A recent study published in the journal Environmental Perspectives found that over half the women of childbearing age have higher levels of two out of three major pollutants: lead, mercury, and PCBs. Almost 23 percent of the women met or exceeded median levels of these three common toxins, known to potentially harm fetal and infant brain development. These toxins are particularly worrisome because they can be transferred to the baby from the mother.

The study used data from over 3,000 women from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an enormous compilation of data from people nationwide. The NHANES data are thought to be representative of the general U.S. population.

In the toxin study, researchers were able to identify risk factors for increased levels of lead, mercury, and PCBs. The biggest risk factor was age. Women aged 30–39 had 12 times greater risk, and women 40–49 had 30 times greater risk than those women aged 16–19. There are two explanations for the greatly increased levels in older women. One, these toxins accumulate over the years, and are stored in the body. Two, these women were born before most environmental laws were put into place.

Fish and alcohol consumption were also found to increase the risk of high blood levels of the three toxins. Women who had eaten fish more than once per week during the last 30 days had 4.5 times greater risk of exceeding median toxin levels of two or more pollutants. I have blogged about the need to be careful about which fish you eat, and how often.

Although the researchers state that there is no known reason for the link between alcohol intake and increased toxin blood levels, I believe that the higher risk with alcohol intake could be due to the increased burden on the liver from alcohol intake. An overburdened liver will not be able to properly remove toxins, so they can build up in the body. A risk factor for reduced toxin levels was breastfeeding. This is not a good thing, however, because it means the toxins are transferred to the baby.

What does this all mean? Well, we’re swimming in a toxic soup. Supporting the seven channels of elimination—colon, liver, kidneys, blood, lungs, skin, and lymphatic system—through proper diet, nutrition, supplementation, exercise, and stress reduction are key.