Acetaminophen, Passive Smoking, Low Vitamin D in Pregnancy Lead to Epigenetic Changes

pregnant woman silhouetted against dramatic blue sky and beachEnvironmental factors can change the genes of a fetus, leading to illness later in childhood.

When a pregnant woman takes Acetomeniphen (Tylenol) or is exposed to tobacco smoke, spray cleaners or pesticides, her fetus has a greater chance of devloping atopic asthma  within a few years.Nonatopic asthma, wheezing, and shortness of breath is often diagnosed starting at age 3 or even up to age 8. A series of recent studies indicate that the disease is strongly related to environmental factors during pregnancy.

Dr. Harold Nelson discussed the epigenetic factors in atopic asthma at the World Allergy Organization’s 2010 International Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“How can something that happens in the uterus have an impact on asthma in the child aged 6, 7, or 8? The explanation, if it is causal, is in epigenetic mechanisms,” Dr. Nelson explained. “Early environmental exposure in utero plays a key role in activating and altering genes through histone methylation and acetylation of DNA, and alteration of chromatin structure. Once these have occurred in the fetus, they will be replicated throughout the infant’s life, and may even be passed to subsequent generations.”

In other words, environmental factors can directly affect genes, leading to chemical changes that inhibit their correct expression or even alter DNA. These changes trigger  diseases that the child would not normally have developed. The rate of asthma in the US has doubled, and the increased use of acetomenophen among pregnant women could be a major factor in the increase.

Low levels of Vitamin D in pregnant women are also associated with increased nonatopic asthma. Even when levels are high enough to prevent rickets, they may still be too low to prevent asthma. Eating a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, dairy products and fatty fish helps ensure high levels of Vitamin D in the mother.

European studies have shown that maternal use of domestic cleaning chemicals during pregnancy is associated with wheezing and impaired lung function in children up to 8.5 years of age.

Richard Lockey, MD, president of the WAO and director of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, Florida, said that “Probably the most compelling evidence for such an association is with passive smoking, smoking, and with newer information, particularly acetaminophen.”

More green posts on fertility and the environment:

Exposure to Toxins Permanently Changes DNA, Sperm, Offspring for Generations

What Is Causing Breast Growth in Chinese Toddlers?

Environmental Toxin Dioxin Affects Milk Production in Mice – What Does This Mean For Us Humans?

About Hannah Katsman

Hannah learned environmentalism from her mother, a conservationist before it was in style. Once a burglar tried to enter their home in Cincinnati after noticing the darkened windows (covered with blankets for insulation) and the snow-covered car in the driveway. Mom always set the thermostat for 62 degrees Fahrenheit (17 Celsius) — 3 degrees lower than recommended by President Nixon — because “the thermostat is in the dining room, but the stove’s pilot light keeps the kitchen warmer.” Her mother would still have preferred today’s gas-saving pilotless stoves. Hannah studied English in college and education in graduate school, and arrived in Petach Tikva in 1990 with her husband and oldest child. Her mother died suddenly six weeks after Hannah arrived and six weeks before the first Gulf War, and Hannah stayed anyway. She has taught English but her passion is parental education and support, especially breastfeeding. She recently began a new blog about energy- and time-efficient meal preparation called CookingManager.Com. You can find her thoughts on parenting, breastfeeding, Israeli living and women in Judaism at A Mother in Israel. Hannah can be reached at hannahk (at) greenprophet (dot) com.

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