Binge Drinking Could Have Implications For Future Pregnancies

By Britni de la Cretaz 04/04/17

Researchers investigated whether the effects of binge drinking could be passed down to future offspring.

A mother lying with her child.

A new study has found that it isn’t just alcohol use during pregnancy that could put a fetus at-risk—binge drinking by women prior to conception could also have negative impacts on their future children.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), showed that the children of women who binge drank prior to pregnancy were more likely to have children with high blood sugar—as well as other effects on their glucose function that could lead to adult onset diabetes.

The study looked at rats, who supposedly have similar processes of glucose functioning to humans. For four weeks, they gave female rats a diet that raised their blood alcohol levels to those that would be seen in binge drinking humans, and then they removed the alcohol from the rats’ diets. Three weeks later, the rats were bred, which would be equal to several months for humans.

The results found that the offspring of rats who had been exposed to alcohol before conceiving showed signs of abnormal glucose function. They also found evidence that the alcohol exposure had increased inflammatory markers in pancreatic tissue. 

"The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on an unborn child are well known, including possible birth defects and learning and behavior problems. 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," said Dipak Sarkar, PhD, a professor at Rutgers University and principal investigator of the research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) already issued a warning for women of reproductive age who are not on birth control to not drink alcohol, which was controversial when it was announced. The agency's reasoning was that, if someone isn’t trying to get pregnant and they are drinking when they don’t know they are pregnant, there could be harm to the fetus. But many people found the advice to be paternalistic and overly cautious.

There was also a study released last fall that implied that consuming caffeine while trying to conceive could up the chances of miscarriage.

The findings of this most recent study “suggest that [the effects of] a mother's alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring," said Ali Al-Yasari, who was also involved in the research. "These changes could have lifelong effects on the offspring's glucose homeostasis and possibly increase their susceptibility to diabetes."

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.