We’ve heard the stories from our moms, or maybe Grandma: women drank through their pregnancies and their kids turned out “just fine”. We’ve seen the big-bellied women swilling martinis on Mad Men. And the pictures of Kate Hudson drinking wine in Argentina just this past week.
When it comes to drinking and pregnancy, this may be the most confusing time ever. The past year has brought us some well-publicized studies suggesting that the blanket ban on alcohol during pregnancy may be overstated. We’ve even heard that light alcohol consumption could be beneficial for fetuses. Still, pregnant women are officially advised to avoid alcohol, because no safe limit has been established.
Now, a new study may help explain why some women can drink during pregnancy without affecting their babies, while others can’t.The key, explains Babble Science writer Heather Turgeon, is in the genes, specifically a gene called Di03.
“Certain versions of the Dio3 gene make for a low production of the thyroid hormone-stabilizing enzyme, which then translates into an excess of thyroid hormones. When a mother passes on a version of this gene to her boy fetus, the brain’s hippocampus (important for learning and memory) becomes vulnerable to the effects of even moderate amounts of alcohol.”
At Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, researchers gave a group of pregnant rats the equivalent of 2-3 alcoholic drinks per day. The rats who were born with this Di03 variation suffered fetal alcohol effect (social behavior and memory deficits) while the rats who didn’t inherit the Di03 variation did not.
As Heather points out, 2-3 alcoholic drinks a day is not universally considered moderate alcohol intake. In fact, for women, this is generally defined as heavy drinking. But this study brings into slightly clearer focus something we’ve known for awhile: the effects of alcohol vary according to each fetus’ vulnerability. That’s why the medical community has erred on the conservative side for so long, because they just don’t know what amount of alcohol is potentially damaging to each pregnancy. What may change as a result of this study—and the further research that will likely follow— is whether we may be able to determine this information beforehand.
Will pregnancies of the future be genetically tested for vulnerability to fetal alcohol effect? Will Di03-negative moms be living it up with wine at dinner…in restaurants…without glares?
Read Heather Turgeon’s story here.
photo: Brett L/flickr