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Parents’ preconception environmental stressors up the risk of diseases and disorders for the infant

Posted:  Monday, August 10, 2015

Apparently there is more to preconception care than just following a balanced, healthy diet! Emerging research has spotted that parents’ exposure to environmental stressors before conceiving an offspring can affect the health of the offspring through the genes passed on.

An article published in the journal Endocrinology captured key insights from the 4th Conference on Prenatal Programming and Toxicity held in 2014. More than 60 oral and 130 poster presentations highlighting the effect of chemical, physical and biological environmental stressors on the interconnected relationships of endocrine, immune and nervous systems were featured at the conference. Environmental stressors include endocrine-disrupting chemicals, psychological stress and malnutrition.

Previous research had established the impact of exposure to environmental stressors during pregnancy and early childhood on the lifelong health of offspring. This conference highlighted that the preconception period is a sensitive developmental window in both parents.

The presentations revealed that environmental stressors reprogram genes in terms of gene expression, which are then passed on to future generations. The altered genes may change cellular gene expression, cell numbers or locations of cells. This disruption in early developmental processes elevates the risk of cognitive disorders, obesity, diabetes and metabolic diseases in the offspring in the long run.

Philippe Grandjean, one of the authors of the article, stated that "In regard to environmental stressors, a good start lasts a lifetime. Unfortunately, current testing paradigms do not properly assess the impact of risk factors during vulnerable exposure windows. Without new policies and guidelines, we cannot have a universal healthy start for children."

The researchers observed that exposure to low levels of some environmental chemicals can also have adverse effects apart from those experienced at high levels; however regulatory agencies may not be taking these effects into account. Avoiding exposure to harmful chemicals, psychological stress and malnutrition could be one of the ways to bestow future generations with the gift of good health.

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