A recent study found that the level of prenatal exposure to air pollutants, collectively known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, correlated with the amount of cortical white matter in the the left side of the brain. The higher the levels of exposure, the greater the shrinkage in the white matter. The resulting impact was a decrease in processing speeds on intelligence and other testing, and an increase in behavioral conditions such as ADHD and conduct disorder problems.
The impact of childhood exposure affected the brain differently than in adults, resulting in shrinkage in the prefrontal cortices of the brain. The impact of this effect was not specifically evaluated in this study. As the prefrontal cortices are involved in functions such as processing speed, impulse control, and attention, further studies would be helpful to see if and how these functions are impacted.
While these pollutants are already known to be toxic, the study gives more specific information on how exposure during pregnancy can put children at risk. It may also provide a window into a possible factor in the rise in conditions such as ADHD and poor impulse control. While these are clearly complex and multifactorial, this study shows that changes in brain functioning from environmental influences during development and early childhood may play an important role.
SNPs in detoxification genes such as CYP1A1 and GST are known to affect metabolism and impact of these and other pollutants. Having a DNA-directed plan before and during pregnancy is one way to potentially reduce the negative impact on both the mother and her developing child. As brains continue to grow and develop rapidly in the first few years of life, knowing how best to support children may be beneficial as well.
Most of our nutritional genomic test panels include a comprehensive analysis of genes that control the processing of these toxins, plus specific steps to mitigate the risk.