Mercury: Dangerous for Kids’ Health

Mercury: Dangerous for Kids’ Health

There are so many ways we try to protect our children.  We hold their hands when they cross the street, we watch them as they play on the playground, and we buckle them into their car seats.  But how careful are we about how they eat?  One way we can protect our kids is to reduce their exposure to serious known toxins.  Exposure to toxic chemicals can affect children in very serious ways, as they are still growing and developing.* One of the most common toxic exposures is to a metal called mercury.

What is Mercury?

Mercury is a heavy metal that is naturally occurring in the environment.  In fact, it is so heavy that just one quarter cup of mercury at room temperature weighs nearly one kilogram!  (Just over two tablespoons weighs one pound.)  It is a silvery color that you may have seen in thermometers.  Even though mercury occurs naturally in the environment, it can also be propagated by certain industries and causes serious environmental and health consequences.

How Is Mercury Taken In?

Mercury is pernicious in that it can be taken in in many ways.  It can be inhaled, consumed, and absorbed through the skin.  It can also cross placental barriers and be prenatally absorbed by a fetus.  It is important to begin protecting your child from mercury exposure as soon as they are conceived.

What Exposes My Kids to Mercury?

Some children are exposed to extra mercury because they or their families are associated with certain employment that uses mercury.  Ironically, the health care sector used to be a major route of exposure, through use of mercury in instruments and cleaning supplies, but fortunately this is no longer common practice.  Mercury is still used heavily in the mining industry (especially gold mining), power plants, crematoria, and the charcoal industry.  If you or your child is not exposed to these industries, then your child’s exposure to mercury is likely to be environmental: food, air, water, and soil.  Let’s look at the main routes of exposure in turn.

Mercury Exposure in Food

This is the most common way children are exposed to mercury and one of the most easily preventable.**  Mercury accumulates in the seafood food chain.  This means that top seafood predators, such as tuna fish, are highest in mercury.  By knowing what fish are highest in mercury and which are lowest, you can ensure that your child is eating fish with low levels of mercury.

Be aware that fruits and vegetables grown in mercury heavy soil or in a mercury poisoned atmosphere are also themselves high in mercury.  Today, fertilizers no longer contain mercury as they used to, so most people in developed countries do not need to worry.  However, if your produce is being grown next to a power plant, a plant that produces mercury cell batteries, a gold mine (you wish, right?), a cemetery, or a crematorium, you should be aware that the mercury levels in your produce might be high.

Some preservatives also contain mercury.  This is a good reason to try to buy things fresh and prepare your own food as much as possible.   In many foods, even foods purporting to be all natural or pure, the only additional ingredient is a preservative.

Mercury has also been detected in certain foods that are the byproducts of mercury producing practices.  The most notable one is high fructose corn syrup.***  High fructose corn syrup is found is so many foods today that it is almost ubiquitous.  Aside from the fact that it is incredibly unhealthy in general, it is also a source of toxicity.

Mercury Exposure in Soil

Kids play outside (or at least mine do – and I hope yours do, too).  But because kids are digging in the dirt, getting filthy, and putting their hands in their mouths, they are also exposed to anything the soil contains, including mercury.  Environmental mercury can accumulate in soil just from being deposited from the air.  Soil can also contain mercury from decomposing wastes, as well as from fertilizers containing mercury (which fortunately is less common today – but used to be used more).****

Other Sources of Mercury Exposure

Some mercury exposure is due to the customs of certain cultures.  If you do not participate in these cultural practices, then you do not need to worry about these things.

Significant exposure can come from certain ayurvedic medicine.  Yes I know ayurvedic medicine is supposed to be healthy, but certain medicines and practices contain mercury and it can be really dangerous.*****  Other religions like Santeria or Espritismo also involve mercury in their rituals.******

Another significant cultural exposure to mercury comes in the form of skin lightening cosmetics, creams, lotions, and other products.  In some cultures, especially Asian cultures, light skin is seen as highly desirable and there is temptation to use products to lighten skin tone.  However, many of these products contain mercury, which can be very dangerous.*******

What Harm Does Mercury Cause?

In children, mercury poisoning generally manifests in the form of acrodynia, or “pink disease.”  It is called pink diseases because children’s hands, feet, cheeks, and lips turn pink and painful.  They can also begin to lose their hair, teeth, and nails.********   Other symptoms of mercury poisoning include confused vision, hearing, and speech, and a lack of coordination.

Mercury poisoning is very serious.  Mercury kills neurons in certain parts of the brain, which makes it especially dangerous for babies in utero.  It crosses both the placental and blood brain barriers and is not efficiently excreted, so it can accumulate in the unborn baby.  These babies are born with neurological problems that resemble cerebral palsy, spasticity, and other reflex, visual, and convulsive problems.  All pregnant women, for the sake of their unborn babies, should not risk mercury exposure.

