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Your Environment. Your Health.

Effects of Low Arsenic Levels During Pregnancy and Fetal Growth

Margaret Karagas, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College
P42ES007373, P01ES022832, P42ES004940

Consuming water and food with low levels of arsenic while pregnant may affect fetal growth, according to a new study by NIEHS grantees. The study is one of the first to report an association between low-level exposure to arsenic during pregnancy and birth outcomes.

Unlike the majority of epidemiological studies on arsenic exposure, this population-based, prospective study explored exposures at levels common in the U.S. Researchers analyzed 706 mother-infant pairs exposed through drinking water and diet. They measured urinary arsenic from each mother and compared it to the birth weight of her baby, adjusting for maternal prepregnancy weight.

Researchers found that decreased head circumference at birth was associated with higher levels of arsenic in the mother’s urine during her second trimester. They also found associations with changes to birth weight and length, with mixed effects based on the sex of the newborn and maternal weight status. For example, the association between higher arsenic exposure and shorter birth length was only observed in males. They also observed that arsenic exposure was related to lower birthweight in female babies born to overweight or obese mothers, but the association was not significant for males or females of healthy weight mothers.

Citation: Gilbert-Diamond D, Emond JA, Baker ER, Korrick SA, Karagas MR. Relation between in utero arsenic exposure and birth outcomes in a cohort of mothers and their newborns from New Hampshire. Environ Health Perspect; doi: 10.1289/ehp.1510065 [Online 8 March 2016].

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