RIVERSIDE – Pregnant Latino women tend to eat foods that increase the risk of exposing their unborn children to toxins linked to behavioral disorders and other defects, according to authors of a UC Riverside study.
Researchers from UCR and UC San Diego conducted a joint analysis of the typical diets of Latino women in all stages of pregnancy and uncovered some alarming facts, they said.
The study, which appears in the most recent issue of Nutrition Journal, surveyed around 200 women from the Downey area who had given birth to children between 2001 and 2011 or were expectant mothers in 2012.
According to the findings, many respondents had a predilection for tuna, salmon, canned foods, tap water, caffeine and over-the-counter medications, all of which were cause for concern, said study author Sarah Santiago.
”Unlike alcohol and nicotine, which carry a certain stigma along with surgeon general warnings on the packaging, tuna, canned foods, caffeine, and a handful of other foods and beverages with associated developmental effects are not typically thought of as unsafe,” Santiago said.
”Hopefully, this study will encourage health care providers to keep pregnant women well informed as to the possible dangers of unhealthy consumption habits.”
The research team learned that most of the women, based on their answers to questionnaires, did not know certain varieties of tuna, tilapia and salmon contain high concentrations of methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
The toxins have been associated with lower birth weights, mental impairment and abnormal reflex abilities in newborns, according to the researchers.
Farm-raised salmon is the most concentrated.
The researchers noted that a heavy consumption of canned food raises the risk of ingesting bisphenol A, or BPA, which emanates from the plastic lining within the cans. According to the study, BPA has been tied to hyperactivity disorder, aggression issues and damage to reproductive health.
The study warned against long-term consumption of tap water because of exposure to prenatal toxins.
According to the research, eight pollutants that exceed the recommended levels spelled out in state and federal regulations were identified in Downey water. The contaminants could be the source of central nervous system disorders, oral cleft defects and neural tube deficiencies, researchers aid.
The study found 6 percent of respondents acknowledged drinking alcoholic beverages during their pregnancies.
”We do not know whether this is something unique to Hispanic women, or ubiquitous among women of multiple ethnicities,” Santiago said.
”The implications of this research are twofold: Women of childbearing age hoping to conceive should be advised to eliminate all alcohol consumption, as effects of maternal drinking have dire consequences in the first trimester when the mother may not know she is pregnant.
”It is also clear that prenatal medical professionals should discourage the consumption of dangerous foods, beverages and medications that women commonly report consuming during pregnancy.”
The study authors stressed the importance of pregnant women drinking bottled water, balancing diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, minimizing the use of OTC and prescription drugs, which have ”teratogenic substances,” and eating ”wild” instead of farm-raised fish.