Modern society has witnessed great improvements in everyday products, often thanks to advances in chemical compounds that make products better, stronger, and the like. Unfortunately, these advances may come at a cost, as prenatal exposure to some chemical compounds may have deleterious effects on offspring. Fluorochemicals, for example, have been used in such commercial applications as carpets, textiles, personal care products, and food-contact materials for more than 50 years. Since a recent animal study found a link between these compounds and increased weight as well as elevated biomarkers of adiposity in postpubertal female offspring, researchers explored the possible impact in humans in a new study.
Dr Thorhallur I. Halldorsson, from the Center for Fetal Programming, Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues conducted a prospective study of 665 Danish pregnant women. To understand the effects of these compounds, the researchers measured perfluorooctanoate serum levels at gestational week 30 and found a median 3.7 ng/mL serum concentration of maternal perfluorooctanoate. Midwives also collected basic information including medical history, anthropometry, diet, lifestyle and socio-economical factors from the women. Overall, the researchers found that women in the highest quartile of perfluorooctanoate serum levels were younger and less likely to be parous.
At follow-up 20 years later, researchers assessed body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and biomarkers of adiposity for the women’s offspring.
Halldorsson and colleagues found that in utero exposure to perfluorooctanoate was positively associated with anthropometry at 20 years in female offspring. Interestingly, they did not find the same association in male offspring. In addition, the researchers found that maternal perfluorooctanoate concentrations were positively associated with increased body mass index and waist circumference in both unadjusted and covariate adjusted analyses. In comparing the highest to lowest quartiles, Halldorsson et al. found adjusted relative risks of 3.1 and 3.0 for women having overweight or obese female offspring (ie, body mass index ≥25 kg/m2) and for a larger waist circumference (ie, greater than 88 cm), respectively.
The authors hypothesized three possible pathways by which this in utero exposure could affect offspring weight: perfluorooctanoate may interfere with ovary development in utero leading to impaired estrogen synthesis among female offspring; perfluoroalkyl acids may interact with the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors that are involved in lipid metabolism in adipocytes; and, since studies have shown that perfluorooctanoate exposure may lead to increased risk of thyroid disease, thyroid hormones might play a role.
“Our findings are in line with recent experimental findings…and provide added support for the hypothesis that early life exposure to certain endocrine disruptors, even at low concentrations, may play a role in the current obesity epidemic,” the authors concluded. “Given the wide spread detection of PFOA [perfluorooctanoate] in humans and wildlife and observed increase in related perfluorinated compounds of similar biological potential… it is of considerable public health importance to understand and eliminate pathways of human exposures to PFAAs [perfluoroalkyl acids].”