In utero PFAS exposure may be driving rising rates of liver disease in children, study finds

Harmful chemicals found in consumer and industrial products are contributing to rising rates of liver disease in children, a new study finds.

The study, conducted by Mount Sinai researchers and published Wednesday in Open JAMA Network, takes a first comprehensive look at prenatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and the recent increase in rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in children. She found that children heavily exposed to these chemicals during pregnancy had high levels of biomarkers indicating a risk of liver disease.

Endocrine disruptors are a type of environmental pollutant found in kitchen utensils, food packaging, furniture, baby products, pesticides, and others that interfere with the endocrine system, which produces and releases hormones. They include the group of chemicals known as PFAS, also known as “forever chemicals” due to the length of their stay in the environment.

According research published in Pediatrics in 2020. The American Liver Foundation currently estimates that 10% of all American children have NAFLD, and 38% of American children are obese.

“Children, who will have the longest course of the disease, are at particular risk of complications and poor prognosis, including the need for liver transplantation in adulthood,” the foundation noted. A press release about the study also pointed out that NAFLD in children can lead to chronic liver disease and liver cancer in adulthood.

Mount Sinai researchers conducted the study by first measuring the levels of 45 endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including PFAS, in the blood or urine of 1,108 pregnant women between 2003 and 2010. When the children had between the ages of 6 and 11, the researchers measured the levels of biomarkers in their blood indicating a risk of liver disease. Higher levels of chemical exposure in utero were associated with elevated biomarkers. The study also found that transmission of these chemicals occurred between mother and baby through the placenta before birth and through breast milk after birth.

“We are all exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis through the food we eat, the water we drink and the use of consumer products,” Dr. Damaskini Valvi, an assistant professor at the medical school, said today. Icahn of Mount Sinai. “This is a serious public health concern.”

“These results show that prenatal exposure to endocrine disruptors is a risk factor for pediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” she added.

While virtually everyone is exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals at some point in their lives, early exposure — including in the womb — increases a child’s risk of NAFLD, according to Valvi.

Obesity and genetics also contribute to the risk of developing NAFLD in children, but these factors do not explain how quickly rates of the disease have increased, said co-author Dr Robert Wright. study and co-director of the Exposomic Research Institute at Icahn. Mount Sinai, says TODAY.

“Genetics cannot explain the epidemic increase of the disease in just 20 to 30 years. It takes generations for genes to change the rate of a disease, and only something in the environment can explain changes happening so quickly. … Never before have we seen so much liver disease in children,” he said, noting that the chemicals we eat or absorb “play a big role in what happens.”

What Parents Can Do About Prenatal Chemical Exposure

One of the ways expectant parents can reduce their developing fetus’ exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is to avoid the use of products that contain them, such as plastic containers, bottles, foods, and canned beverages and processed foods, Valvi said. “Eat fresh, organic foods whenever possible,” she advised.

Valvi didn’t provide specific brands of products to avoid, but the American Academy of Pediatrics has advice on reduce exposure to PFAS. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resources on SPFA and PBDEsanother group of chemicals examined by the study.

Wright also suggested that young children, in particular, consume little sugar and exercise regularly to combat obesity. “When I was a resident in the 90s, obesity was rare in children,” he said. “(It) now affects one in five children and teens in the U.S. Even though research highlights how chemicals can increase the risk of liver disease in children, “the biggest contributor to pediatric liver disease remains the epidemic of childhood obesity,” he said. said.

Valvi and Wright hope their study will help policymakers recognize the importance of banning endocrine-disrupting chemicals from consumer products and requiring companies to disclose exactly what chemicals are used in products and packaging. so consumers can make informed decisions about their health. “By understanding the environmental factors that accelerate fatty liver disease, we can reduce people’s risk by giving them actionable insights,” Wright said.

In the meantime, Valvi stressed that more studies like theirs are needed “to understand how environmental chemical exposures may interact with our genes, nutritional and social factors in the development of pediatric liver disease.”

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