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DDT Exposure in Womb Raises Risk of Hypertension in Women: Study

Mar 13, 2013 07:26 AM EDT

It isn't just genetics or diet that raises the risk of high blood pressure, even exposure to certain chemicals raises the risk of hypertension before birth. A new study has shown that DDT exposure in the womb raises high blood pressure risk in women.

The U.S. banned the chemical Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) way back in 1972, before which it was used as a pesticide in the country and was also used to kill lice. The chemical can pass from mother to fetus and is found in the breast milk of mothers exposed to DDT.

DDT is still used in many countries to fight mosquitoes. However, a panel of experts had earlier recommended that the chemical shouldn't be used as it has been known to cause serious health concerns.

The present study, conducted by a study team led by researchers from University of California, Davis, shows that being exposed to the chemical before birth can increase the risk of hypertension in women. Hypertension is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

"The prenatal period is exquisitely sensitive to environmental disturbance because that's when the tissues are developing," said Michele La Merrill, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology, lead author of the study.

About one in three Americans has high blood pressure. The condition is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. According to National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a person may be suffering from high blood pressure and not know about it for years because the disease usually has no signs or symptoms. Hypertension costs about $131 billion annually to treat.

Researchers in the present study obtained data for the study from women who were enrolled in the Child Health and Development Studies between 1959 and 1967. Researchers then surveyed the daughters of these women to check if they had developed hypertension.

"Evidence from our study shows that women born in the U.S. before DDT was banned have an increased risk of hypertension that might be explained by increased DDT exposure. And the children of people in areas where DDT is still used may have an increased risk, as well," said La Merrill in a news release.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives

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