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Your Environment. Your Health.

Children’s Gut Microbiome Linked With Household Chemical Exposure

Heather Stapleton, Ph.D.
Duke University
R01ES016099, T32ES021432

Exposure to semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) was linked with changes to young children’s gut microbiome, according to a new NIEHS-funded study. SVOCs are common contaminants of indoor air and dust. Young children are especially vulnerable to exposure through dust because they spend time on the floor and frequently put hands and objects in their mouths.

The researchers measured levels of 44 SVOCs, including phthalates and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in the blood and urine of 69 children aged 3 to 6 years. Using genetic sequencing techniques, they determined the types and abundance of bacteria and fungi present in child stool samples.

Children with higher levels of PFAS in their blood had a lower number and diversity of bacteria in their gut. Higher phthalate levels were associated with a reduction in gut fungal populations. Surprisingly, children with higher levels of certain SVOCs, including triclosan, had several types of bacteria in their gut known to break down toxic chemicals in the environment. These bacteria are not typically found in the human gut. This finding suggested that exposure to SVOCs may act as a selective pressure in the developing gut to increase the abundance of microbes that can tolerate or metabolize the compounds.

Citation: Gardner CM, Hoffman K, Stapleton HM, Gunsch CK. 2020. Exposures to semivolatile organic compounds in indoor environments and associations with the gut microbiomes of children. Environ Sci Technol Lett; doi: 10.1021/acs.estlett.0c00776 [Online 2 Nov 2020].

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