September 6, 2013
A Tulane University study published in the American Journal of Public Health finds prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke can damage parts of chromosomes in children.
Researchers at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine investigated telomere length, a repetitive DNA sequence located at the ends of chromosomes that stabilizes the chromosome. Telomeres are a part of chromosomes that have been identified as a biomarker of cellular aging.
Katherine Theall, the Cecile Usdin Professor in Women’s Health, and fellow researchers at Tulane reviewed results from more than 100 New Orleans children aged 4 to 14. They found that telomere length was shorter among children who were exposed to smoke during pregnancy. Shorter telomere lengths in adults are associated with negative health outcomes such as higher risks for cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, diabetes and mental illness.
“Stress exposure, both environmental and psychosocial, during prenatal life may result in biological changes that alter developmental trajectories and may alter lifelong health trajectories,” Theall says. “Identifying the earliest developmental time points for prevention and intervention is challenging but critical if we expect to improve health outcomes.”
Theall is director of the Mary Amelia Douglas-Whited Community Women’s Health Education Center at Tulane University, which focuses on community building for health, health promotion, research and advocacy for improved health for all women.
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