“Killer couch chemicals” causes diabetes in mice offspring

November 11, 2020

Household chemicals or flame retardants called PBDEs, commonly added to furniture, upholstery, and electronics to prevent fires, causes diabetes in mice exposed to the chemical while in the womb or as breastfeeding babies. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), US, who carried out the study, say PBDEs are “impossible to completely avoid” and leach into water, soil, and air because their chemical bond to surfaces is weak – PBDEs continue to be found in varying amounts in human blood, fat, foetal tissues, as well as maternal breast milk in countries worldwide.

At the start of the sensitive experiment, UCR neuroscientist Dr. Margarita Curras-Collazo and team gave PBDEs to the mouse mothers at low levels comparable to average human environmental exposure both during pregnancy and lactation.

Later, all of the babies were noted to have developed glucose intolerance, high fasting glucose levels, insulin insensitivity, and low blood insulin levels, which are all hallmarks of diabetes; in addition, researchers also found the babies had high levels of endocannabinoids in the liver, which are molecules associated with appetite, metabolism, and obesity.

However, although the mothers developed some glucose intolerance, they weren’t as affected as their offspring.

In a healthy mammal, after a meal, the pancreas normally releases insulin to help cells utilise glucose from food; but this doesn’t work when cells are insulin-resistant, so glucose levels remain high in the blood even when no food has been eaten, causing diabetes – it can damage the eyes, kidneys, heart, and nerves and also lead to life-threatening conditions.

“Our findings indicate that chemicals like PBDEs can be transferred from mother to offspring, and exposure to them during the early developmental period is damaging to health,” Curras-Collazo said. She advises people to limit PBDE exposure by washing hands before eating, vacuuming frequently, and buying furniture and other household products that do not contain PBDEs.

She also hopes that expectant mothers are well informed about stealthy environmental chemicals that can affect their unborn and developing children, including through breast milk. “We believe the benefits babies get from mothers’ milk far outweigh the risks of passing on the PBDEs to children,” Curras-Collazo said. “We do not recommend curtailing breastfeeding, but advocate protecting breast milk and our bodies from killer couch chemicals.”

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