The Environmental Health Center Research Reveals Harmful Effects of Environmental Hormones During Pregnancy

Professor HONG Yun-Chul
Professor HONG Yun-Chul

Environmental hormones, also known as endocrine disruptors, are chemical substances that can interfere with and disrupt the functions of the endocrine and hormonal systems in our body. They are commonly found in products used in daily life such as plastics, toys, pesticides, and canned foods. Among the various types of endocrine disruptors, Bisphenol A (BPA), the base material of polycarbonate and synthetic resin, can be extremely harmful to the body, even in small amounts.

Previous studies revealed that excessive exposure to BPA increases blood pressure among people aged 60 and over, and that obese children with a high concentration of BPA have higher blood pressures than average.

Recently, The Environmental Health Center at SNU’s College of Medicine conducted a research on the correlation between pregnant mothers’ BPA levels and her child’s health. The findings were released in the January 2017 issue of Hypertension.

The research was based on the fact that when the mother comes in contact with BPA, it also reaches the fetus through the bloodstream and placenta. The mother’s BPA level was measured by her urine over a period of 20 weeks, and her child’s blood pressure level was measured by medical examination when the child reached four years of age.

Results showed that when the mother’s BPA level was above 4.5 μg/g creatinine, the child’s diastolic blood pressure level rose. This correlation was more distinct among boys than girls. According to Professor Yun-Chul Hong (Head of The Environmental Health Center), this reveals that “boys are more sensitive to endocrine disruptors, which act as female hormones.”

Professor Hong said, “there have already been various studies conducted on BPA and blood pressure, but this is the first that reveals that a mother’s exposure to BPA during pregnancy increases the blood pressure of her child.”

Professor Sanghyuk Bae (Department of Preventive Medicine) of Dankook University said, “this study confirms that an increase in blood pressure during childhood is a long-term effect of exposure to BPA from the fetal period.”

High blood pressure during childhood increases the chances of cardiovascular disease as an adult. This emphasises the importance of being aware of exposure to environmental hormones during pregnancy. It is advised to reduce the use of plastic products, thermal paper such as receipts, and canned goods. It is also time for governments to enact policies to reduce the use of BPA.

In 2008, the College of Medicine’s Environmental Health Center was designated by the Ministry of Environment as a center for the prevention of congenital disease. The center initiated a research called Ko-CHENS (Korean Children’s Environmental Health Study) under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment and the National Institute of Environmental Research. Ko-CHENS aims to study the effects of environmental hormones from the fetal period to adolescence through a long-term survey taking place over 20 years, using both small-scale studies and large-scale cohorts of 100,000 pregnant mothers.

They are also in the process of operating the ‘Visiting Environmental Health Class,’ which educates teachers, parents, and health officials about the harmful effects of environmental hormones, and promotes the making of a safe and healthy environment in which children can play.

Written by Hye Bin Lee, SNU English Editor,
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations,