Study: Exposure to Arsenic by Expectant Mothers Linked to Poor Fetal Development

Arsenic has always been known to be the "perfect poison." It's very easy to use because it lacks color, odor, and taste when mixed with food or drinks, and since the symptoms of arsenic poisoning is the same as food poisoning, it's very difficult to detect. A new study at the Dartmouth College wants to determine whether prenatal exposure to this subtle poison harms the health of infants.

According to, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, an assistant professor of epidemiology and community and family medicine at Dartmouth College authored the study revealing that when pregnant women are exposed to low levels of arsenic the developing fetus may be affected. However, this may be different depending on the mother's weight and the gender of the baby.

"Arsenic is [also] naturally occurring in groundwater, and women in rural areas who rely on well water, which is unregulated, may be exposed through their drinking water," Dr. Diamond, told Medical Daily. Scientists know that arsenic can pass from mother to her unborn child after passing through the placenta. In the past, Dartmouth medical school studied 766 women that showed arsenic concentrations in their placental samples. The concentration found in the urine during pregnancy is the same as those found in the mother and child's toenail, and in the drinking water at home.

In a separate research by Dr. Margaret Karagas, chair of epidemiology at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine, it was found that high levels of arsenic in the urine of a mother in her second trimester of pregnancy are directly related to a decreased head conference at birth.

For the new study, the team was led by the two authors Karagas and Gilbert-Diamond studied the medical records of 706 mother-infant pairs. These records contained arsenic exposure while being inside the womb. The researchers also analyzed each other's weight gain during pregnancy on top of the quality of the infants' health during childbirth.

They discovered that a mother's arsenic levels during the second trimester were directly related to her baby's weight, head circumference, and length at birth, however the relationship will still depend on the mother's BMI and the gender of the newborn.

These differences may be small, but they might greatly help in how babies develop. Because of this, the research team believes that more research is needed to fully understand a potentially long-term association between prenatal arsenic exposure and pediatric health.

"It is important for all people who use well water to have it tested for arsenic and other contaminants to minimize their risk," said Gilbert-Diamond.

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