Being exposed to higher temperatures during pregnancy can lead to biological aging of the child. This is the result of research at UHasselt. "We have discovered that heat shortens the length of the newborn's telomeres," says Dr. Dries Martens.
“Telomeres are the ends of our chromosomes, their length determines the lifespan of our cells. Shorter telomeres could potentially lead to a lower life expectancy. "
Previous American research has already shown that temperature during pregnancy can be linked to the life expectancy of the newborn, but UHasselt researchers have succeeded in explaining this for the first time biologically. "We have found a connection between heat and the length of the telomeres, with which we can now solve a piece of this puzzle," says Prof. Dr. Tim Nawrot. The researchers monitored 1,100 newborns within the Limburg Birth Cohort. An analysis of the umbilical cord blood showed that telomere length varied in children, and that exposure to heat played a clear role in this.
Nevertheless, the researchers want to nuance the results, since factors such as air pollution, smoking and lifestyle also have an impact on the telomeres. “However, we know that at a later age, shorter telomeres are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. That makes these results remarkable, because it shows that not all newborns are biologically the same age, and that exposure to heat during pregnancy plays a role in this, ”says Martens. The results of the research appear in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The research could count on financial support from FWO and ERC.