The foundation of your baby’s intelligence is being built while he is still a fetus. This stage of your baby’s life is very critical because this is where the raw materials of his intelligence and personality are being formed.Exposure to air pollution in the womb may be bad for your unborn brains and may lead to slower processing speeds and behavioral problems.
The research, from the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, measured the exposure of the mothers to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) air pollution and used brain imaging to look at the effects on their babies’ brains.
PAHs are widespread pollutants which are formed when organic materials are not burned completely. They are created from vehicle exhausts, burning coal and oil and wildfires. They can also be found inside the home such as from tobacco smoke or open fires and stoves.
The study was about more than 600 women in the third trimester of their pregnancy from New York City minority communities. They completed questionnaires and were given portable pollution monitors for 48 hours to allow researchers to regulate their exposure.
The team found that exposure was associated with symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and other cognitive and behavioral problems including reduced IQ, anxiety and depression.
The children were followed from before birth until seven to nine years of age and 40 children had their brains scanned, revealing a strong link between PAH exposure in the womb and a reduction of white matter in the brain. Brain white matter is basically made of millions of cells called axons that allow fast connections between different regions of the brain.
Reduced white matter surface on the left side of the brain was associated with slower processing of information during IQ test and more severe behavioral problems like ADHD.
It is also found that kids exposed to traffic-related pollutants during pregnancy or the first year of life are at increased risk of autism.
For example, one study of Californian children showed that those exposed to the highest levels of traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy and in the first year of life were more likely to develop autistic spectrum disorders than those exposed to the lowest levels.
Ultrafine particles move to the brain either by travelling from the lung into the systemic circulation and across the blood brain barrier or by landing at the back of the nose then travelling to the brain via the olfactory nerve. Once in the brain, pollutant particles can cause inflammation and cellular damage.
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