• Press Release

Study Links Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollution to Negative Impact on Infants’ Heart Rate Response to Stress

  • New York, NY
  • (October 30, 2019)

A mother’s exposure to particulate air pollution during pregnancy is associated with reduced cardiac response to stress in six-month-old infants, according to Mount Sinai research published in Environmental Health Perspectives in October. This study is the first to find that particulate air pollution exposure in utero can affect heart rate variability, which is a known risk factor for health issues.

Variability in how the heart rate responds to stressful experiences is essential for maintaining optimal functioning of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems and also is central to emotional well-being and resilience to stress over one’s lifetime. Decreased heart rate variability, as observed in this study, is a known risk factor for mental and physical health problems in later life. Air pollution’s negative effect on heart rate variability has previously been found to lead to medical and psychological conditions such as heart disease, asthma, allergies, and mood or behavioral disorders in studies of older children, adolescents, and adults.

Mount Sinai researchers studied 237 Boston-based mothers and their infants and used satellite data and air pollution monitors to determine the level of particulate air pollution the mothers were exposed to during pregnancy. The air pollution levels in this study were similar to levels experienced by the general U.S. population.

By studying the babies’ heart rate and respiration at age six months, researchers found that the higher the level of the mother’s exposure to air pollution in pregnancy, the less variability in the infant’s heart rate in response to a stress challenge.

“These findings, in combination with increasing worldwide exposure to particulate air pollution, highlight the importance of examining early-life exposure to air pollution in relation to negative medical, developmental, and psychological outcomes,” said senior author Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, Dean for Translational Biomedical Research, and Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine), at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “A critical step in identifying children at risk for costly chronic disorders is identifying exposures that lead to early vulnerability.”

“Identifying exposures that disrupt key processes such as heart rate response will lead to prevention strategies early in life when they can have the greatest impact. Specifically, these findings support individual-level and policy-level action to reduce exposure to particulate air pollution exposure during pregnancy,” said the study’s first author, Whitney Cowell, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine.

 


About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai advances medicine and health through unrivaled education and translational research and discovery to deliver care that is the safest, highest-quality, most accessible and equitable, and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,300 primary and specialty care physicians; 13 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 415 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and more than 30 affiliated community health centers. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the top 20 U.S. hospitals and is top in the nation by specialty: No. 1 in Geriatrics and top 20 in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Neurology/Neurosurgery, Orthopedics, Pulmonology/Lung Surgery, Rehabilitation, and Urology. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 12 in Ophthalmology. Mount Sinai Kravis Children's Hospital is ranked in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” among the country’s best in four out of 10 pediatric specialties. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report's "Best Medical Schools," aligned with a U.S. News & World Report "Honor Roll" Hospital, and No. 14 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding. Newsweek’s “The World’s Best Smart Hospitals” ranks The Mount Sinai Hospital as No. 1 in New York and in the top five globally, and Mount Sinai Morningside in the top 20 globally.

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