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Environmental Toxins & Our Gut Health: How They’re Connected & What To Do About It

If you’ve heard about Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), you will know they can potentially be dangerous when used in your home. VOCs are present in many ways, ranging from building materials to burning fuel, such as gas. Now, let us introduce VOC's evil cousin, Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs). Although lesser-known, this subgroup should be taken of equal seriousness, as SOCs are currently threatening gut health in both children and adults. This article will provide a gut microbiome snapshot to understand the new household toxins and explain how to maintain a healthy gut community.

What is a Gut Microbiome: A Snapshot of the Community Living in Your Gut

The easiest way to understand the gut microbiome is to imagine a diverse community working in tandem to promote your health and well-being.1 That said, not every organism or bacteria floating around in your gut deserves to be a part of your intimate version of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

The good bacteria, microorganisms, fungi, protozoa, etc., help promote nutrient and mineral absorption, immune system function, metabolism operation, and neuroendocrine responses. The introduction of harmful compounds and chemicals can interfere with these natural and healthy processes. Elements that can hurt the community of the gut microbiome are SVOCs.

Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs)

Unlike Volatile Organic Compounds that dissipate over time, Semivolatile Organic Compounds remain present in homes even after the originating products are gone.2 SVOCs' density is significantly different from VOCs, meaning the compounds can interact and combine with other common household occurrences, like dust.

Unfortunately, little is known about the long-term effects of SVOC exposure because the primary concern with most research to date has been VOCs. However, researchers are finding some interesting findings within the microbiomes of developing children.

Are SVOCs Impacting My Child's Microbiomes?

The gut microbiome in children is a sensitive and evolving ecosystem; it is affected by the environment and interactions with elements therein. The development of a child's internal community begins at birth, with subtle and vital differences stemming from the specific delivery method.3 Microbiomes of newborns delivered by c-section, for instance, lack strains of gut bacteria found in children born vaginally.

Beyond the microbiome present at delivery, exposure to certain toxic halogenated compounds, such as bromine and chlorine, can alter the internal environment, making children’s guts more habitable for bacteria and compounds not typically found in the GI tract, like SVOCs.5 For example, in one study, researchers found a bacteria used to detoxify soil and remove chlorine.

While some digestive evolutions are necessary for sustained health, it is crucial to protect the gut microbiome in children, allowing their immune and biological systems to progress and strengthen naturally. When your kiddo is sick, you want them better. Fast. Often we resolve childhood illnesses with antibiotics. While antibiotics are excellent tools to combat infections, overuse can lead to gut health problems.5

The primary issue with antibiotics is they indiscriminately kill bacteria in your gut. There is no selective process with these medications; both good and bad bacteria get wiped out of the stomach. To restore the gut flora or bacteria, you can incorporate prebiotics and probiotics into your child's diet while they are on antibiotics. Good sources of prebiotics include:

  • Grains and legumes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fermented products (yogurt)

Fermented foods offer a good mix of prebiotics and probiotics. Some examples of fermented foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Sourdough bread

What are the Long-Term Effects of SVOCs?

While research is still in its infancy in terms of the long-term effects of SVOC exposure, there are similarities with VOCs.6 Some of the more persistent and prevalent risks associated with SVOCs include:

  • Endocrine disruption
  • Worsening allergy and asthma symptoms
  • Reduced fertility
  • Cancers
  • Cholesterol disorders
  • Obesity and weight issues

The gut microbiome is a sensitive and evolving community of bacteria and other substances. Toxins can interfere with gut health, and SVOCs contribute to changes in children's digestive systems. To counteract the effects of external toxins, maintain a healthy and balanced diet that includes prebiotics and probiotics.