Dr. Jay Gordon‘s office in Santa Monica resembles many other pediatric practices with its pretty animal murals on the walls, wooden stoves, stacks of children’s books and a quiet waiting room. It’s what you would expect from one of the top pediatricians in the U.S. with clients such as Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen, Julia Roberts, Matthew McConaughey, Alicia Silverstone and Halle Berry. What you don’t expect is that your five-year-old son gets upset when it’s time to leave because he wants to hang out longer. Then he spends the entire car ride home talking about why he wants to eat his broccoli because Dr. Jay says so.
That’s what happens when I take my kids to see Dr. Jay. Why? It’s certainly not because of his celebrity clients, or because he’s an assistant professor of pediatrics at UCLA Medical School or a former senior fellow in pediatric nutrition at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Institute. My kids have no clue about all those things. The reason why is because the moment they’re greeted by their doctor, they can tell he’s genuinely interested in them. He gets a kick out of asking them questions, finds joy in their presence and makes them feel safe.
Dr. Jay recently released a wonderful and easy-to-understand book about how all the untested chemicals in our food, toys and clothes — including your kid’s pajamas! — affect a child’s growth and neurological development. Most importantly, he tells us about the easy choices we can make as parents to protect our kids. Did I flinch when he told me to throw out all the plastic toys in my house? Yes. But after the explained why, I actually did it. Enjoy!
Ulrica: Why did you want to write your book “Preventing Autism, What You Can Do to Protect Your Children Before And After Birth”?
Dr. Jay: Something had gone wrong in the past few decades. One in fifty children has autism and just this week the CDC announced that one out of every five school children has a diagnosable learning disability. I wrote this book because parents and parents-to-be need to know that there are 80,000 chemicals in food (pesticides), clothes (flame retardants) and toys (plasticizers) and other products which can adversely affect a baby’s normal growth and neurological development. And, more importantly, there are almost always easy alternatives to buying these products. The premise, and a far better title, is “We parents shouldn’t have to protect our children from their own pajamas!”
Ulrica: There’s a lot of talk about epigenetics right now. What is it and why should I care?
Dr. Jay: Epigenetics, very simply, is everything that’s not genetics! Our genes determine hair color and personality characteristics. Our genes are responsible for 50-70% of autism, ADHD and other neurological differences. The science of epigenetics — “on top of genes” — studies what changes gene expression or what causes certain genes to turn on or off. Chemicals and other environmental influences can change the way the brain, the thyroid gland and other important systems develop. Some of these epigenetics can even be passed from one generation to the next. The genes themselves may not have been changed, but the proteins they produce have been changed. Some environmental influences actually damage genes. The rise in autism, ADHD, learning disabilities and other neurological differences parallels the rise of the chemical age after World War II and the use of untested chemicals in manufacturing, our food supply, house cleaning products and our personal grooming products. So yes, you should care!
Ulrica: Your book is pretty scary at first glance.
Dr: Jay: Yes, it’s frightening to read that only 3,000 chemicals used in agriculture and manufacturing have been tested for safety and 80,000 have not. Many of these toxins are illegal in Europe but are still in common usage in children’s products in the U.S. Ten percent of your couch cushions can be toxic chemical flame retardants that are illegal in other countries.
Ulrica: So what’s really in my kid’s pajamas?
Dr. Jay: After decades of being made with poisonous chemicals, pajamas are now mostly made without flame retardant but are fabricated out of plastic fibers instead. An improvement, but still not what our kids deserve. But those flame retardants were not made illegal and are still used in changing table pads, car seats, nursing pillows, foam toys and children’s furniture.
Ulrica: So what steps can I take to protect my family? It feels a little overwhelming.
Dr. Jay: There are almost always easy alternatives to buying these products. Choose organic or natural cleaning products and personal grooming products. Get toys made out of wood. Be informed and ask questions when you buy products like car seats and children’s furniture.
Ulrica: Are you actually saying I should remove all plastic toys from my house?
Dr. Jay: Yes. We all own things made of plastic, but we adults don’t suck and chew on those things. Babies and children do. We don’t know how harmful all these plastics might be. Buy non-toxic, simple wooden toys whenever you can. Remember, most babies and toddlers are happy as can be with a wooden spoon and an empty box!
Ulrica: And what about pesticides in food. How important is it to make the commitment to eat organic?
Dr. Jay: The recent study from a major university saying that organic food has no proven nutritional value over conventional food was very correctly rejected by experts and parents alike. Experts know we’re not just interested in vitamin or mineral content and parents pretty easily realized that it makes more sense to feed kids food free of pesticides than food sprayed with pesticides. Certain fruits and vegetables contain fewer chemicals even when not labeled “organic” and some produce is known to be heavily sprayed and must only be purchased as “organic.” (Find the link to this list at the end of the article).
Ulrica: How do you eat and how did you raise your daughter?
Dr. Jay: I’ve been a vegetarian since my last year of medical school. In med school, I spent time in hospitals caring for people who had made nutritional choices which had caused very early heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and other “lifestyle” illnesses. My thought was, “What’s the opposite of what they did?” The farther away one gets from the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.), the healthier one gets. Feed children a plant-based diet for best health. Yes, that’s how I eat and that’s the way we raised our daughter.
Ulrica: I know you were also pretty adamant about not feeding your daughter sugar or candy. How did you managed that?
Dr. Jay: We did the best we could when it came to eating sugar like candy, cookies and ice cream. We were about 90% successful. Teach kids there’s “real sweet” like raspberries and apples and there’s “fake sweet” like fruit-flavored candy. Their palates are shaped early. It works!