New research shows that maternal exposure to a common and form of industrial pollution can harm the immune system of offspring and that this injury is passed along to subsequent generations, weakening the body’s defenses against infections such as the influenza virus.
The pollution is a chemical called dioxin, which, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is a common by-product of industrial production and waste incineration, and is also found in some consumer products.
These chemicals find their way into the food system where they are eventually consumed by humans. Dioxins and PCBs bio-accumulate as they move up the food chain and are found in greater concentrations in animal-based food products.
“The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health,” said Lawrence. “But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.”
While other studies have shown that environmental exposure to pollutants can have effects on the reproductive, respiratory, and nervous system function across multiple generations, the new research shows for the first time that the immune system is impacted as well.
The research was conducted in mice, whose immune system function is similar to humans. In the study, researchers exposed pregnant mice to environmentally relevant levels of dioxin.
This multigenerational weakening of the immune system could help explain variations that are observed during seasonal and pandemic flu episodes. Annual flu vaccines provide some people more protection than others, and during pandemic flu outbreaks some people get severely ill, while others are able to fight off the infection.
While age, virus mutations, and other factors can explain some of this variation, they do not fully account for the diversity of responses to flu infection found in the general population.
Adapted from a press release Wednesday, October 2, 2019 Full article here