Avoid Alcohol When Pregnant And Here's Why: Study

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Drinking alcohol in moderate amounts is touted as part of a healthy lifestyle in men and women. But can there be any safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy? No, it is better to avoid alcohol when pregnant suggests a new study because even one or two glasses of wine a week during pregnancy can affect a child's future intelligence.

The study led by Oxford and Bristol university researchers is different from past studies as it is the first to use genetic variation, to investigate the effect of moderate alcohol intake during pregnancy and the children's IQ, thereby eliminating the influence of other lifestyle and social factors, such as smoking, diet, affluence, and mother's age and education.

Using data from over 4,000 mothers and their children, the researchers investigated how the mothers' moderate alcohol intake (1-6 units of alcohol per week) when they were pregnant affected their children's IQ. Heavy drinkers were not included in the study.

The children's IQ was tested when they were aged eight using a shortened version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children from which an overall age adjusted total score was derived.

According to the researchers, children of women who were moderate drinkers had four genetic variants in alcohol-metabolising genes that were strongly related to lower IQ at age eight. The child's IQ was on average almost two points lower per genetic modification they possessed. But no such effect was seen in children whose mothers abstained during pregnancy.

Variations in genes that encode alcohol-metabolising enzymes can lead to differences in how long alcohol persists at high levels in the body, which might affect the development of the fetus, added the researchers.

Commenting on the results, lead author Sarah Lewis, said, "Our results suggest that even at levels of alcohol consumption which are normally considered to be harmless, we can detect differences in childhood IQ, which are dependent on the ability of the fetus to clear this alcohol. This is evidence that even at these moderate levels, alcohol is influencing fetal brain development."

The study was published Nov.14, 2012, in the journal PLOS ONE.

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