A mother’s exposure to particulate air pollution during pregnancy is associated with reduced cardiac response to stress in six-month-old infants, according to Mount Sinai research published in Environmental Health Perspectives in October. This study is the first to find that particulate air pollution exposure in utero can affect heart rate variability, which is a known risk factor for health issues.
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.