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How Fungal Toxins Impact Hormones in Pregnancy

Carolyn Kinkade, MPH


A fungal toxin that hinders animal fertility and fetal development may also disrupt human sex hormones in pregnancy, according to a Rutgers Health study.

Zearalenone (ZEN), which contaminates cereal grains, meats and processed foods worldwide, is so structurally like the hormone 17β-estradiol (E2) that it binds with estrogen receptors. Large doses reduce the number and size of offspring in animal studies. Paradoxically, these compounds also promote growth in livestock after birth, so much so that a synthetic version of ZEN is commonly administered to cattle in the U.S.

“The big picture takeaway is that sex steroid hormones like estrogens and androgens are important for all kinds of development, so in theory, this very common dietary compound could be disrupting many aspects of development by disrupting these hormones,” said Carolyn Kinkade, a doctoral degree candidate in the Rutgers School of Graduate Studies Exposure Science program of and first author of the study. “These fungal toxins could impact things ranging from neurodevelopment to asthma to growth patterns to metabolism. It’s important to replicate these results, so we’re currently further looking into these issues using data from other cohorts that have tracked pregnancies and early childhood.

“We’re making rapid progress in our understanding of how various environmental factors affect fetal development, but much work remains to be done,” said Emily Barrett, senior author of the latest study, a coauthor of the 2022 study and the George G. Rhoads Endowed Legacy Professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “Many questions remain about how to minimize the potential danger of environmental contaminants and maximize the chances of healthy pregnancy and fetal development.”

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(Source: Rutgers Today – July 1, 2024)

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