Potting Training Extravaganza

Thursday, May 19, 2011 at Thursday, May 19, 2011
Let the adventure begin!  We have successfully removed the pacifier from Conner’s life, which was way easier than we thought!.  Now, I think we are ready for the potty training challenge.  I have heard that boys take longer than girls. I am sure it won’t be easy, but hey, maybe he will surpise us!  So, any potty training advice?   I did look into “potty training and cognitive development” and will post about that soon.

Also, I have now move to Word Press, so please view my blog at neuronmommy.com.  Thanks!

She's a eatin' solids!

Monday, May 16, 2011 at Monday, May 16, 2011
Violet had her 4-month check-up a couple of weeks ago.  Since Collin wanted to be present for her first venture into solid food, we waited until Mother's Day to officially introduce her to rice cereal.  The word that sums up her first reaction was...Meh.  She seems to really like the addition of mashed banana!  When Conner was introduced to solids, Collin and I would take turns on what fruit or veggie would be next.  So, her next adventure will be peas (and if she hates it she can blame Daddy).

Here are a few questions for the Mommy's out there (and Daddy's):
1)  Do you buy your baby food or make it yourself?
2)  For homemade rice cereal, how to you include the iron that is found in the store bought iron-fortified cereals?
3)  Any funny stories about feeding your wee little ones?  Who doesn't love a messy baby face, eh?!

Effects of obesity on children's brain function

Friday, May 13, 2011 at Friday, May 13, 2011
After watching 2 episodes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, I have to say it is appalling how our kids eat in public schools.  Nothing but over-processed, over-sugared, calorie loaded crap.  I can't accept that parents don't care, or refuse to believe that kids need proper, healthy nutrition...you know, fruits, vegetables, whole grains...Therefore, I can only assume (and hope) that parents just don't know that their kids are fed crap and when they find out, boy o' boy, they are going to do something about it!

We have all heard the alarming statistics of obesity rates in this country, and the subsequent deleterious health risks.  And there are harmful effects of obesity on the brain.  Studies have also shown that obese children are more likely to have lower IQ's (Olsson and Hutling, 2010), lower cognitive function and greater behavioral problems (Miller et al., 2006), greater risk for developing pseudomotor cerebri (buildup of pressure by fluid around the brain, aka idiopathic intracranial hypertension) and last but not least, brain lesions similar to what is observed in Alzheimer's patients (Miller et al., 2006). In 2010, a study was published in Diabetologia stating that obese adolescents with type 2 diabetes had impaired performance on learning and memory tasks compared to just obese cohorts.  MRI scans also showed reduced white matter (tissue where messages pass from one area of the brain to another). ...have I scared you enough?!  Here is a good article detailing how obesity effects a child's body:

Hope is on the horizon...

A researcher (Dr. Echon) with the San Antonio-based Social & Health Research Center was awarded a huge grant (a la $2 million) to study the caloric intake of 5 elementary schools.  The schools were chosen based on the high rates of obesity and diabetes, so lower-income schools.  It is estimated that 33% of children living in Bexas County (San Antonio/surrounding areas) are obese.  Yikes!

Dr. Echon said the aim is to inform the parents of these children how many calories their darling buds of joy are consuming.  So, in a nutshell, here is how it works.  Kids are assigned a bar code for their tray. Once they have ordered all of their food, a camera at the cashier station will snap a picture of said food.  Once the child hands in the tray, another camera snaps a photo of the remaining food.  A computer program then analyzes the remaining food for calorie and nutrient consumption. Parents will then receive a copy of the data.  The data will also be used to analyze what food kids are choosing to eat. No photo will be of any child, just the food.

With all of the information about how obesity negatively effects kids, from psychological to physical to actually altering brain plasticity, programs like this really need parental support.  In addition to signing the permission slip to let these programs occur, parents need to improve the quality of food for their children.  I live in the suburbs, therefore I am a bit jaded because all I see when I go to the grocery store are, lets just say, very rotund individuals.  Grocery carts filled with processed foods, sodas, cookies, high-sugar cereals...but very little fruit, veggie, etc.  If you are an adult and you want to be the size of a small aircraft carrier, more power to you (not really, but you are an adult).  But, for your kids sake, for the sake of their potential future investment into society, care enough to make sure these kids are getting proper nutrition.  They deserve the right to learn the best they can and not be hindered by a poor diet that leads to obesity and the deleterious physical and mental consequences.

