Saturday, April 20, 2013

SATURDAY REWIND: Confusing messages about alcohol and pregnancy

There's been a lot of good science coming out of universities lately on the causes of alcohol use disorders and the health consequences of drinking. I try to report on most of it, even when it comes in direct conflict with previous research. Who's to say the old research isn't... well... old?
Sometimes the confusion is the result of careless reporting not the studies themselves. Take for example the breast cancer research announced April 8 (see “Report clouds alcohol, breast cancer connection”). The study concluded that moderate alcohol use doesn't make breast cancer less survivable after diagnosis. Several media outlets interpreted the findings to mean alcohol doesn't increase breast cancer, which was not the study's focus. In fact, alcohol consumption remains the only dietary factor shown to increase breast cancer risk. The new research confirmed that point, but said it didn't make the breast cancer drinkers get more fatal than non-drinker's breast cancer.
This week, a new study was released on alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Headlines from the study claimed “Light drinking during pregnancy may not harm baby” based on observations of children born to mothers who reported drinking one or two drinks a week during pregnancy.
Here are excerpts from two other studies from my archive that suggest otherwise.

Alcohol causes low birth weight even when a mother has treatment 12 months prior

A study of 1,107 first-time mothers released April 15 by Australia's University of New South Wales found an increased risk of low birth weight even if the mother was treated for an alcohol use disorder 12 months before conception. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FAS) have often been connected with drinking after conception. This is the first study connecting problems with newborns with drinking alcohol prior to conception.
The results of the study were outlined at the annual congress of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand in Adelaide. The researchers found women with drug or alcohol problems, even problems that were addressed, are up to four times more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby. -- (article continues here)
Drinking during pregnancy drops the child's IQ by age eight
The physical deformities resulting from alcohol use during pregnancy have been well known for years, but a study released November 15 in Britain proves the drinking impairs mental performance in elementary school. Researchers found an eight point drop in Intelligence Quotient (IQ) scores among third-graders whose mothers drank during pregnancy. The point is not the eight points, it is that there was a measurable difference between kids who had mothers who drank during pregnancy versus kids whose mothers abstained.
The study is one of the first of its kind to track the genetic changes brought about by prenatal alcohol use. It did not include heavy drinkers, but rather focused on alcohol consumption that ordinarily would be considered “moderate.” The moderate drinking caused changes in four specific genes in the children and later resulted in the lower IQ scores.  (article continues here)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can lead to FAS:  Birth defects, cognitive problems and disabilities. They are some of the most preventable birth defects and developmental disabilities. The CDC also points out that there is no amount of alcohol that is safe to drink while pregnant, and all drinks with alcohol can hurt a fetus.

Responsible parenting – and common sense – tend to side with the CDC on this one. Who wants to find out nine months later that the study or the headlines about moderate drinking being ok were wrong?