(Natural News) Exposure to air pollution carries a significant risk to anyone who is affected by it. The same risk applies even to babies in the womb, according to researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. In their study, which was published in the journal Environment International, they found that prenatal exposure to air pollution — mainly due to coal burning — may lead to shorter telomere lengths for newborn babies. This may lead to an increased risk of chronic diseases later in life. The research team arrived at this conclusion by investigating the effects of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China before and after it was shut down.
Telomeres are specific segments of DNA that are used to enable chromosomes to be accurately copied during cell division. However, telomeres shrink after each round of cell division. This brings about a degradation of genomic stability. Diseases such as cancer and heart disease, cognitive decline, aging, and premature death have been linked to shortened telomere length.
Telomere length was studied using the umbilical cord blood samples of 255 newborns. As for the newborns, half of them were born before the plant closed down and the other half were conceived and born after. The babies were also evaluated to determine the link between telomere length and PAH-DNA adducts, a biomarker for exposure, as well as BDNF, which is a protein involved in neuronal growth. Upon reaching two years, they were observed using the development quotient scores from Gesell tests. This was done to ascertain whether there was a relationship between their telomere length and their current development as noted in the analyses.
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Researchers found out a greater level of PHA-DNA adducts in babies who were born before the plant was closed. The adducts indicated that the newborns were exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which is a toxic component of air pollution from factories. This was correlated to shorter telomeres for babies, as well as lower levels of BDNF. While telomere length was not directly linked to Gesell test scores, they believe that this may still indicate related neurodevelopmental problems later in life.
“An individual’s telomere length at birth is known to influence their risk for disease decades later during adulthood,” explained study co-author Deliang Tang of the Mailman School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences. “Further follow-up is needed to assess the role telomere length plays in health outcomes in the context of early life exposure to air pollution.”
Through the study, the researchers found a connection between elevated levels of air pollution and their long-term effects on prenatal development. Of the results, Frederica Perera of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health and the study’s co-author had this to say: “The new study adds to the evidence that closing this coal-burning power plant was beneficial to the health and future well-being of newborns there.” She continued by saying lowering exposure to air pollution in any area will be advantageous regarding the maintenance of the health of newborns who will be born in that area.
In May 2004, a local coal-burning power plant in Tongliang was closed down by the government amid reports of elevated levels of air pollution in the area, as well as a plan to improve community health. (Related: Air pollution now so bad that pregnant women are being told to move to the countryside to avoid increased risk of stillbirth.)
The effects of air pollution in our body are far-reaching and can even impact us later in life. Learn how to protect yourself from it by heading to Pollution.news today.