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Babies are exposed to disease-triggering chemicals even before they’re born

Chemicals have been detected in bottled water, perfume, toys, vinyl flooring and shampoo.

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Babies are being exposed to liver disease-triggering chemicals - before they are even born, according to new research.

Group of babies sitting on floor
The molecules harm babies' health by influencing hormonal shifts during pregnancy. (Altrendo Images/Shutterstock)

The toxic particles - found in plastic food containers, toiletries, toys and other consumer and industrial products - are fuelling rising cases in children.

The first author Dr. Vishal Midya, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said: "These findings can inform more efficient early-life prevention and intervention strategies to address the current non-alcoholic fatty liver disease epidemic."

Liver disease incidences have soared in the last four decades, currently affecting a quarter of the global population.

NAFLD is the ​​most common form in children. It may trigger cirrhosis or liver cancer later in life. Some patients require a transplant.

Senior author Dr. Damaskini Valvi, from the same lab, said: "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. These findings show that early life exposure to many endocrine-disrupting chemicals is a risk factor for pediatric non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

children, people, infancy and age concept - beautiful happy baby over green lights background
Babies are exposed to numerous toxic chemicals before they are even born. (Ground Picture/Shutterstock)

"They 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."

Newborns with higher levels of the chemicals in their system were more prone. The molecules harm health by influencing hormonal shifts during pregnancy.

The additives are used during manufacturing or to extend shelf life. They have been detected in bottled water, perfume, toys, vinyl flooring and shampoo.

The findings in JAMA Network Open are based on blood and urine samples. The US team used a biomarker called cytokeratin-18 that is linked to the disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the most common liver diseases worldwide and is increasingly diagnosed in childhood.

It affects up to one in ten youngsters - rising to a third of those with obesity. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are a wide class of environmental pollutants that include several pesticides, plastics, flame retardants and toxic metals.

Examples include PFAS (perfluoroalkyl substances) - also known as "forever chemicals." They are used in nonstick cookware and food packaging.

Others are PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) used as flame retardants in furniture and infant products.

Experimental studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals can lead to liver injury and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

But the potential effects of prenatal exposures had not been studied in humans - until now.

The team measured 45 chemicals in the blood or urine of 1,108 pregnant women from 2003 to 2010. Participants were from across Europe.

The chemicals included PFAS, organochlorine and organophosphate pesticides, plasticizers such as phenols and phthalates, PBDEs and parabens.

When the children reached the ages of six to eleven, the researchers measured the levels of enzymes and cytokeratin-18.

They found elevated levels in children who had been more highly exposed to environmental chemicals during pregnancy.

Prof Robert Wright, co-director of the Institute for Exposomic Research at Icahn, said: "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.

"Exposomics is the wave of the future because once you've sequenced the human genome, which has been done, there isn’t much more you can do in genomics alone.

"The missing piece of the puzzle for us to understand different diseases is to measure their environmental causes, and exposomics is a way to accelerate our knowledge of how the environment is affecting our health."

The volunteers were from the Human Early-Life Exposome project, a network of studies in France, Greece, Lithuania, Norway, Spain and Britain.

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