Pregnancy drinking 'harms placenta'

19 February 2014 21:24

Ill advised: new research offers a further reason why pregnancy and drinking alcohol should not be mixed

Ill advised: new research offers a further reason why pregnancy and drinking alcohol should not be mixed

Drinking even moderately is bad for a pregnant woman's placenta, according to a new study.

The placenta supplies everything that a developing infant needs until birth.

But scientists have found that women who drink alcohol at moderate or heavy rates during the early part of their pregnancy might harm the growth and function of this organ.

University of Manchester researchers examined placentas in laboratory conditions.

They found that drinking alcohol at moderate (2/3 standard drinks) to high (4-6 standard drinks) levels lowered the cell growth in a woman's placenta.

But women who are 0-28 weeks' pregnant need not totally put their life on hold just because they are carrying. They can enjoy a holiday with peace of mind by taking out pregnancy travel insurance, which offers medical expenses cover for pregnancy and childbirth during this timespan.

The research looked at the effect of alcohol and its major toxic breakdown product, acetaldehyde, on the placenta in the opening few weeks of pregnancy.

This is a timespan key for normal development where three primary germ cell layers in the very early infant develop into internal organs.

While placental cell development was lessened at mid and heavy drinking rates, the cells that ensure the placenta fastens to the mother were unaffected.

Alcohol at extremely low concentrations (1-2 units, the equivalent to half or one standard drink) had no effect on growth or function.

Researchers also showed alcohol at moderate to high levels reduced the delivery of taurine, a vital amino acid, from mother to baby through the placenta.

Taurine is important for brain and physiological development.

But acetaldehyde had no effect on the delivery of taurine, suggesting that alcohol is the key culprit.

Reduced taurine has been found to have a negative impact on behaviour and physical development.

This may explain why some neurological symptoms are found in children of alcoholic mothers, the researchers claimed.

The British Medical Association-funded study is published in the PLoS One journal.

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