Now go eat an apple!

Works cited:


Miller J, Kranzler J, Liu Y, Schmalfuss I, Theriaque DW, Shuster JJ, Hatfield A, Mueller OT, Goldstone AP, Sahoo T, Beaudet AL, Driscoll DJ. Neurocognitive findings in Prader-Willi syndrome and early-onset morbid obesity. J Pediatr. 2006 Aug;149(2):192-8.

Stevenson SB. Pseudotumor cerebri: yet another reason to fight obesity. J Pediatr Health Care. 2008 Jan-Feb;22(1):40-3.

Olsson GM, Hulting AL. Intellectual profile and level of IQ among a clinical group of obese children and adolescents. Eat Weight Disord. 2010 Mar-Jun;15(1-2):e68-73.

Phthalates, Parabens and Baby Lotion...Oh My!

Sunday, May 1, 2011 at Sunday, May 01, 2011
Since Conner was born, I have gradually been switching to more natural, homemade cleaners for my house and laundry.  I never thought I would make my own all purpose cleaner, fabric softner, etc. but, alas, I do.  The impetus was from two issues that kept bugging me.  First, have you looked at the back of most of  your cleaning products?  There are some pretty scary chemicals in there.  It seems like everyday more and more research comes out revealing how these chemicals aren't as benign as we once thought.  They are getting into our water systems and our environment.  The same can be said for a lot of cosmetic products like lotion, face soap, make-up, and (gasp!) baby products!  So, I am going to focus on the baby products and what the research says about some of the common ingredients found in most baby care products.

So, let me start by saying that the scientist in me trusts that enough research has been on these different chemicals and additives to say that they are relatively safe.  I mean, when I was a baby, baby powder and lotion, baby bath products, wipes, and disposable diapers were used with no thought to whether they were "chlorine free", paraben free, SLS free...But are they as safe as we consumers assume?  Are these preservatives and additives, used as anti-microbials and to lengthen shelf life, actually not good for our babies and kids?

Here is what I found using a website that is an excellent database for scientific articles and research (pubmed). I have provided a link to it at the end of this posting in case you want to check out any research.

Phthalates are mainly used in plastics to increase flexibility and resilience. Parabens are chemicals used as preservatives in cosmetics and medicines. The first thing I noticed when I searched "phthalates and paraben exposure" was 11 articles.  I am sure if I would have been more specific I would have found a plethora of articles.  I decided to focus on 2 different review papers.  For the non-scientist folks, a review paper simply means the author (s) have compiled the latest and most comprehensive research/studies to write an overall assessment of the actual literature.  In other words...they didn't actually conduct any, some, or all of the studies.  Instead, they are providing a nice overview of the research findings. The first review is by Crinnon, 2010, titled "Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens".  The second review is by Witorsch and Thomas, 2010, titled "Personal care products and endocrine disruption: A critical review of the literature".

So here goes...

The review by Crinnon finds concludes that there is concern over the use of phthalates and parabens.  Here is a breakdown of his review:

18 billion pounds are produced every year and are found in detergent, shampoo (including BABY), cosmetics, lotion (including BABY), plastic bags, household furniture, food packaging, cleaning supplies, CHILDREN'S TOYS (the list goes on).

1) Animal studies
          -prenatal exposure to males results in testicular abnormalities
2) Human studies
          -in utero exposure has been found to increase mood disorders, inattention and aggression in males
           and females
          -exposure in young females linked to earlier onset of sexual development and breast development
          -exposure in young males linked to testicular dysfunction and formation, infertility
          -exposure in adults linked to obesity, asthma, allergies, breast cancer (controversial), tumors, etc.

They can be found in shampoos, commercial moisturizers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, topical/parenteral pharmaceuticals, spray tanning solution, makeup, and toothpaste. They are also used as food additives. (Wikipedia). Parabens mimic estrogen activity and can interfere with mitochondrial function.

1) Animal studies
          -weak estrogen activity
          -2 studies by Burdock Group Consultants found parabens to be absolutely non-toxic (more on this
2)Human studies
          - (possibly) linked to breast cancer in females
          -linked to infertility in males

Here is what Witorsch and Thomas say in their review:
"In conclusion, although select constituents exhibit interactions with the endocrine system in the laboratory, the evidence linking personal care products to endocrine disruptive effects in humans is for the most part lacking".

