Prenatal exposure to chemicals associated with childhood fatty liver disease

July 11, 2022
Prenatal exposure to chemicals associated with childhood fatty liver disease

Pregnant women exposed to chemicals leeched from common consumer products risk having children who may one day develop severe chronic liver disease and liver cancer. A research team from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (Mount Sinai) have discovered a growing incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children due to prenatal exposure to several endocrine (hormone)-disrupting chemicals such as those found in furniture, food packaging, and infant products.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are a wide class of environmental pollutants including several pesticides, plastics, flame retardants, and toxic metals – some examples are perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals,” and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

Several experimental studies have shown that exposures to these chemicals can lead to liver injury and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is increasingly diagnosed in childhood. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects some 6-10% of the general paediatric population and approximately 34% of children with obesity.

Mount Sinai researchers measured 45 chemicals in the blood or urine of over 1,100 pregnant women and found endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as PFAS, organochlorine and organophosphate pesticides, plasticisers (phenols, phthalates), PBDEs, and parabens. Later, at the ages of 6 to 11 years old, the children of these women were found to have elevated levels of cytokeratin-18 and other enzymes in their blood, indicating a risk for liver disease.

“These findings show that early life exposure to many endocrine-disrupting chemicals is a risk factor for paediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and draw attention for additional investigation needed to elucidate how environmental chemical exposures may interact with genetic and lifestyle factors in the pathogenesis of liver disease,” said Dr. Damaskini Valvi, Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Mount Sinai, and a member of the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research.

Robert Wright, Co-Director of the Mount Sinai Institute for Exposomic Research explained on “exposomics,” which seeks to understand how the environment is affecting human health.

“By understanding the environmental factors that accelerate fatty liver disease, we can reduce people’s risk by giving them actionable information to make informed choices that reduce the risk or impact of the disease,” Wright added.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is treated by addressing and managing its underlying causes, such as poor diet and obesity.

Category: Features, Health alert

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