How Much Mercury is too Much?

There is no known safe level of mercury to consume.  Let me repeat that.  There is NO safe amount of mercury to consume.

In other words, any mercury is too much mercury.

To protect your children, reduce their mercury intake as much as possible.

How Can I Protect My Kids From too Much Mercury?

There are certain things you can do to reduce your children’s exposure to mercury:

  • If you feed your children fish, ensure you are feeding them low mercury fish.
  • Reduce your kids’ intake of mercury containing food additives like preservatives and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Avoid keeping mercury containing products like mercury thermometers and fluorescent light bulbs in your house.  If you do keep these items in your home, ensure they are kept safe and not in danger of breaking.  If a mercury containing item does break, safely clean up the spill, keeping your kids far away at all times.  (If you are pregnant and one of these items breaks, please leave the area immediately and do not inhale in that area.   You should contact an approved toxic spill company to clean up the toxins and test the air, as airborne mercury is highly toxic.)
  • Do not use ayurvedic or other ritualistic remedies that may contain mercury.
  • Do not expose yourself or your children to skin lightening creams, lotions, etc.

(You many notice that not vaccinating is not on this list.  There is no scientific link between the trace amounts of mercury contained in vaccines and autism.**********  In fact, elemental liquid mercury injected is less harmful than mercury in its other forms taken in through food, skin, or air exposure.***********)

Conclusion

I hope this information is useful.  I will follow up soon with more information on what fish and seafood are safest and most dangerous to consume, as well as more information about how children are exposed to mercury through seafood consumption.

*Jarosinska D, Gee D. Children’s environmental health and the precautionary principle.Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2007;210:541–6.

*Selevan SG, Kimmel CA, Mendola P, Pronczuk-Garbino J. Children’s health and the environment – a global perspective. WHO press; Geneva: 2005. Windows of susceptibility to environmental exposures in children; pp. 17–26.

*Weiss B. Vulnerability of children and the developing brain to neurotoxic hazards.Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108(Suppl 3):375–81.

**Al-Saleh IA. Health implications of mercury exposure in children. Int J Environ Healthc.2009;3:22–57

***Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, et al. Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar. Environ Health.2009;8:2.

****United Nations Environment Programme-Chemicals . Global Mercury Assessment.Geneva: 2002. Available at: http://www.unep.org/gc/gc22/Document/UNEP-GC22-INF3.pdf.

*****Dargan PI, Gawarammana IB, Archer JRH, House IM, Shaw D, Wood DM. Heavy metal poisoning from ayurvedic traditional medicines: an emerging problem? Int J Environ Healthc. 2008;2:463–74.

******U.S. Environmental Protection Agency . Task force on ritualistic uses of mercury-EPA/540-R-01-005. Washington, DC: 2002.

*******Al-Saleh I, Al-Doush I. Mercury content in skin-lightening creams and potential hazards to the health of Saudi women. J Toxicol Environ Health. 1997;51:123–30.

*******Hursh JB, Clarkson TW, Miles EF, Goldsmith LA. Percutaneous absorption of mercury vapor by man. Arch Environ Health. 1989;44:120–7.

********Palmer RB, Godwin DA, McKinney PE. Transdermal kinetics of a mercurous chloride beauty cream: an in vitro human skin analysis. J Toxicol Clin Toxicol. 2000;38:701–7.

*********Bjørklund G (1995). “Mercury and Acrodynia” (PDF).Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine 10 (3 & 4): 145–146.

**********Doja A, Roberts W (2006). “Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature”. Can J Neurol Sci 33 (4): 341–6.

***********Clarkson TW, Magos L (2006). “The toxicology of mercury and its chemical compounds”. Crit Rev Toxicol 36 (8): 609–62.

Juicing for Kids: How to Get Your Kids to Drink Green Juice

Juicing for Kids: How to Get Your Kids to Drink Green Juice

As I’ve been discussing, while commercial fruit juices are really not the best for your kids’ health, juice itself can be hugely beneficial.  The trick is to buy a good juicer and then make juices packed with healthy vitamins, nutrients, minerals, and enzymes fresh for your kids.  The best juices contain nutrient-rich veggies, especially dark leafy greens.  But how to get your child to drink juice with greens in them when even a small amount of greens change the color of your child’s entire drink?

Fortunately, there are a number of ways to tackle this problem.  To my mind, there are five main strategies to getting your kids to drink green juice: habituation, stealth, participation, copycat, and reverse psychology.  Use the strategy (or strategies) that you think will work best for your child.

