To protect the brains of the next generation, we must learn from our past errors. We originally believed that the placenta would keep out toxic chemicals and other hazards. Thus, in 1940, nobody believed that a mild maternal infection with German measles could be detrimental to the child she was carrying. But an epidemic of eye and brain damage among infants in Australia suggested that the micro-organism – at that time yet unknown – had penetrated the placenta and damaged the brain development in the child. The daring conclusion was met with skepticism and arrogance. It was not until the German measles epidemic in the US in 1968 that experts agreed that the newly discovered German measles virus could make its way from the mother’s circulation to the fetal brain. By that time, thousands of children had already suffered eye and brain damage that could have been prevented.
In parallel, a discovery was made in the 1960s that maternal alcoholism could cause brain damage in the offspring. Again, the findings were at first ignored or disbelieved. Decades later, we have realized that even occasional alcohol intake during pregnancy may be harmful to the fetal brain.
We now know that hundreds of industrial chemicals circulate in the fetal blood. These chemicals were absorbed by the mother from her diet, from drinking water, from exposures at work, and from consumer products. Yet, without her knowing, the chemicals pass the placenta.They also turned out to pass the blood-brain barrier, which envelopes the brain inside the skull, and thus invade the brain of her child.
Recent research has shown that exposure to neurotoxic chemicals during early development may cause insidious damage, like a lowering of IQ, attention and memory problems and other deficits that are not necessarily associated with a medical diagnosis. In 2006, we called the worldwide occurrence of chemical brain drain a silent pandemic.
As industrial chemicals are likely to pass both the placenta and the blood.brain barrier, chemical invasion is happening. Any continued reliance on optimistic assumptions that the fetus is protected in the womb, and the brain is protected inside the skull, is clearly naïve and wrong, and it endangers the brains of the next generation.