Pregnant women who consume a diet that is high in acrylamide, found in cooked starchy foods such as toast, chips, and crisps, are more likely to give birth to a small for gestational age baby than women who do not.
Acrylamide has been classified as a potential human carcinogen since 1994, but this study provides some of the first evidence of the human in utero effects of acrylamide exposure.
"If confirmed, these findings suggest that dietary intake of acrylamide should be reduced among pregnant women," suggest Manolis Kogevinas (Center for Research in Environmental Epidemiology, Barcelona, Spain) and co-authors in Environmental Health Perspectives.
To assess links between prenatal exposure to acrylamide and birth outcomes, the researchers tested for acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamine in cord blood (indicative of fetal exposures in last months of pregnancy) taken at 1101 singleton births in Denmark, England, Greece, Norway, and Spain between 2006 and 2010. Maternal dietary exposure was estimated using food frequency questionnaires.
Acrylamide and glycidamide were detected in the blood of all the children, with median hemoglobin (Hb) adduct levels of 14.4 pmol/g for acrylamide and 10.8 pmol/g for glycidamide.
Higher levels of acrylamide and glycidamide in cord blood were associated with significant reductions in birth weight and head circumference at birth.
More specifically, infants exposed to the highest levels of acrylamide (more than 21.7 Hb adducts) in utero were an average 132 g lighter at birth than those exposed to the lowest levels (at or below 10.9 Hb adducts). Similarly, head circumference was 0.33 cm smaller in the former versus the latter group of infants.
"Decreases in offspring body weight following maternal acrylamide exposure during gestation have been consistently observed in mice and rats," explain Kogevinas and team, who suggest that a similar affect may occur in humans.
"A US National Toxicology Program evaluation panel concluded that acrylamide causes decreased birth weight in rodents, although the mechanisms underlying the effects of acrylamide on birth weight are not understood."
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