagnosed as ADHD, they must be out of the normal range for a child’s age and development. Suspected cases of ADHD should be carefully examined by a doctor to rule out other conditions or explanations for the behavior.
  • While occasionally diagnosed in children as young as 2 or 3 years, ADHD is more apparent after children begin school.
  • ADHD may run in families, but its causes are unclear.
  • Childhood, when the brain is developing the most, seems to be a critical period for its onset.
  • Imaging studies suggest that the brains of children with ADHD are different from those of other children.
  • Most children with ADHD also have at least one other developmental or behavioral challenge. They may also have a psychiatric problem, such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • For more information about ADHD visit The National Library of Medicine: Info on ADHD

Asthma and Respiratory Health

Respiratory health refers to the health of the organs that we use for breathing. Asthma is one of the most common breathing disorders.

 

Asthma Inhaler

 

What is asthma?

  • Asthma is a common respiratory disorder that causes airways of the lungs to swell and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.
  • Asthma can be caused by genetic and environmental factors.
  • Environmental risk factors for asthma and respiratory disease include airborne allergens, such as pollen, and chemical pollution.
  • Asthma can place serious limitations on daily life if not carefully controlled, and can cause death in some cases.
  • For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Info on Asthma(link is external)

 

What do we know about children with asthma?

  • Childhood asthma rates in the USA have increased dramatically over the past 30 years, for unknown reasons.
  • Currently, about 1 in 10 children in the US has asthma.
  • Child asthma can particularly place a burden on families, schools, the health care system, and children themselves.