Is Your Baby Drunk in the Womb?

Written by Dr. Joseph Mercola

New research shows that more children are harmed by their mothers’ drinking than previously thought, with 1 in 6 showing signs of cognitive and social problems caused by alcohol they “consumed” prenatally. While The Times reported that the study has been criticized for spreading fear about the consequences of prenatal alcohol consumption, researchers stand behind it, insisting that “the responsible message is abstinence.”

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Substance abuse of any kind around the world is increasing, and 25 percent of people over the age of 18 in the U.S. reported binge drinking in the previous 30 days in a study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Unfortunately, these numbers most likely include a significant number of pregnant women.

And, just as unfortunately, since new research shows that as your body processes alcohol, a transient toxic compound is produced that attacks DNA, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that what happens to the mother’s DNA also happens to her developing baby’s DNA.

And, since alcohol is a carbohydrate, it not only damages your liver and raises levels of DNA-damaging acetaldehyde, but it also increases your risk of obesity, as well as affecting nearly every cell and organ system in your body. In your brain, alcohol affects your limbic system that controls your emotions, which is why alcohol lowers your inhibitions. Your prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with reasoning and judgment, also slows in response to alcohol, leading to more impulsive behavior and poor judgment.

The effect of alcohol on your body depends on a number of factors, including your gender, weight and genetic makeup. The smaller you are, the more concentrated your blood alcohol level will be compared to a larger person drinking the same amount. Women, who tend to have more body fat than men, will also tend to be more affected by alcohol, as alcohol is soluble in fat. This is why drinking guidelines are lower for women.

Genes also play a significant role in how your body processes alcohol, which subsequently determines how likely you are to suffer a hangover as well. Enzymes that break down alcohol are determined by genes. If you have slow-metabolizing enzymes, you're more likely to get a hangover when you drink.

So what is my take on this? I generally define "moderate" alcohol intake (which is allowed in the beginner phase of my nutrition plan) as a 5-ounce glass of wine, a 12-ounce beer or 1 ounce of hard liquor, with a meal, per day.

As you progress further in the nutrition plan, I recommend eliminating all forms of alcohol. If you’re pregnant, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so in addition to eating healthy, why not refrain from drinking until after your baby is born?

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