The association between whole blood concentrations of heavy metals in pregnant women and premature births: The Japan Environment and Children's Study (JECS)

Japan Environment & Children’s Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Heavy metals are widely distributed in the environment. Recent reports have demonstrated the risk of preterm birth following heavy metal exposure. Preterm births are classified as early and late, depending on the duration of pregnancy, and are associated with increased risk of congenital illnesses such as heart failure, asthma, etc. Particularly, early preterm births carry a higher risk of mortality; however, the differential effects of heavy metal exposure on early and late preterm births are unknown. Objectives: To analyze the association between maternal whole blood concentrations of heavy metals, such as cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), selenium (Se), and manganese (Mn) that are common toxicants in Japan, and early and late preterm births. Methods: The data of 14,847 pregnant women who were participants of the Japan Environment and Children's Study were used. Data of the self-questionnaire pertaining to the first trimester (T1), second/third trimester (T2), and medical records after delivery were analyzed. We divided preterm birth into two groups: early preterm (22 to < 34 weeks) and late preterm (34 to < 37 weeks). Maternal blood samples for measuring heavy metal concentrations were collected in T2 (pregnancy weeks: 14–39). The participants were classified into four quartiles (Q1–Q4) according to increasing heavy metal levels. Results: The rate of preterm birth was 4.5%. After controlling for confounding factors, such as age, pre-pregnancy body mass index, smoking, partner's smoking, drinking habits, gravidity, parity, number of cesarean deliveries, uterine infections, household income, educational levels, and sex of infant, Cd levels were found, by multivariable logistic regression analysis, to be significantly associated with early preterm birth (p = 0.002), with odds ratio for early preterm birth of 1.91 (95% confidence interval: 1.12–3.27, P = 0.018) in subjects of Q4 compared with in subjects with term birth (≧ 37 weeks). Conclusion: Maternal blood Cd levels during pregnancy are positively associated with the risk of early preterm birth among Japanese women. Identification of the main source of maternal Cd exposure may contribute to the prevention of early preterm births and health maintenance of mothers and their infants in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-569
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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