1) Animal studies
          -in utero exposure causes demasculinizing characteristics in male rats, similar to testicular dysgenesis
          syndrome in humans
          - however, this effect was not found in mice or primates
1) Animal studies
         -studies have not linked parabens and endocrine disruption
2) Human studies
         -studies have not linked parabens and endocrine disruption

So here are my thoughts:
The review by Crinnon lists research articles to back up his conclusions.  However, I did notice he published his review in the journal Alternative Medicine Review, whose main purpose is "for sharing information on the practical use of alternative and complementary therapies".  Therefore, I think his conclusions might be a bit biased.

The review by Witorsch and Thomas was very science based, and I didn't go into great detail of every finding because it was very lengthy.  What struck me about their review was that most of the studies in humans sang the same tune..."exposure to phthalates is within the regulatory amounts".  So it is not that we aren't actually getting exposed, but that our exposure falls within "safe limits".  Most of the animal and human studies concluded the same thing...yes, we are exposed to parabens and phthalates, but the amount needed to actually cause deleterious effects to humans is way higher than any amount we are actually exposed to.

Um, yeah, not so much.

Here is my main problem with Witorsch and Thomas' very exhaustive review of the scientific literature.  Saying something is "within safe exposure limits" or that we would have to consume astronomical amounts to see effects is misleading.  Phthalates and parabens are in EVERYTHING!  We are not talking about just baby shampoo, or medicine, or lotion.  It is everything plastic.  Look around your house right now...plastic, plastic, plastic.  Plus, I understand the argument that with shampoo, we aren't absorbing much because it gets washed off.  Um, ok, well how about the fact that all of those chemical are going down the drain, and into the water supply?  You know, dental fillings used to contain mercury.  I guess the idea was that it was "within the safe exposure limit" of mercury.  Now they are removing those fillings because, guess what, mercury in any amount is bad.

Also, if you do a wikipedia search, you find that the evidence that parabens are non-toxic comes from a consulting group.  I don't know anything about them, and I am sure they are great scientists.  But from what I gathered from their website, industries go to them and they "offer customized solutions for your FDA compliance needs"...just sounds iffy to me...However, they do mention that phthalates are being removed from products because of health concerns.

Now I don't want to come across high-handed here.  I am a practical gal.  I realize that we have regulatory agencies that test the effectiveness and safety of all things to ensure they are ok to use.  But there are also countless examples when we find out that these chemicals/products aren't actually good for us.

So I guess my question is...why use these products?  Why take the chance?  I would love to hear from some moms out there that disagree with me.  Maybe I am viewing this too singularly?

I would like to provide a link to a recent blog I was fortunate enough to come across.  Not only is this blog a great tool for homemade, eco-friendly, and frugal living, the author seems so warm and genuine (and pretty!). Here is her article on the very topic of what we put on our bodies and our babies.  The list of ingredients on Johnson's Baby lotion is eye-opening.

Well...what do you think?  Are we making too much of this?  Have they found these chemicals/ingredients to be safe?  Or are we sacrificing our health for the sake of a longer shelf life?

Works Cited:
PubMed  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/guide/

Crinnion WJ. Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens.Altern Med Rev. 2010 Sep;15(3):190-6. Review

Witorsch RJ, Thomas JA.Personal care products and endocrine disruption: A critical review of the literature. Crit Rev Toxicol. 2010 Nov;40 Suppl 3:1-30. Review.

Baby Yoga!

Friday, April 15, 2011 at Friday, April 15, 2011
It has been way too long since my last post.  Conner is now 26 months old, and we have recently added a new addition to our family, Violet, who is 3 months old.  Life is busy but oh so good!

I have practiced yoga for about 5 years now.  I am sure everyone knows the benefits, but for me it goes a bit deeper.  It is almost like my body needs it!  I am a much more balanced and centered wife, Mommy and person when I run and do yoga. 

