Previous research has proven that adults exposed to DDT are at an elevated risk for high blood pressure. However the current study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives is the first of its kind to exhibit a link between prenatal exposure to DDT and hypertension in adulthood.
Recent studies have also suggested that DDT interferes with hormones and has been linked to diabetes, preterm delivery and reduced fertility.
A study from 2006 carried by a team from the University of California Berkeley, reported that children who had prenatal exposure to DDT had lower test scores when assessed at 6, 12, and 24 months.
High blood pressure - or hypertension - is a a risk factor for heart disease, the number one cause of death in the U.S and around the world.
Lead study author Michele La Merrill, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology explained:
"The prenatal period is exquisitely sensitive to environmental disturbance because that's when the tissues are developing."
After three decades of use, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prohibited DDT in 1972. Even though DDT is no longer used in the U.S., it is still used for malaria control and prevention in countries such as India and South Africa. Children in these areas may be at a higher risk for high blood pressure as adults.
It is also possible for traces of DDT - a powerful organic pollutant - to remain in the food system, mainly in fatty animal products.
The current study observed over 500 women born between 1959 and 1967. They formed part of a 15,000 women study which aimed to determine how environmental exposures, including prenatal exposure, might affect health during a person's lifetime.
DDT can transfer from mother to child through the placenta. Scientists collected placenta samples shortly before and after birth to serve as a representation for fetal exposure.
Later, the researchers surveyed the adult daughters of those same women to learn if they had developed high blood pressure.
Of the daughters followed, 111 (21 percent) documented being diagnosed with hypertension.
Women in the highest two-thirds of prenatal DDT exposure were 2.5 to 3.6 times more inclined to develop hypertension before 50 years of age, than those in the lowest one-third.
La Merrill said:
"Evidence from our study shows that women born in the U.S. before DDT was banned have an increased risk of hypertension that might be explained by increased DDT exposure. And the children of people in areas where DDT is still used may have an increased risk, as well."
After accounting for factors like age, race, body mass, and diabetes status, the investigators found that the link between DDT and high blood pressure still stood.
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald