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Mother and child vulnerable to exposure to endocrine disruptors

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A Canadian research team highlights placental sensitivity to these environmental contaminants during pregnancy.

LAVAL, QC, April 28, 2022 /CNW Telbec/ – They are found in cosmetics, plastic containers, furniture, toys and baby bottles. Endocrine disruptors, molecules that disrupt our hormones, are everywhere in our daily lives. However, their alarming effects on human health are little known to the public. A growing number of studies have shown that exposure to these environmental contaminants during pregnancy can lead to medium and long-term health problems for both mother and fetus.

This is what a group of researchers from the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS), TELUQ University and Queen’s University have demonstrated by carrying out an exhaustive review of the literature on more than a dozen of the most common endocrine disruptors (EDs), as well as several whose effects are less well known. They focused on substances that have been shown to affect the reproductive system, metabolism and mammary gland development during pregnancy. Their work is reported in an article published in April in the special issue of the journal Environmental research.

“The idea was to show that during pregnancy, not just one person is affected by endocrine disruptors, but two! We wanted to highlight the co-sensitivity of the mother and her child to these environmental contaminants which are everywhere. “, explains the professor Isabelle Plante, lead author of the study and researcher in environmental toxicology at INRS. She is also co-director of the Intersectoral Center for the Analysis of Endocrine Disruptors (ICEDA).

Overcome the defensive barriers of the placenta

Pregnancy is a complex process that involves major physiological changes for both mother and child. This period of life is regulated by various hormones and signaling pathways. It is therefore a window of opportunity that is particularly sensitive to disturbances by external contaminants.

By compiling existing studies, the researchers highlighted the role of the placenta and its vulnerability to endocrine disruptors. The placenta is the regulator of maternal physiology and fetal development during pregnancy. It produces the hormones necessary for pregnancy. Any alteration in its functioning affects the health of the mother and her child in the short, medium and even long term. A defective placenta can lead to health complications later in life, such as diabetes, obesity, or other chronic diseases.

“The perinatal life, including pregnancy, is an important period of development because it is at this time that useful mechanisms are put in place throughout the life of the child and even of the mother. Thus, the Alteration of the placenta by TCAs can have invisible effects that will only be observed later in life”, explains Professor INRS Catherine Vaillancourt, co-author of the article, specialized in the implication of environmental factors on the endocrinology of the human placenta. She is also a member of the scientific committee of ICEDA and director of RISUQ.

Researchers have also found that early maternal exposure to certain endocrine disruptors can affect mammary gland development in unborn babies. This can make them more likely to develop breast cancer as adults. This is the case of bisphenol A (BPA), present in certain food-grade plastics, and diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic estrogen widely used in women for the treatment of menopause or to avoid the risk of complications from the pregnancy.

Exposure to endocrine disruptors may also be linked to the risk of developing prostate cancer.

A lack of awareness

“Many women believe they know about endocrine disruptors and their health effects, but few make lifestyle changes,” says Plante. “For example, some stop wearing makeup during pregnancy, but continue to dye their hair or use lotions and creams on their bodies.”

Nearly thousands of molecules are suspected of interfering with hormone receptors or hormone production, but there are certainly hundreds of thousands more. The researchers therefore targeted known molecules and other lesser known ones, such as those present in the liquids that come out of fracking water during oil exploration.

“The message that we want to convey, as scientists, is that pregnant women or women who want to have children are particularly vulnerable to endocrine disruptors. They must be made aware of the effects that these contaminants can have, not only on their health, but also on that of their future child,” concludes Professor Plante.

About the study

The article “Killing two birds with one stone: pregnancy is a sensitive window for endocrine effects on the mother and fetus” by Isabelle Plante, Louise M. Winn, Cathy Vaillancourt Petya Grigorovaand Lise Parent was published in the journal Environmental research on April 1, 2022 (DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.112435).

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SOURCE National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS)

For further information: Julie Robert, INRS Communications and Public Affairs Department, 514 971-4747, [email protected]