Aug 31, 2012 by APRIL McCARTHY
Pregnant Women: Reducing Exposure To Household Items Leads To Healthier Babies
Pregnant women who are highly exposed to common environmental chemicals -- polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFCs) -- have babies that are smaller at birth and larger at 20 months of age, according to a study from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health indicating a trend towards obesity and other disorders.
PFCs are used in the production of fluoropolymers and are found widely in protective coatings of packaging products, clothes, furniture and non-stick cookware. They are persistent compounds found abundantly in the environment and human exposure is common. PFCs have been detected in human sera, breast milk and cord blood.
PFCs are associated with attention and behavior problems in children. Higher concentrations of PFCs are associated with increased odds of ADHD. Children with the highest exposure to PFCs are 60 percent more likely to have ADHD and take ADHD medication.
Previous research showed that the grease-repelling fluorotelomer chemicals used to treat some microwave popcorn bags can migrate into the popcorn oil. The fluorotelomers are known to break down to produce PFOA, a suspected carcinogen that is commonly found in the blood.
Drinking tap water contaminated with PFOA is a serious health risk. The highest measured levels of PFOA in human blood in the US, other than factory exposures, are in people who have consumed PFOA contaminated tap water in West Virginia and Ohio. These people had PFOA levels in their blood 100 times higher than the levels found in the water, and far higher than the average person in the US.
The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, included 447 British girls and their mothers in the United Kingdom participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a large-scale health research project that has provided a vast amount of genetic and environmental information since it began in the early 1990s.
The researchers found that even though girls with higher exposure were smaller than average (43rd percentile) at birth, they were heavier than average (58th percentile) by 20 months of age. The authors say this path may lead to obesity at older ages.
"Previous animal and human research suggests prenatal exposures to PFCs may have harmful effects on fetal and postnatal growth," says lead researcher Michele Marcus, MPH, PhD, a professor of epidemiology in Emory's Rollins School of Public Health and the assistant program director at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research.
"Our findings are consistent with these studies and emerging evidence that chemicals in our environment are contributing to obesity and diabetes and demonstrate that this trajectory is set very early in life for those exposed."
According to Marcus, a recent study in Denmark found that women exposed to PFCs in the womb were more likely to be overweight at age 20. And experimental studies with mice have shown that exposure in the womb led to higher levels of insulin and heavier body weight in adulthood.
Marcus and her colleagues focused on the three most studied PFCs: perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFS), perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS).
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a manmade chemical known for its heat resistance and water, grease and stain repelling properties. Manufacturers use PFOA to make fluoropolymers, used in thousands of products. It is turned into non-stick coatings for cookware, flame retardants in furnishings, stain protection treatments for carpets, wire coatings and waterproof clothing such as Gore-Tex.
The researchers measured maternal serum concentrations of PFOS, PFOA and PFHxS during pregnancy and obtained data on the weight and length of the girls at birth, 2, 9 and 20 months. They explored associations between prenatal PFC concentrations and weight at birth as well as changes in weight-for-age scores between birth and 20 months.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.