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Exposure to metals like nickel, arsenic, cobalt, and lead can disrupt a woman’s hormones during pregnancy, according to a Rutgers study.
The study appears in the journal Environment International.
Exposure to metals has been linked to problems during childbirth, such as premature delivery and low birth weight in babies and preeclampsia in women. However, little is known about how exposure to metals can lead to such problems.
This new research shows that some metals can disrupt the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating our body’s hormones. These disorders can contribute to the later health and disease risk of children.
“A delicate hormonal balance coordinates pregnancy from conception to delivery, and disruptions to that balance can negatively affect the mother and fetus,” said lead author Zorimar Rivera-Núnez, assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health.
The researchers analyzed blood and urine samples from 815 women who participated in the PROTECT (Exploring Contamination Threats) study in Puerto Rico.
Launched in 2010, PROTECT is an ongoing prospective birth cohort that studies environmental exposure of pregnant women and their children in the Northern Karst Zone, including urban and mountainous rural areas in Puerto Rico.
They found that metals can act as endocrine disruptors by altering prenatal hormone levels during pregnancy. This disorder can depend on when the mother was exposed during pregnancy.
Prenatal exposure to metals can have enormous consequences, including beyond health at birth. Changes in sex steroid hormones during pregnancy have been linked to insufficient fetal growth, leading to low birth weight. Birth size is strongly related to a child’s growth and risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity and breast cancer.
“Puerto Rico has one of the highest rates of superfund sites in the US with 18 active sites, which may contribute to higher exposure to toxic metals,” said Rivera-Núnez.
In pregnant women, metal exposure is higher in Puerto Rico than in the continental United States.
“This is important because women in Puerto Rico have significantly higher preterm birth rates overall compared to the US [nearly 12 percent] and other adverse birth outcomes. In addition, exposure to pollution is exacerbated by extreme weather events like hurricanes, droughts and floods, which can lead to increased exposure to Superfund sites, “she added.
According to the study’s authors, future research should examine how changes in markers of endocrine function affect childbirth and other health outcomes. Future studies should also address essential metals in relation to maternal and child health and metals as mixtures in relation to markers of endocrine function.
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Zorimar Rivera-Núñez et al., Association of Biomarkers for Exposure to Metals and Metalloids with Maternal Hormones in Pregnant Puerto Rican Women, Environment International (2020). DOI: 10.1016 / j.envint.2020.106310 Provided by Rutgers University
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