PCBs and dioxins may weaken the immune system in infants

Illustration photo www.colourbox.comThis is observed in a study of 200 pregnant women and their children performed by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

The study, called BraMat, is part of the EU-funded international research project NewGeneris, and is a sub-project of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study.

The amount of certain toxins in the diet of pregnant women was calculated from detailed dietary information collected through the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. In the BraMat-study, information was collected about the child’s health until one year of age.

An association was found between maternal intake of dioxins and PCBs in food during pregnancy and increased risk of asthma-like symptoms and upper respiratory infections in children. In the first year of life, asthma-like symptoms – tightness and wheezing in the chest – are usually due to infection and not allergy.

The immune system is particularly vulnerable in foetuses and young children. Similar findings, using measurements of PCBs and dioxins in cord blood and breast milk, have previously been found in older children in the Netherlands.

An advantage of the Norwegian study is that it is not based on the measurement of the PCB and dioxin levels in the blood of children or in breast milk, but instead on the mother’s intake of contaminants via food during pregnancy. This makes the results more valuable for advice in pregnancy because it directly indicates how contaminants in the maternal diet can affect the health of the child.


Stølevik SB, Nygaard UC, Namork E, Haugen M, Kvalem HE, Meltzer HM, Alexander J, van Delft JH, Loveren HV, Løvik M, Granum B. Prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins is associated with increased risk of wheeze and infections in infants. Food Chem Toxicol 2011;49:1843-1848.