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Food Toxins

Food toxins include a wide range of contaminates occurring both naturally and introduced by man in food. Some contaminants have been shown to adversely affect the development and growth of the fetus when consumed in sufficient amounts. Special attention to food safety is important to minimize consumption of microorganisms and their toxins which can cause maternal disease and potential problems for the fetus. Food contaminates suspected to affect fetal development are described below.

A Special Note About Food Beliefs and Cravings
Introduction of food toxins can especially be a risk when women practice pica. Pica is the compulsion to eat substances unsuitable for humans, or that have little or no nutritional value. The reasons for pica are poorly understood. During pregnancy, the most common substances consumed are dirt, clay, and starch (cornstarch, laundry starch) but other items such as ice, tire inner tubes, paint chips, hair, or mothballs have also been observed. Many of these substances can contain potent toxins. Others (ice, cornstarch) cause harm by displacing essential nutrients in the diet. Excessive cornstarch often leads to excessive weight gain during pregnancy.

The bottom line: Don't eat anything that is not a suitable and safe food for humans. Poor fetal development, serious illness, and even death can occur as a result of pica. Both mother and child are at risk. If you practice pica please stop, and inform your obstetrician of the pattern you have had with it.

Food Contaminants Affecting Normal Fetal Development
Type
Comments
Common Sources
Heavy Metals
Heavy metals including lead, mercury, cadmium, and possibly nickel and selenium has been shown to cause birth defects including malformation, cerebral palsy, and brain damage.
  • Lead can be found in paint but also some types of dirt
  • Mercury is a rare contaminant of fish and some grain products
  • Cadmium is derived form tobacco smoke, the electroplating industry, and deterioration of rubber tires
Pesticides
Current evidence is limited at this time.
  • Crop products in the United States have established limits by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that are thought to be safe
  • Be wary of unmonitored crops
Polychlorinated Biphenyals (PCBs)
PCB exposure causes dark pigmentation of the gums, nails, and groin and results in intrauterine growth retardation, abnormal skull calcification, and deformed nails.
  • Used in plastics and heat exchange fluids. Normal daily contact is not thought to be a risk
  • Industrial exposure should be discussed with your physician
Toxins
Aflatoxin may cause intrauterine growth retardation, neonatal jaundice, and perinatal death, however, current evidence is limited.
  • Aflatoxin is a toxin produced by mold in contaminated nuts. Avoid eating nuts which are old and appear suspect.

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