Dr Jeanette Stingone on Lasting Cardiovascular Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution

Researchers have known for years: what happens to mom in pregnancy affects the baby. That holds true with prenatal exposure to air pollution, which has lingering cardiovascular effects, such as birth defects and a higher risk of obesity, explained Jeanette Stingone, PhD, of Mount Sinai Health System.

What is the impact of prenatal exposure to air pollution and how do the effects linger into adulthood?
So this is a new area of research, and it's really interesting, the idea that we know that what happens to mom during pregnancy is important for the child. We know that from literature on smoking and nutrition, now we're seeing relationships between what mom is breathing during pregnancy and outcomes in the children at birth, later in childhood, and even into adulthood.

So there's a couple of different hypotheses, and a couple of different mechanisms. The first is that there have been studies to show that air pollution in utero is associated with actual birth defects—structural changes in the heart. We've gotten really good at surgically treating those birth defects, and now those children are growing up, and we're seeing that they're more vulnerable to health outcomes in adulthood. The second is that air pollution in utero has been associated with childhood obesity. So the idea that it's affecting how your metabolism works, and therefore, later on, we know that overweight children are more likely to be overweight adults, and so that attributes risk in terms of cardiovascular health.

And finally there is some animal literature, and early human studies, to look at prenatal and early life exposure and direct measures of cardiovascular function. Those are really early on, and a lot of it is animal research, but again it is suggests that what happens to mom during pregnancy is really important for health throughout the life course.
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