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    Fetal Heartbeat

    How foul air may affect fetal heart development

    Written on 2 April 2019

    Apart from ensuring healthy food choices, good prenatal care, and regular medicines, there are other factors also that affect the health of a developing fetus. One such environmental factor is exposure to microparticles in air pollution. According to a recent study, published in the journal Cardiovascular Toxicology, exposure to particulate matter in the air may damage the healthy development of the cardiovascular system of a fetus.

    Researchers have found that exposure to microscopic particulates in early pregnancy or in late pregnancy, significantly impacted the development of the fetal heart. This means that pregnant women, those undergoing fertility treatment, or of child-bearing age should avoid going out in high pollution areas and should also consider monitoring the quality of indoor air.

    Even a single incident of exposure likely to cause damage

    The growth and development of the fetus are affected by what the mother eats, drinks and even breathes. Therefore, when she inhales these nano-particulates in the air, it affects her circulatory system, constricting her blood vessels and restricting the blood flow to the uterus. This lack of blood flow leads to a lower supply of oxygen and nutrients to the child, hampering its growth. Further, restricted blood flow may also lead to other pregnancy complications like intrauterine growth restriction.

    For the purpose of the study, the researchers exposed a group of pregnant rats to nano aerosols of titanium dioxide a single time during all three trimesters and observed its effects. These effects were then compared with the development of milestones in pregnant rats exposed to highly filtered air.

    The study findings revealed that exposure to these particulates in early pregnancy significantly impacted the development of the main artery and the umbilical vein in the fetus. Further, exposure during the late third trimester affected the growth of the fetus, distressing fetal size. This happened because of decreased nutrients and vitamins reaching the uterus during the third trimester. The researchers also found that the restricted blood flow to the fetus during pregnancy continued to affect the child in adulthood.

    Non-pregnant animals also affected

    Exposure to these nano-particles of titanium oxide damaged the function of uterine arteries even in non-pregnant animals. While nanotechnology has led to major advances in the sciences, its impact on humans at different stages of development is yet unknown.

    It is estimated that by 2025, the annual global production of nanosized particles of titanium dioxide will reach 2.5 million metric tonnes. In addition to being found in the air, these nanoparticles are also used in personal and beauty care products like face powders and sunscreens.

    Though the impact of air pollution on the general health of the population is well-known, there is relatively little research on how it affects fetal development. More research is being undertaken in this regard, but it would take some time for scientists to understand the complete implications of air pollution on fetal growth and development.

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    Written by

    Shanaya_Verma

    Shanaya_Verma

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