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Exposure to dangerous chemicals before birth increases risk of developing liver disease

Unborn children that are exposed to dangerous chemicals – many of which are frequent in day-to-day life – are at an increased risk of developing liver disease, a new study finds. 

Researchers from Mount Sinai, in New York City, and the University of Southern California found that many of the chemicals an expecting mother may regualrly interact with.

There is growing research showing that many chemicals people around the world are often exposed to carry more dangers 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.

Researchers gathered levels of 45 chemicals from expecting mothers to see how much they had been exposed to pollutants in day-to-day life

After following up with the monther's children years later, they found clear correlation between chemical exposure and risk of developing liver disease later in life

After following up with the monther’s children years later, they found clear correlation between chemical exposure and risk of developing liver disease later in life

‘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 with years later, where when the child was between the ages of six and 11 years old they had their blood levels measured for cytokeratin-18 and other enzymes that often correlate with liver diseases.

What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a family of conditions where fat gets stored in the liver, but not in a person that has excess alcohol consumption

People who are overweight or obese are at the highest risk of the condition. High fat and sugar diets can also put someone at risk. 

It can often lead to fatigue, pain in the area where the liver is, swelling, an enlarged spleen and other symptoms 

Untreated or improperly managed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can often lead to cirrhosis – scarring of the organ’s tissue

Scarred liver tissue is more vulnerable to developing cancer, liver failure or other issues related to the organ 

Source: The Mayo Clinic 

After follow up, researchers found a 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 – and 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 begin 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 pediatric 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,’ Valvi continued.

Researchers write that it effects up to 10 percent 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 lives.

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