Children at high risk of liver disease due to dangerous chemicals exposed before birth


Researchers at Mount Sinai in New York City and the University of Southern California found that many of the chemicals an expecting mother may regularly interact with will affect the child’s liver.

There is also growing research showing that many chemicals people around the world are often exposed to carry more danger than previously believed.

The ground-breaking research is the first to tie this kind of pre-birth exposure specifically to conditions like liver cancer and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in children.

“These findings can inform more efficient early life prevention and intervention strategies to address the current non-alcoholic fatty liver disease epidemic,” Dr Vishal Midya, first author of the study and researcher from Mount Sinai, said in a statement.

Researchers, who published their findings Wednesday in JAMA Network Open, gathered data from 1,108 mothers and their children from 2003 to 2010.

First, mothers had their blood or urine measured while they were pregnant in an effort to test their levels of 45 chemicals.

They were then followed up years later when the children were between the ages of six and 11. They had their blood levels measured for cytokeratin-18 and other enzymes that often correlate with liver disease.

After the follow-up, the researchers found clear correlations between many of the household chemicals and children with biomarkers that put them at risk of developing liver issues later in life.

These chemicals are described as “endocrine-disrupting” as they can interfere with the development of hormones in the body.

They have been tied to the formation of cancer and for causing other developmental issues in some children.

“We are all daily exposed to these chemicals through the food we eat, the water we drink and the use of consumer products. This is a serious public health problem,” Dr Damaskini Valvi, a senior author from Mount Sinai, said.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency warned about “forever chemicals”. Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) which can be all over the household – especially on non-stick surfaces – were discovered to be significantly more dangerous than previously believed.

Researchers warn that these chemicals are strongly tied to the development of multiple liver conditions later in life.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the most dangerous conditions that can strike the organ. It forms when a person has fat begins to build up within their liver to the point that it begins to hurt the organ’s ability to carry out its job.

“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 the liver disease,” Valvi added.

The researchers say it affects up to 10 per cent of children around the world, with those that are suffering from obesity the most at risk.

“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,” Dr Robert Wright, chair of environmental medicine at Mount Sinai, said.

Experts have long linked pre-birth exposure to harmful substances and pollutants to birth defects and other issues a child could face throughout their life.

Foetal alcohol syndrome is the most well-known, and there is a growing body of research showing that marijuana use during pregnancy can damage a foetus as well.

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