When I was pregnant with Violet, I practiced prenatal yoga.  I can't say enough about the benefits...increased flexibility, relief from back pain and tightness in the shoulders, etc.  Anywho, after my daughter was born I got right back into it.  I happened to google "baby yoga" after seeing a news segment a while back about baby yoga.  I purchased "Itsy Bitsy Yoga: Poses to Help Your Baby Sleep Longer, Digest Better, and Grow Stronger" by Helen Garabedian.  I love, really love, this book.  It is so easy to read and the pictures are so easy to follow.  The poses are really common sense, and nothing that is at all challenging.  Mainly it uses a Hatha approach of stretching and increasing flexibility. 

So this got me thinking...many studies have shown the positive physical and cognitive effects of yoga for adults. Can baby yoga provide the same effects?

This is a direct quote from Itsy Bitsy Yoga:
              "...Itsy Bitsy Yoga can promote better sleep, improved digestion, ease gas pain and colic, stimulate 
               neuromuscular development, and boost the immune system".

Now my only real complaint about this book is the lack of scientific references for these claims.  So off I went in search of some.

Sadly, I really didn't find any scientific articles per se.  But then again, how would one measure this stuff?

What I did find were numerous articles from accredited yoga instructors.  Basically they all say the same thing.  Based on their own experience teaching and practicing baby yoga, it will improve respiration, digestion, circulation and increase immune function.  In addition, it promotes healthy brain development, motor coordination, and decreases anxiety and stress.  In other words, it relaxes the baby :)

I think the most important benefit of baby yoga is the bonding.  The baby gets so much attention from the parent. 

So, although there isn't much in the way of actual scientific research, I would say that it is not a far stretch to assume that the most of the claims made by baby yoga advocates are pretty true.  For adults, yoga most certainly improves flexibility, muscle and motor coordination, decreases anxiety and stress, and a whole host of other improvements.  So why not be as beneficial for babies/toddlers/kids?  I have practiced baby yoga with Violet for about 2 months now.  What I can say is how happy she is when we practice.  I spend about 10 minutes with her and at that moment nothing else exists.  I wouldn't trade these moments for anything.  I do think she benefits from the poses, stretching, etc.  Mainly, I think she benefits from the undivided attention I give her during this time.  I am not trying to multi-task, or check my e-mail, or make dinner.  I am bonding with my baby.  We are relaxing and cooing and it is the best feeling in the world!  Namaste :)

Oh-and I have every intention of purchasing the Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Toddlers and Preschoolers for Conner!

Is BPA really all that bad?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at Tuesday, March 30, 2010
In one of my previous posts, the Extreme Male Theory of Autism, I touched on the possible link between Autism and various chemicals, specifically BPA (bisphenol A). Now you can’t walk into a store and not see a TON of items listed as BPA-free, especially baby items. So this got me thinking, is BPA really all that bad? Or are we just making a huge deal out of a small amount of research that, when you get down to the nitty gritty, doesn’t really apply to human exposure to BPA. I found a great article from November 2009 posted in the National Research Center for Women & Families that summarizes a lot of scientific findings nicely.

So what is BPA? Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic compound used to make plastic items such as baby bottles, food storage containers, water bottles, and coats beverage/food containers. BPA is also a known endocrine disruptor (just means it can disrupt the body’s natural hormone functions). One problem with BPA is that more leeches out into our food/beverages as we heat the plastic. Consequently, babies and infants tend to be on of the highest exposure groups. But the skeptical scientist in me stops here and realizes that water, if you have too much, can be bad for you too. So are we causing unnecessary concern over small amounts of BPA? Well, not really.

There have been numerous scientific reports and I will break them down as succinctly as possible. Here are some listings of what BPA has been shown to affect in both animal and human studies:

BPA affects on fetuses/infants/kids:
- the prostate gland, brain, and behavior
- early puberty in girls, interferes with estrogen

BPA and women:
-linked to miscarriages
-insulin resistance (a risk factor for Type II diabetes)
-increased formation and growth of fat cells (which can lead to obesity)

BPA and men:
-(exposure to BPA via work conditions) greater erectile dysfunction, ejaculation and diminished sex drive

BPA and animal studies:
-in rats, a significant increase in precancerous lesions in the mammary glands and prostate
-early onset of puberty in rats receiving doses comparable to what humans would be exposed to
-hyperthyroidism in (especially female) cats (remember the cans are coated with BPA)
-in mice and rats there was an increase in hyperactivity and brain activity
-in nonhuman primates BPA was linked to cognitive issues that could possible contribute to deficits in
learning and memory

