Science

Alarming study reveals how mothers pass cancer-causing 'forever chemicals' to newborns


Scientists have known that cancer-causing forever chemicals are transferred from mothers to newborns, but a new study has revealed how it occurs during pregnancy.

Researchers at Fudan University in China analyzed blood samples of 1,076 participants, finding 65 percent of contained Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The team found that forever chemicals in the bloodstream are making their way into the placenta, umbilical cord and breast milk to contaminate fetuses during and after pregnancy.  

PFAS, microscopic substances that take thousands of years to break down, attached themselves to proteins in the body that carried them from the mother’s bloodstream (serum), across the placenta and into the fetus’s bloodstream.

The researchers also noted that exposure to prenatal PFAS has been linked to a higher susceptibility to infectious diseases, autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. 

Researchers at Fudan University in China found that Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can be transferred to a baby through the placenta and breastfeeding

Researchers at Fudan University in China found that Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) can be transferred to a baby through the placenta and breastfeeding

PFAS are found in most foods, the air, water, soil and cleaning products, allowing them to pass through human skin and enter the bloodstream.

The new study found that the amount of chemicals infants are exposed to depends on the mother’s diet, body mass index (BMI), age when they delivered and their level of education.

During pregnancy, substances found in the mother’s bloodstream crosses the placenta – which provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus – to reach the bloodstream of the temporary organ that connects a mother’s uterus to the umbilical cord.

The placental structure acts as a barrier to negative substances like viruses and certain medications, but because PFAS are small molecules and have the ability to dissolve in fats, they can cross the placenta to reach the fetus.

These chemicals also tend to attach themselves to proteins like albumin which facilitates the transfer of forever chemicals from the mother to the baby.

The PFAS affinity to bind itself while transporting proteins ‘could play a crucial part’ in transferring to the fetus, the study said.

The team observed that some toxic chemicals moved more easily through the placenta compared to breastfeeding, but detected PFAS rates in 551 breast milk samples were above 50 percent.

Forever chemicals reside in body fat which can be released into breast milk, thus transferring to the newborn alongside healthy nutrients like vitamins, minerals and protein. 

However, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry reported that how the forever chemicals enter breast milk is still not fully understood.

Although the researchers did find dangerous forever chemicals in breast milk and the placenta, Linda Birnbaum, the former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, still advises that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of any potential PFAS exposure.

‘I’m always stressing to people ‘breast is best,’ even if there’s contamination,’ she told The Hill.

The team also reported that there was more than 50 percent of five kinds of PFAS in umbilical cord serum, which came from the placenta and the uterus’s bloodstream. 

Dubbed 'forever chemicals' because they can linger in the environment for hundreds of years, they have been linked to cancer of the liver, kidney, breast, prostate and ovaries. Researchers found the participants who consumed high animal and seafood-based diets had more PFAS in their system

Dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they can linger in the environment for hundreds of years, they have been linked to cancer of the liver, kidney, breast, prostate and ovaries. Researchers found the participants who consumed high animal and seafood-based diets had more PFAS in their system

PFAS were dubbed ‘forever chemicals’ because they can linger in the environment for hundreds of years, they have been linked to cancer of the liver, kidney, breast and ovaries.

The researchers identified that the primary cause of PFAS in adult participants was their diet, with animal and seafood-based foods having the highest levels of synthetic chemicals used to make stain and grease-resistant products.

Forever chemicals accumulate in the body in a short time span but can take anywhere from a few months to several decades before they’re eliminated or metabolized from the body.

‘Considering the accumulation and long half-life of PFAS, their levels in the third trimester of this study are higher than those in the second trimester, which mainly depends on the diet and consumption patterns of the study population during pregnancy,’ the study said.

Forever chemicals accumulate in the body and can take anywhere from a few months to several decades before they can be eliminated or metabolized from the body

Forever chemicals accumulate in the body and can take anywhere from a few months to several decades before they can be eliminated or metabolized from the body

PFAS are found in most foods, the air, water, soil and cleaning products, but the amount of chemicals infants are exposed to depends on the mother’s diet, body mass index (BMI), age when they delivered and their level of education

PFAS are found in most foods, the air, water, soil and cleaning products, but the amount of chemicals infants are exposed to depends on the mother’s diet, body mass index (BMI), age when they delivered and their level of education

Women with increased education levels were associated with higher PFAS, which the researchers said was likely because they could purchase goods that contained more dangerous chemicals like seafood.

PFAS are widespread and nearly all Americans have these forever chemicals in their blood, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are some ways to reduce your PFAS exposure such as using treated or bottle water for drinking and cooking, avoiding fast food, microwave popcorn and other takeout, and discontinuing use of products made with Teflon.

The researchers said they hope their findings will pave the way for companies to eliminate forever chemicals found in food sources. 

‘Our findings are crucial for developing strategies to protect infants from the potentially harmful effects of PFAS exposure,’ said the study’s lead author Yaqi Xu.

‘Understanding the pathways and risks associated with these chemicals can lead to better regulatory policies and protective measures for the most susceptible among us.’



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