Drinking by the mother, but not by the father, during pregnancy is an important factor in fetal alcohol syndrome.

(Michael Golding, Texas A&M University)

College Station (US), November 17 (The Conversation) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men drink more alcohol, are more likely to binge drink, and are almost twice as likely to develop an alcohol use disorder as women. It is four times more.

Yet when it comes to diagnosing babies born with birth defects associated with alcohol consumption, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, historically only the mother’s drinking habits have been taken into account.

Research clearly shows that sperm contains a large amount of epigenetic information – meaning inherited changes in the way genes are expressed that do not result from changes in the DNA sequence – that affect the development of the fetus and the child. Strongly affect health. Yet most doctors and other health care providers do not take into account the impact of parental health and lifestyle choices on a child’s development.

I’m a developmental physiologist, and my research explores the ways in which male drinking affects fetal development.

While most of the attention is paid to a woman’s drinking while she’s pregnant, my team and I focus on men’s drinking in the weeks and months before conception. Our study is the first to demonstrate that male alcohol drinking before pregnancy is an important but not entirely unknown factor in the development of alcohol-related craniofacial abnormalities and developmental deficits.

more attention to mother

In 1981, the US Surgeon General issued a public health warning that alcohol consumption by women during pregnancy causes physical and mental birth defects in children.

The warning came in response to growing recognition that a group of serious physical and mental impairments in children, now commonly known as fetal alcohol syndrome, was linked to maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Today, doctors and scientists believe that as many as one in 20 American schoolchildren may exhibit some form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a term that refers to a wide range of alcohol-related physical, developmental, and behavioral deficiencies, including Many of these cause lifelong challenges.

According to the CDC, this syndrome can occur when alcohol in the mother’s blood passes to the baby through the umbilical cord. This has led to the conviction that alcohol-related birth defects are solely caused by the mother’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy and are the woman’s fault.

The medical community reinforces the belief that pediatricians should force mothers to confirm and document their prenatal alcohol use before they can formally diagnose alcohol-related birth defects or prenatal alcohol exposure. Diagnose children with associated neurobehavioral disorders. Nonetheless, there are several documented instances in which babies with fetal alcohol syndrome were born to mothers who denied that they had consumed alcohol during pregnancy.

For example, in one study, 41 mothers denied consuming alcohol during pregnancy despite their child being diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome. In this situation, and in other similar situations over the past 40 years, the generally accepted assumption and explanation is that these mothers lied about their alcohol use during pregnancy.

According to the CDC, there is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption during pregnancy or while trying to get pregnant. Despite this recommendation, alcohol use during pregnancy is widely reported.

However, reported drinking levels are not directly related to the child developing alcohol-related birth defects, and not all women who drink alcohol give birth to babies with fetal alcohol syndrome. This contradiction has resulted in a contradiction in public messaging.

Although differences in how much and when pregnant women drink may contribute to variation in the development of fetal alcohol syndrome, these factors alone cannot explain the wide range and severity of symptoms. Therefore, unknown factors beyond the woman’s alcohol consumption may be responsible for this disorder.

less attention towards father

Alcohol is a social drug, so when women drink, they often do so with their male partners. Building on this perspective, my lab used a mouse model to determine what happens if the mother, the father, or both parents drink alcohol.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is associated with three main birth defects: facial abnormalities, including small eyes and deformities in the middle of the face; Poor development of head and brain; and impaired fetal growth, a condition that occurs when babies are born smaller than average. Building on previous studies in humans, we used facial recognition software to study the effects of alcohol consumption on the faces of mice born to either one or both parents who drank alcohol from conception. Had consumed alcohol earlier.

In a study published earlier this year, we captured a digital image of a rat’s face. We then digitally specified facial landmarks, including specific parts of the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. The computer program then determined whether alcohol use by the mother, the father, or both parents altered the proportional relationships between each of these milestones.

Our study using this mouse model showed that long-term male alcohol exposure affects the formation of the brain, skull and face of the offspring. We also observed microcephaly, underdevelopment of the head and brain, as well as low birth weight, which worsened with the amount of alcohol the father drank.

Therefore, our study suggests that chronic male alcohol exposure – defined as consuming more than five drinks per day in a four-hour period – may cause all three birth defects of the core fetal alcohol syndrome. Is.

Using the same mouse model, we also determined whether these craniofacial changes persist into later life. Specifically, we identified abnormalities in the size and spacing of the jaws and adult teeth. Abnormal alignment of upper and lower teeth is another recognized symptom of fetal alcohol syndrome in humans.

In addition to our research, other studies have identified behavioral changes in the offspring of male rats who regularly consume alcohol. Additionally, clinical studies show that father’s drinking increases the risk of heart defects in people.

Effects on male fertility and pregnancy

Our studies also support the immediate effects of alcohol consumption on male fertility and couples’ ability to achieve a healthy pregnancy. These observations may be particularly relevant to couples struggling to have children.

The CDC estimates that about 2% of all babies born in the US are conceived using assisted reproductive technologies. While the focus of in-vitro fertilization treatment is on maternal health and lifestyle choices, our studies show that a man’s exposure to alcohol reduces a woman’s chance of getting pregnant after undergoing IVF.

Significantly, our research showed that the more alcohol a man drank before providing sperm, the less likely he was to get his partner pregnant – in some cases, by almost 50%.

what next

Annual estimates suggest that the cumulative cost of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders to health care and educational systems ranges from US$1.29 billion to US$10.1 billion annually. Given these enormous costs and the lifelong devastating effects on affected individuals, ignoring fathers’ drinking habits in public health messaging ignores an important contributing factor.

The first published investigations of the effects of maternal exposure to toxic substances on birth defects in the 1950s and 60s were met with skepticism and disbelief. Today, it is widely accepted that a mother’s use of certain medications causes birth defects in her child.

I fully expect that the medical and scientific communities, as well as some in the public, will forcefully reject the case of the father’s drinking. However, until doctors start asking fathers about his drinking, we will not fully know the contribution of the father’s alcohol to birth defects and the impact of his drinking on the child’s health.

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