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Exposure to metals during pregnancy can disrupt hormones: Study

Published on:22 December 2020, 16:31pm IST
According to this American study, exposure to metals like lead and arsenic during pregnancy can disrupt the functioning of the endocrine system.
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Not just problems at birth, exposure to metals during pregnancy can also impact the expecting woman’s endocrine system. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Not only is pregnancy one of the most important phases of a woman’s life, it also happens to be the most sensitive. From dietary habits to her stress levels—everything has an impact on her health and the health of her baby.

According to a study from Rutgers University, exposure to certain metals like nickel, arsenic, cobalt, and lead can also impact pregnancy by disrupting the woman’s hormones.

Exposure to certain metals have long been associated with problems at birth such as preterm birth and low birth weight in babies, and preeclampsia in women. However, little is known about how metals exposure can lead to such problems.

This new research, published in the journal Environment International, shows that some metals may disrupt the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating our body’s hormones. These disruptions may contribute to children’s later health and disease risk.

The link between pregnancy hormones and exposure to metals

“A delicate hormonal balance orchestrates pregnancy from conception to delivery and perturbations of this balance may negatively impact both mother and foetus,” said lead author Zorimar Rivera-Nunez, an assistant professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the Rutgers School of Public Health.

exposure to metals
Exposure to metal isn’t good for your baby. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

The researchers analysed blood and urine samples from 815 women enrolled in the Puerto Rico Test site for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) study.

Initiated in 2010, PROTECT is an ongoing prospective birth cohort studying environmental exposures in pregnant women and their children around the northern karst zone, which include urban and mountainous rural areas of Puerto Rico.

They found that metals can act as endocrine disruptors by altering prenatal hormone concentrations during pregnancy. This disruption may depend on when in the pregnancy the mother was exposed.

The side effects of exposure to these metals continues long after birth

Prenatal exposure to metals can have enormous consequences even beyond health at birth. Alterations in sex-steroid hormones during pregnancy have been associated with inadequate foetal growth, which leads to low birth weight. Birth size is strongly associated with a child’s growth and risk of chronic diseases, including obesity and breast cancer.

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According to the study authors, future research should investigate how changes in markers of an endocrine function affect birth and other health outcomes. Future studies also should look at essential metals in relation to maternal and foetal health, and metals as mixtures in relation to markers of endocrine function.

(With inputs from ANI)

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