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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Alcohol drinking during pregnancy harms child's IQ
By David Liu, Ph.D.
May 29, 2006, 08:33

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May 29 ( - Those who are ready to get impregnated need to take note: Drinking alcohol during pregnancy, particularly during the first or second trimester can permanently harm the cognitive development, lowering IQ in the child, a new study found.

10-year old American-American children who were exposed to between two and six drinks per week in pregnancy was associated with a lower IQ score compared to those who were not, the study found. The impact was particularly significant if the exposure occurred in the second trimester. But there was no association found in Caucasian children.

Specifically, the researchers found that just one drink a day, defined as 12 oz. of beer or 4 oz. of wine, in the first trimester of pregnancy was associated with a 2-point drop in IQ when the child reaches 10. The results were published May 24 by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Previous studies have already found that heavy drinking in pregnancy leads to lower intelligence in children and the government alerts women of the damaging effect of alcohol prenatally on the IQ and other health conditions in the affected children. The current study was meant to determine the effects of prenatal exposure to light-to-moderate levels of alcohol on IQ.

"IQ is a measure of the child's potential to learn and survive in his or her environment. It predicts how successful we will be in school, work and life," said Jennifer A. Willford, Ph.D., lead author of the study, assistant professor of psychiatry from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "If light-to-moderate drinking can lower IQ, it suggests that mothers should try to abstain during their pregnancies to prevent their children from having cognitive deficits."

For the study, researchers used data from the Maternal Health Practices and Child Development Project, examining substance a buse in women who attended a prenatal clinic from 1983 to 1985. Participants were assessed during each trimester of pregnancy, and again with their c hildren at different times from birth to the age of 21. The children's IQ was assessed at the age of 10 years using the Stanford Binet Intelligence Test.

After considering all other possible risk factors such as maternal intellectual ability, home environment, socioeconomic status, researchers found a relationship between low-to-moderate exposure of alcohol in the first and second trimester and IQ at age 10 in African-American children, but no correlation was found in the Caucasian.

"Our results indicate that the differences in prenatal alcohol effects on the IQ scores of African-American and Caucasian children were not due to the amount or pattern of drinking during pregnancy, their socio-economic status, or the education levels of the parents. We cannot say why this racial difference exists, but other laboratory animal and human studies suggest that genetics may play a role," said Dr. Willford.

Drinking during pregnancy was linked with a lower IQ in the child. Since no studies have suggested a 'safe' level of alcohol in pregnancy, the researchers suggests pregnant women should not drink after learning that they are pregnant.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 10% of pregnant women drank in 2002 and approximately 2% engaged in b inge drinking or frequent use of alcohol.

The problem is that if the women regularly drink, when they find they are pregnant, the fetuses may have already exposed for a few weeks. It is viewed important to prevent pregnancy if a woman wants to drink. But, more than half of women who did not take measures to prevent pregnancy reported alcohol use in 2002.

Women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant should abstain from alcohol, the CDC says. Alcohol use in pregnancy is associated with health problems that adversely affect the mother and fetus (including IQ); no level of alcohol consumption in pregnancy has been determined safe."

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