Habituation

Habituation is, you guessed it, making green juice a habit.  This means educating your kids from early on that green equals good, and by ‘good’ I mean ‘tasty!’  The best time to start is from the very beginning.  Start in pregnancy and you’ll set your child up for a lifetime of juicing.  Babies in mum’s third trimester can taste what she’s eating via amniotic fluid they swallow.  Studies show that babies whose mothers drank carrot juice in their third trimester showed a marked preference for it when they were given it to drink themselves.*

Babies can begin having juice from 6 months of age up, although juice should supplement, rather than replace, their normal food consumption.  Babies don’t have any preconceptions about what is good and bad, so they won’t look at green juice and think “gross!” like many adults will.  So if you start your baby on green juice and continue giving it to them as they grow up, your child will have strong positive associations with drinking green juice.

Habituation can work with older kids, too, especially when paired with some of the other techniques below.  Introduce them to the Beginner’s Green Juice in yesterday’s post and if they’re brave enough to try it, they’ll quickly discover they won’t even taste the greens in it.  That recipe is all sweetness – the greens just give it a bit of color and a small nutritional boost.  The major benefits of it are getting kids over their fear of drinking a juice that looks so totally green.  Get them used to drinking that and you can slowly introduce more greens, as well as other veggies, into their juices without them batting an eye.

Stealth

Gerber Sip & Smile Spill-proof CupsOkay, I know some parents will probably slam me for this tactic, but it can definitely work for some kids!  Stealth means slipping green juice in without your kids noticing.  The best way to do this is to use a cup your child can’t see through.  For young kids, this is perfect.  Most young kids are accustomed to (or at least willing to) drink from a sippy cup of sorts.  If so, choose an opaque sippy cup (like the Gerber Sip & Smile Spill-proof Cups shown in the picture at right, or the Playtex Sipster Cup) and fill it with Beginner’s Green Juice – then watch how your child doesn’t notice you haven’t just given them delicious plain fruit juice!  With each passing week, try increasing the percentage of green in the juice ever so slightly and see if your child notices. Eventually you should be able to switch to a regular sippy cup and show them that this is the juice they’ve been drinking all along.

Participation

This is the very best strategy to use if you have older kids (babies won’t get much out of it, but toddlers might). Kids love to help out in the kitchen and are much more likely to eat something they’ve grown or made themselves.  It’s simple: Get them to help make the juice!  Have them choose a combination of fruits and veggies and let them be creative.

You’re the boss in your home and rules are good for kids, so you might want to come up with some useful rules to encourage your kids to drink healthy juice or to avoid wastage. Here are some ideas:

  • You must drink the juice you make
  • You must include at least one green element (e.g., a couple stalks of celery, a cucumber, or a handful or two of greens)
  • Each member of the family will make juice for the whole family for breakfast on a rotating roster
  • If you have a masticating or cold press juicer and not much time, designate one morning a week (such as Sunday morning) to do the juicing for the whole week.  (Masticating juicers produce juice that contains more nutrients and enzymes, for much longer, so you can really juice once a week.) Make a few different kinds of juice, put them in bottles, and have them all week long.

By getting your kids involved in helping out and giving them control, they’ll find it a fun family activity, they can exercise some creativity, and you can get them to drink fresh, healthy fruit and vegetable juice.

Copycat

The essence of this strategy is basically to lead by example.  My kids are like puppies sometimes – if they see an adult eating something, they immediately want some (“Right now!” as my toddler says).  If you have a child like this, you can get them to start drinking green juice simply by drinking it yourself!  Our kids will drink all sorts of juices, drink whole fruit smoothies, and eat salads and dark leafy greens with gusto, simply because they see us consuming these things all the timeon a regular basis.  How frequently do your kids see you drinking green juice??

Reverse Psychology

A lot of my friends have babies and toddlers who are just the opposite of our kids.  Rather than copying their parents, they want to do the exact opposite.  If mommy and daddy are eating it, these kids turn up their noses at it.  If that’s the case, you can employ the opposite strategy – “refuse” to drink it and hopefully your kids will take the bait (of course, you can and should drink green juice when they’re not looking! It’s good for adults, too!).

Another trick I find works with my toddler when he’s refusing to eat something is simply to take it away.  I take it away and tell him he’s not allowed to have it.  As soon as it’s gone he wants it again.  And he’ll gobble it up!  Of course I don’t actually want to take it away – if I’m giving it to him, that means it’s healthy and tasty – but sometimes toddlers get it into their heads that they want whatever they can’t have.  But wait, aren’t we all like that sometimes?

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found these strategies enlightening and I hope they will help you persuade your kids to start drinking green juice!  Please leave a comment and let us all know how you got your kids to start drinking green juice.  If you’ve used one of these strategies, do let us know if it worked and why!

*Mennella JA, Jagnow CP, Beauchamp GK. Prenatal and Postnatal Flavor Learning by Human Infants. Pediatrics 2001;107(6):E88.