Microwave Popcorn May Interfere With Children's Vaccines

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A new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that compounds found in microwave popcorn bags, waterproof clothing, and nonstick cookware may prevent some vaccines from working properly.

The author of the study, Dr. Philippe Grandjean of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and his team took blood samples from 587 pregnant women between 1999 and 2001 and tested the samples for common perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). When the women’s offspring were 5-years-old, they repeated the process using blood samples from the children. The study showed that children who had higher concentrations of these compounds, called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), in their blood had lower immune responses to their diphtheria and tetanus vaccinations. A lower immune response can mean that a child is more vulnerable to catching the disease they were vaccinated against. The level of antibodies in several of the children showed that they were not protected from these diseases by age 7.

The study participants lived in the Faroe Islands, which is in the northern Atlantic Ocean between Scotland and Iceland. This location was chosen because of the population’s large amount of seafood consumption,  which is associated with increased exposure to PFCs. PFCs in this area are similar to those found in the United States, Grandjean said.

Grandjean said that most people have PFC’s in their systems, and that since they are slow to break down, they persist in the environment for years.

While the study is definitely groundbreaking, Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said it’s not an immediate health concern.

“These are illnesses that have been virtually eliminated from children,” in the United States, Schaffner said. However, Schaffner said investigations into the link between vaccines’ effectiveness and PFCs, along with other potential environmental hazards, should continue.

The study “emphasizes the importance of making sure that the world does not pollute the natural environment,” Schaffner said. “Clearly, greater efforts must be made to keep these perfluorinated compounds out of the environment,” he said.

While it’s not clear how PFC’s accumulate in the body’s system, Grandjean said, “It would be prudent to avoid microwave popcorn [and] treatment of furniture, carpets, shoes and clothing with stain repellants,” unless they are known not to contain PFCs.

For a list of ways to avoid PFC’s in the environment, click here

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