London - Drinking even a single glass of wine a week while pregnant can risk lowering your child’s intelligence, researchers warn.
They say even small levels of exposure to alcohol in the womb alter a baby’s brain development and can result in a loss of up to four IQ points.
There was no effect evident among children whose mothers abstained during pregnancy, suggesting exposure to alcohol affected intelligence, the study published by Bristol and Oxford universities found.
Although official guidance says alcohol is best avoided in pregnancy, there is conflicting evidence about how much can be consumed safely, with research indicating that light drinking does not adversely affect a baby’s development.
The study looked at 4,167 mothers and their children to see if they had four common genes which influence how quickly an individual breaks down alcohol.
Those with a greater number of these genes take longer to rid themselves of alcohol, which makes them more vulnerable to its effects. Only eight children did not have any of the four genes.
The scientists then examined the mothers’ alcohol consumption. “Moderate” drinking was regarded as anything less than six units of alcohol a week – the equivalent of three standard glasses of wine – while some of the women abstained through the whole of their pregnancy. Heavy drinkers were excluded.
When youngsters whose mothers were moderate drinkers were tested at the age of eight, those who had three of the gene variants – meaning they were slower to rid alcohol from their systems – had a lower intelligence when compared with those who had either one or two. Children with all four genes were found to have, on average, a reduced IQ of four points in comparison to those with one of two. The intelligence of children whose mothers avoided alcohol was not affected, no matter how many genes they had.
Scientists said the results provide evidence that exposure to alcohol in the womb has an effect on brain development.
Dr Ron Gray, of Oxford University, who led the research, published online in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, said: “The basic message is a precautionary one – why take the chance? So women have good reason to choose to avoid alcohol when pregnant.”
Dr Simon Newell, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Drinking even a small amount of alcohol while pregnant can do harm to your unborn child. We already know around 6,000 babies a year are born with brain damage, physical problems or learning disabilities as a result of heavy alcoholconsumption.
“It is impossible to say what constitutes as a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol so our advice to mothers is don’t take a chance and drink no alcohol at all.” - Daily Mail