A study has shown that toddlers who had prenatal exposure to air pollutants had higher risks of developmental damage.
Published in JAMA Psychiatry, research has found that children whose mothers were exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) found in car exhausts, cigarettes smoke and powerplant emissions had significantly less brain white matter than those who did not.
White matter is critical for transmitting messages in the brain. Less white matter would cause slower cognitive processing with symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity, said the study.
For the study, the researchers had previously recruited 655 pregnant mothers living in New York City who carried around with them a device that measured PAH levels. Years later, researchers then selected 40 of their now-8-year-old children; 20 of which had PAH readings below the median and the other 20 with higher PAH readings.
"The effects were extraordinarily powerful,” said Dr. Bradley Peterson, director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and lead author of the study.
“The more prenatal exposure to PAH, the bigger the white matter problems the kids had. And the bigger the white matter problems, the more severe symptoms of ADHD, aggression and slow processing they had on cognitive tasks,” said Dr. Peterson.
Dr. Patterson advises expectant mothers to minimize their exposure to the harmful PAHs. They should avoid secondhand smoke, inhaling smoke from vehicle exhausts and spend as much time as possible in parks to take in fresh air. “Even if you can reduce your exposure from moderately high to moderate levels, it’s going to have a beneficial effect on the developing fetus,” he said.
Sources: March 25, 2015. "How Air Pollution Affects Babies in the Womb". time.com March 25, 2015. "Air pollution takes a double toll on babies' brains". latimes.com March 25, 2015. "Prenatal exposure to common air pollution linked to cognitive, behavioral impairment". sciencedaily.com