For years, scientists have known that a mother’s experiences and exposures during pregnancy can have an impact on her unborn baby.
But new research now sheds light on the connection between exposure to toxic chemicals in the womb and teen anxiety.
With COVID isolation, social media and bullying, childhood anxiety has been on the rise for years. Nearly one in three teens ages 13 to 18 will experience anxiety.
While researchers are learning more about psychological risk factors for anxiety, they know little about environmental factors, like toxins.
Scientists are now focusing on a class of chemicals called polibrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). These flame retardants are now banned but used to be used in common household products.
“Hairs, foam, cushions, carpets, car seats,” said Dr. Strawn, psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati.
Researchers enrolled 460 pregnant women to study the relationship between exposure to the flame retardants and their children’s mental health.
“It started, you know, roughly during the second trimester, and then, these children have been followed over time,” Strawn said.
Researchers said exposure to the chemicals occurred during a critical time in pregnancy, a time when the nerve cells in the brain were being formed and migrating to new areas of the brain.
“Exposure during that period was associated with a small but significant increase in anxiety,” Strawn said.
Strawn said the study showed the chemicals increased anxiety in teens by 10 to 20 percent. Researchers said they will focus on improving interventions for kids at higher risk for anxiety.
PBDEs were banned in the United States in 2004, but Strawn said many older consumer products still contain the chemicals.