A new study has found that babies who are conceived by women who drink alcohol near the time of conception end up having an increased risk of diabetes type 2 and also obesity during middle age. This study was performed by the University of Queensland, and it was done by the School of Biomedical Sciences.
The lead author of the study was Associate Professor Karen Moritz, and she was researching how events, specifically alcohol consumption, before and during pregnancy impact the health of the babies later on. Dr. Moritz and PhD student Ms. Emelie Gardebjer used laboratory rat models to make this discovery, and they found that five drinks consumed around the time of conception altered the development of the fetus. This event is going on before the egg is implanted and before any of the organs are starting to develop. Somehow the consumption of the alcohol is making the embryo change, and this causes changes to the development of the fetus. These changes, even in the very beginning, end up leading to a long term programming error, and this means that the offspring are then born with an increased risk and susceptibility to diabetes later on in their lifetime.
The researchers said that by monitoring the offspring of the laboratory rat models, they found that the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in middle age is dramatically increased. Poor diet and lack of exercise are often attributed to the development of both of these conditions, but now this research is showing that being exposed to alcohol during the time of conception also is presenting a risk similar to following a higher-fat diet for a large proportion of the life of the person. In Australia, 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned, so this study is really important since a lot of women often times do not know they are pregnant when they are consuming the alcohol, and are not aware of the potentially severe negative consequences this behavior has on the fetus that isn’t even really developed yet.
Most women do stop drinking once they know they are pregnant, but since pregnancy is not detected at least for a couple of weeks after conception, the women are drinking while pregnant without even knowing they are indeed pregnant. This study hopefully can one day lead to preventative interventions that could lessen the risk of obesity and diabetes type 2 in these children who were exposed to the alcohol at a very early age. The researchers hope that one day a nutrient can be given to the mother sometime later in the pregnancy, which could reverse the effects of the alcohol consumption that happened very early on in the pregnancy before the fetal development occurred.
This study raises a lot of interesting questions because it shows that there are susceptibilities that even the very youngest fetus could end up with because of habits of the mother. Although we have significantly increased the time that a woman can find out she is pregnant, it is all but impossible to know you are pregnant at the moment of conception, and that makes it very difficult to know when you should stop partaking in certain behaviors like alcohol consumption. Another point that this research raises is that drinking later on during pregnancy could even be more harmful than previously thought, since this study is showing the profound effects of alcohol during conception. If alcohol is able to impact the baby during conception, then there is certainly going to be long-term effects of alcohol use later on in the pregnancy. A lot of studies have come out to say that a glass of wine here and there while you are pregnant does not impact the baby in a negative way, but this study might end up raising more questions about what the potential impact of alcohol is on a baby in the uterus. The biggest finding out of this study is that drinking around conception increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is becoming more of a problem in our society, and a lot of people are getting diagnosed later in life, such as during middle age as this study suggests. This study is only the first study to look at this, so more studies will need to be done in order to figure out just how serious or how often the susceptibilities end up turning into the disease later in life.