DDT Exposure in Womb Linked to Metabolic Syndrome in Children

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Photo: B W/tehlemmingrebel/Flickr

Maternal exposure to pesticide DDT in pregnancy can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome in children, particularly in girls, a new study says.

Metabolic syndrome is a term used to refer to a series of risk factors, including high glucose levels, increased blood pressure and fat accumulation around waist and high cholesterol that appear together and increase risk of diabetes, strokes or heart disease.

It was Paul Hermann Muller, a Swiss chemist who first identified the insecticidal qualities of DDT in 1939, a discovery that fetched him a Nobel Prize in 1984. Though DDT was first used to control mosquitoes and malaria, farmers later started spraying them on crops.  Use of the pesticide is banned in most of the countries, but it is still sprayed in some to combat malaria.

During the study, researchers fed pregnant mice DDT doses, similar to the exposure that occurs near malaria struck areas. “The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis, said in a news release.

Exposure to the pesticide in the mice’s wombs affected female pups, slowed their metabolism and decreased their tolerance to cold environment. These are certain common factors that increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, researchers said.  In male pups, the exposure to DDT was associated with slight increase in glucose levels.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.” ‘

The study has been reported in journal PLoS ONE. 

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