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"Although most women stop drinking once they discover they are pregnant, a significant proportion are consuming alcohol at the time of conception, before they even know," says Karen Moritz. (Credit: Pexels)

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Does drinking at conception risk baby’s future health?

Babies of mothers who drink alcohol around the time of conception face dramatically increased risks of type 2 diabetes and obesity in early middle age, research with rats suggests.

Associate Professor Karen Moritz of University of Queensland’s School of Biomedical Sciences and PhD student Emelie Gardebjer discovered that the equivalent of five standard drinks consumed around the time of conception altered the development of the fetus.

“Before the egg implants, before any organs start to develop, alcohol consumption somehow causes changes to the embryo,” Moritz says.

“Anything that affects fetal development can cause long term programming, which means offspring can be born with increased risk and susceptibility to disease later in life.

“Monitoring the offspring of the laboratory rat model, we found the risk of becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes in early middle age dramatically increased.

“The usual risk factors of these two diseases are attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise, but our research showed exposure to alcohol around conception presents a risk similar to following a high-fat diet for a major proportion of life.

“Although most women stop drinking once they discover they are pregnant, a significant proportion are consuming alcohol at the time of conception, before they even know,” she says.

“Our future research will be focusing on the possibility of administering preventative interventions. One possibility is giving some type of nutrient to the mother, even in later pregnancy, to see if the changes caused by the early alcohol exposure can be prevented, and in turn prevent the possible long-term disease outcomes for offspring.”

The research appears in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Source: University of Queensland

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