Before it was banned in 1972 for its damaging effects on human health, the pesticide known as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (or DDT) was widely used on U.S. crops. The problem? DDT can take more than 15 years to break down in the environment, and in many parts of the world it is still used for agricultural and disease control purposes.
In addition to its probable carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects, DDT has been shown to affect healthy liver function, contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and cause damage to the human nervous and reproductive systems. Now, a new study involving mice reveals that DDT exposure may be linked to a higher risk of obesity and related conditions later in life—in particular among women.
Researchers from the University of California, Davis found that exposure to DDT in the womb leads to a higher risk in women of developing metabolic syndrome, defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “a cluster of conditions—increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels—that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.”
More so than their male counterparts, the female mice exposed to DDT before birth showed signs of decreased metabolism and an inability to regulate body temperature, which study author Michele La Merrill said leads to more calories being stored instead of burned. In male mice, DDT exposure did not have the same effects and only caused a slight increase in blood glucose levels.