It’s no secret that living in a polluted area can have negative consequences on our health, but did you know it could potentially affect babies before they’re even born?
According to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics on October 16, our lifespans may be affected by pollution as early as when we’re in the womb. Researchers looked at 641 pairs of mothers and their newborns who were delivered at or after 37 weeks, focusing on levels of particulate matter — also known as particle pollution — where the mother lives and comparing that to the length of the infant’s telomeres, or biological aging markers.
Using DNA from each baby’s cord blood and placental tissue, the researchers found that infants whose mothers had higher exposure to air pollution had significantly shorter telomeres, which couldn’t be explained by other factors such as the mother’s ethnicity, body mass index, or whether she smoked.
“Telomere length at birth has been related to life expectancy,” the study authors wrote, meaning babies born with shorter telomeres may not live as long as those with longer telomeres. However, it’s important to note that the study did not establish a direct cause and effect relationship between pollution and telomeres.
“Telomere length can be influenced by many parameters, among them stress,” said Jan Karlseder, director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at the Salk Institute. “Just to make up a possible scenario, it could be that mothers that live in more polluted areas are subjected to higher stress, which then leads to slightly shorter telomeres.”