Marijuana often catches a lot of heat for being a potential detriment to children while in the womb, but a new study suggests that alcohol, America’s favorite legal inebriant, may actually present a variety of harms to the offspring—long before a women gets pregnant.
Researchers at Rutgers University say that women who binge drink prior to conception run the risk of giving birth to children with a variety of health issues, including high blood sugar, which is commonly associated with the development of diabetes.
The study, which was published in the latest issue of the Journal of the Endocrine Society, suggests that birth defects are possible in children brought into the world by women who abused alcohol at some point in their lives—even if they refrained from drinking during pregnancy.
These findings were presented in detail at the recent Endocrine Society’s 99th annual meeting and expo in Orlando, Florida.
“The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on an unborn child are well known, including possible birth defects and learning and behavior problems,” explained lead researcher Dr. Dipak Sarkar. “However, it is not known whether a mother’s alcohol use before conception also could have negative effects on her child’s health and disease susceptibility during adulthood.”
In this study, researchers put a group of rats on a month long booze bender, feeding them a steady fill of 6.7 percent alcohol—around the equivalent of the average craft beer. The rats were then allowed to dry out for a few weeks before being tossed into another cage to relish in a series of backbiting laboratory orgies.
What they found was the offspring conceived after a period of binge drinking displayed irregular glucose function once they achieved adulthood. Researchers say these abnormalities included, “increased blood glucose levels, decreased insulin levels in the blood and pancreatic tissue, reduced glucagon levels in the blood while being increased in pancreatic tissue, and raised blood levels of leptin,” according to a press release.
In short, researchers say there is a distinct possibility that the heavy boozing habits of future mothers may actually become a part of their children’s DNA—endangering their health as adults.
“These findings suggest that [the effects of] a mother’s alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring,” said researcher Ali Al-Yasari. “These changes could have lifelong effects on the offspring’s glucose homeostasis and possibly increase their susceptibility to diabetes.”
Sadly, binge drinking is a real problem in the United States.
Some of the latest federal data shows 15 percent of non-pregnant women and 1.4 percent of pregnant women have engaged in binge drinking (four or more drinks in a span of two hours) within the past month.
Separate research published in the latest journal Obstetrics & Gynecology shows the majority of women do, in fact, stop drinking alcohol at the time of a positive pregnancy test. However, about 50 percent of the more than 5,000 women who participated in the study said they were hitting the bottle rather hard before they became pregnant.
Although marijuana has not been ruled 100 percent safe to use during pregnancy, there is no evidence to show that children born to women who used the herb prior to conception suffer from any health issues.