When mothers inhale particulate matter during pregnancy, it can enter the bloodstream and possibly the fetus via the lungs. Researchers at the Hasselt University in Belgium have detected carbon particles on the side facing the mother cake.
The scientists studied post-delivery placental tissue from ten mothers living in a high-pollution location and compared it to 10 placental samples from mothers living in a lower-pollution area. Their results are now published in the journal "Nature Communications".
The placenta is the tissue in the uterus that provides the unborn child with vital nutrients and oxygen as it grows in the womb. It consists of embryonic and maternal tissue. The placenta also serves to separate maternal and childish blood. As a tissue filter , the so-called placental barrier allows or prevents various substances dissolved in the blood from reaching the fetus.
The amount of carbon particles in the placentas was thus measurably related to the level of air pollution to which the mother was exposed during pregnancy. In addition, the scientists were able to prove that the carbon particles are already in the twelfth week of pregnancy in the cakes. For this they examined the tissue of five placentas after miscarriages.
"This is the most vulnerable phase of life," quotes the British "Guardian" study director Tim Nawrot. "All organ systems are under development." To protect future generations, governments need to reduce air pollution. People should also avoid being near busy roads.
Air pollution can affect fetuses negatively
"We've known for a long time that environmental factors such as air pollution or of course cigarette smoke have an impact on the growth of the fetus," says biologist Torsten Plösch from the University Women's Hospital in Groningen, which is not involved in the investigation. The Belgian colleagues' study shows for the first time that carbon particles from the environment can penetrate into the fetal side of the placenta. "This extends the list of pollutants that can potentially harm the fetus," says Plösch.
Various studies have suggested that air pollution influences the development of babies during pregnancy. Heavy exposure to particles such as carbon produced by combustion is thus associated with lower fetal growth, lower birth weight, and a higher risk of miscarriage. The particulate matter pollution also affects the lung development and function of newborns, as scientists from the Inselspital in Bern reported in 2013.
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However, the findings of the Belgian researchers say nothing about the harmful effects of the particles on the development of the unborn child. It can only be deduced that the particulate matter could interfere with the function of the placenta and thus indirectly the growth of the fetus or that they could enter the fetus via the placenta.
Because the scientists did not search for umbilical cord blood - which originates from the child - for fine dust particles. Nor do the results provide any indication as to whether the particles interact with cells of the placenta. Thus, the study could not provide any direct evidence, said Plösch, that the carbon particles are the cause of negative long-term effects: "But at least it can be assumed that it is another factor in the long range of pollutants that we should avoid during pregnancy. "
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Fine dust has been proven to damage the body
Across Europe, a limit of 25 micrograms per cubic meter of air per annum applies to particulates less than 2.5 microns in size (PM 2.5). It is much lower in the US, where only 10 micrograms are allowed, which is the WHO recommendation.
The problem with particulate matter: the smaller the particles, the more they penetrate the body when inhaled. The ultrafine particles can pass into the bloodstream and thus in principle reach all body regions and cause damage there.
Particulate matter irritates the respiratory tract and mucous membranes, causing respiratory problems such as coughing, dyspnoea, and asthma. The particles can also be involved in the development of lung cancer. If they get into the blood, they also cause damage there, the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as arrhythmia, arteriosclerosis and infarcts increases.