Study proves prenatal exposure to chemicals can cause liver disease in children

Researchers at Mount Sinai University have found a link between prenatal exposure to various endocrine disruptors and the increasing prevalence of potentially cancerous liver disease in young people.

This is the first comprehensive investigation into the link between prenatal exposure to certain chemicals and chemical combinations and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The new marker for the disease in children was cytokeratin-18, the researchers said.

The findings, which were published in JAMA Network Open in July, underscored the importance of understanding prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals as a risk factor for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a problem that is rapidly becoming more prevalent in children. and can lead to serious chronic liver disease and liver cancer in adults.

Chemical exposure during pregnancy

(Photo: Jason Sung/Unsplash)

According to Vishal Midya, Ph.D., the study’s first author and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

He is also a member of the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research.

Researchers are all affected by these chemicals on a daily basis through the food we eat, the water we drink and the use of consumer products, continued Damaskini Valvi, MD, Ph.D., MPH, lead author, assistant professor of environmental medicine and public health, and a representative of the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research at Icahn Mount Sinai, in accordance with ScienceDaily.

These results pointed to the need for further research to clarify how environmental chemical exposures may interact with genetic and lifestyle factors in the pathogenesis of liver disease and demonstrate that early exposure to many endocrine disrupting chemicals is a risk factor for pediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. sickness.

One of the most common liver conditions worldwide, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is increasingly recognized in children, where it affects 6% to 10% of all pediatric patients and approximately 34% of children obese.

A broad category of environmental contaminants known as “endocrine disrupting substances” includes many pesticides, plastics, flame retardants and hazardous metals.

Examples include polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are used as flame retardants in furniture and baby items, and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), commonly known as “eternal chemicals”, which are used in nonstick cookware. and food packaging.

Chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system affect a person’s hormonal and metabolic systems.

The possible consequences of combined prenatal exposures to these chemicals have not yet been studied in humans, despite the fact that several experimental studies have demonstrated that exposures to these chemicals can cause liver damage and non-fatty liver disease. alcoholic.

In this survey, 45 substances were found in the blood or urine of 1,108 pregnant women between 2003 and 2010.

Endocrine disruptors such as PFAS, organochlorines, organophosphate insecticides, plasticizers, PBDEs and parabens were among the compounds used.

Read also : Non-invasive treatment proven effective for rats with liver cancer

Find ways to limit exposure

The study provided an example of the well-known fact that critical developmental windows in the womb, childhood and adolescence confer particular vulnerability to environmental exposures, according to Dr. Aparna Bole, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change.

She made this statement to IPU.

For example, Midya advised pregnant women to find steps to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals, such as avoiding nonstick cookware, plastic food wrappers, fireproof furniture, canned goods, pesticides and some cosmetics.

Bole advised them to stay away from contaminated water which may contain lead and other contaminants.

According to experts, endocrine disrupting substances affect people’s hormonal and metabolic systems.

The potential consequences of prenatal “mixed exposures” to these chemicals have not yet been studied in humans, despite previous research showing that exposure to these chemicals can cause liver damage and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. .

In this survey, scientists assessed 45 chemicals in the blood or urine of 1,108 pregnant women between 2003 and 2010, including endocrine disrupting substances including PFAS, organochlorines, organophosphate insecticides, plasticizers (phenols and phthalates), PBDEs and parabens.

Although the 45 chemicals can be broken down into particular products, Midya said the phrase “mixture exposures” simply implies that investigators looked at all 45 chemicals at once.

The scientists assessed the levels of enzymes and cytokeratin-18 that signal breast cancer risk in the children of the women who participated between the ages of 6 and 11.

He said that because most chemicals are slow poisons, it takes a very long time to assess their possible health impacts.

Because HELIX is already a long-term project, you can observe what is developing little by little before your eyes.

Because a liver biopsy – the gold standard for establishing a causal association with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – was not possible, the researchers noted that the study had limitations.

Given the age of the young people, this is due to the dangerousness and ethical constraints.

There will be more investigation.

According to Midya, researchers are looking to collect information on postpartum mothers and children over a longer period of time to look for a buildup of chemicals in the body.

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