BPA in cell lines:
-cancer cells exposed to BPA showed a decreased response to chemotherapy

As a side note, BPA was approved by the FDA for use. However, as the article states,
“according to a publication of the American Chemical Society, the national professional association for chemists, 153 government-funded BPA experiments on lab animals and tissues found adverse effects while only 14 did not”.
This prompted more studies looking at BPA exposure and its effects on humans. A subsequent study (Lang et al., 2008), found that heart disease and diabetes were linked to higher levels of BPA in humans.

Canada, and most (if not all) of Europe has already banned BPA. In the U.S. it was recently announced that there will be increased funding to further study the effects of BPA. And as we can all attest to, BPA has already been removed from many, many products.

So I guess the moral of the story is this…BPA clearly has some pretty toxic effects. What is most alarming is that these deleterious effects occur in the range of our exposure. In our family, we buy as many BPA-free products as possible, as long as it is financially sound and reasonable.

What are your thoughts?

Article Cited and Referenced:
Diana Zuckerman, PhD, Paul Brown, BS, and Laura Walls, BA. Are Bisphenol A (BPA) Plastic Products Safe for Infants and Children? National Research Center for Women & Families, November 2009.

Lang I.A., Galloway T.S., Scarlett A. et al. (2008). Association of Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration With Medical Disorders and Laboratory Abnormalities in Adults. Journal of American Medical Association 300(11),1303-1310.

Hooray for Boobs Part 2

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 at Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Well we are back on the topic of boobs...well, more specifically, breastfeeding.  You may recall from a previous post, "Hooray for Boobs", I laid out some very important contributions breastfeeding has on IQ.  In addition, in "If You're a Picky Eater and Ya Know It, Clap Your Hands", I also talked about how genes play a role on the like or dislike of certain foods by kids. Well gosh darn, I came across an article (2007) that studied a mother's diet while breastfeeding and how it may contribute to the foods her kiddo is willing to try.  According to researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, eating certain foods while breastfeeding will likely result in your kid enjoying those same foods.  I think we all know that once a baby is moved onto solid foods, repeated exposure to foods will increase the chance that the baby will accept it, and we all know that greater consumption of fruits and vegetables packs many, many health benefits.  This current study assessed 45 infants (20 of whom were breastfed) who had only been exposed to cereal.  One group received green beans for 8 consecutive days while the other group received green beans and peaches on alternating days.  All infants were assessed on their acceptance of green beans and peaches before and after the study.  Results suggests that, unlike formula fed (which is not a knock against those who formula feed), babies accepted peaches more if their mothers ate peaches and breastfed.  This was not found with green beans.  And why you ask?  Good question!  The researchers found that breastfeeding mothers consumed green beans way less than peaches, and way less than the recommend amounts for green vegetables.  Therefore, the results indicate that if the mothers would have consumed more green beans and/or green vegetables, the breastfed infants would have also accepted green beans more readily.

I do have one issue with a finding in this study.  The lead scientist states "Babies are born with a dislike for bitter tastes"...apparently they need to read my blog!  Studies indicate that a babies like or dislike for bitter tastes is GENETIC!  If Mom and Dad both have the gene that encoded for bitter taste YO BABY NO LIKEY BROCCOLI.  ( Wow I am so dorky...you don't even want to know how long I laughed at that...again).  But if Mom and Dad or just Mom/Dad don't have the gene that encodes for the bitter taste, an infant will be more likely to accept green or bitter foods.  However, as I stated in the "Picky Eater" blog, environment does play a role too.  If you are picky because you THINK you don't like a certain food, or whoever prepared it for you didn't need to be in the kitchen, your kids can/will model your behavior.

Another interesting point of this study is that the researchers also found that the facial expressions made by babies did not always parallel with their acceptance of the food.  They concluded that infants have an innate mechanism for displaying facial expressions for certain foods, which many not indicate their actual like or dislike of the food.

So the take-home message is that boobs rock!  If you breastfeed, you have the ability to influence what foods your baby will like.  How cool is that?!  Therefore, breastfeeding mamas should make sure to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, not only for their babies benefit, but for themselves as well.


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