The daughters of women who smoked during pregnancy may suffer from hormonal and reproductive health problems in the long-term, a new study has suggested.
Cigarette smoke may be an endocrine disruptor that can ‘masculinise’ girls in the womb by increasing testosterone levels, according to research presented today (20 September) at the 58th Annual European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Meeting.
If girls are exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb, they are at higher risk of abnormal development and long-term negative effects on their fertility and metabolism.
Dr Deniz Özalp Kızılay and colleagues at Cigli State Training Hospital in Turkey measured the anogenital distance (AGD), which is from the midpoint of the anus to genitalia, of 56 newborn girls and 64 newborn boys.
The AGD, which is regulated by testosterone levels during foetal development, was significantly longer in the baby girls and correlated with the amount the mother smoked. No effect was found on the AGD in boys.
Dr Kızılay cautioned that the mechanisms behind the potential reproductive problems caused by exposure to cigarette smoke in the womb are ‘not fully understood’.
She continued: ‘Our results do suggest that girls have higher testosterone exposure but not how this relates to reproductive function. More extensive and carefully-designed studies are required to explain this relationship.’
The team now plan to monitor the long-term effects of exposure to higher testosterone levels caused by smoke exposure in the same group of baby girls, to assess how this may affect their future health and fertility.
Dr Kızılay said: ‘These findings are a valuable contribution to our better understanding of the intergenerational effects of maternal smoking.’
Smoking during pregnancy is widely known to be bad for the health of both mother and baby yet some women persist and many are exposed to second-hand smoke.