Variability in how the heart rate responds to stressful experiences is essential for maintaining optimal functioning of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive systems and also is central to emotional well-being and resilience to stress over one’s lifetime. Decreased heart rate variability, as observed in this study, is a known risk factor for mental and physical health problems in later life. Air pollution’s negative effect on heart rate variability has previously been found to lead to medical and psychological conditions such as heart disease, asthma, allergies, and mood or behavioral disorders in studies of older children, adolescents, and adults.
Mount Sinai researchers studied 237 Boston-based mothers and their infants and used satellite data and air pollution monitors to determine the level of particulate air pollution the mothers were exposed to during pregnancy. The air pollution levels in this study were similar to levels experienced by the general U.S. population.
By studying the babies’ heart rate and respiration at age six months, researchers found that the higher the level of the mother’s exposure to air pollution in pregnancy, the less variability in the infant’s heart rate in response to a stress challenge.
“These ﬁndings, in combination with increasing worldwide exposure to particulate air pollution, highlight the importance of examining early-life exposure to air pollution in relation to negative medical, developmental, and psychological outcomes,” said senior author Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, Dean for Translational Biomedical Research, and Professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Medicine and Public Health, and Medicine (Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine), at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “A critical step in identifying children at risk for costly chronic disorders is identifying exposures that lead to early vulnerability.”
“Identifying exposures that disrupt key processes such as heart rate response will lead to prevention strategies early in life when they can have the greatest impact. Specifically, these findings support individual-level and policy-level action to reduce exposure to particulate air pollution exposure during pregnancy,” said the study’s first author, Whitney Cowell, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine.
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City’s largest integrated delivery system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai’s vision is to produce the safest care, the highest quality, the highest satisfaction, the best access and the best value of any health system in the nation. The Health System includes approximately 7,480 primary and specialty care physicians; 11 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 410 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. The Icahn School of Medicine is one of three medical schools that have earned distinction by multiple indicators: ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Medical Schools”, aligned with a U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” Hospital, No. 12 in the nation for National Institutes of Health funding, and among the top 10 most innovative research institutions as ranked by the journal Nature in its Nature Innovation Index. This reflects a special level of excellence in education, clinical practice, and research. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report’s “Honor Roll” of top U.S. hospitals; it is one of the nation’s top 20 hospitals in Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Geriatrics, Gynecology, Nephrology, Neurology/Neurosurgery, and Orthopedics in the 2019-2020 “Best Hospitals” issue. Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital also is ranked nationally in five out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report. The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked 12th nationally for Ophthalmology, Mount Sinai St. Lukes and Mount Sinai West are ranked 23rd nationally for Nephrology and 25th for Diabetes/Endocrinology, and Mount Sinai South Nassau is ranked 35th nationally for Urology. Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai St. Luke’s, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai South Nassau are ranked regionally. For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
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