And not in a good way. Could exposure to toxic environmental factors badly effect the immune systems of young and adolescent children – and even in the womb? In a perspective piece on developmental immunotoxicology published in this month’s American Chemical Society’s Chemical Research in Toxicology, one researcher says it’s possible and makes a call to action.

Rodney R. Dietert, a toxicologist at Cornell University, studies how toxic substances affect a young immune system. In a statement to by Cornell University, Dietert says “The maturing immune system is a vulnerable target for toxicants [something toxic]…When it is disrupted by exposure to chemicals, all too often the outcome takes the form of persistent immune dysfunction or misregulation. For this reason the health risks of exposure to toxicants are significantly greater in early life.”

What are the so called toxicants? The article isn’t entirely clear, but in his bio online Dietert talks about exposure to drugs, environmental chemicals and some dietary factors and the timing of a child’s increased immune susceptibility to toxins. In some cases, he says prenatal exposure to toxic substances are linked to many diseases, including celiac, later in life.

Dietert says, “…many chronic diseases that have been increasing in incidence – including childhood asthma and allergies, autism, childhood leukemia, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are associated with early life environmental exposures, and they all also have immune dysfunction in common.” His proposal is for further research, but he is also calling for a change in how safety testing for toxic substances is done to better protect infants and children.

Taking Your Own Action

So what can we take away from this? Honestly it’s hard to say.  The easiest think I can think to do is go organic and reduce the medicines you put in your body when you’re pregnant or when you’re thinking of becoming pregnant.  If you go organic, you’ll reduce the potential for ingesting chemicals from the farm or anything added during processing.  For me in all honesty, making this move is hard because I currently don’t consciously buy organic foods.  I feel like I already pay a ton for gluten-free food, now I’ll have to spend double on produce and other items!  It is something to consider however, and would likely be better for our health in the long run.

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