It is known that the food choices made by a woman during her gestation phase affect the health of the unborn child. From time to time, medical practitioners advise expectant mothers on the kind of lifestyle they must adopt to eliminate the risk of disorders in their children.
Despite various instructions and a slew of warnings issued by health care providers, some women tend to consume alcohol or drugs during pregnancy which aggravates the risk of the baby to develop various kinds of physical and psychological disabilities.
Doctors in the United States consider prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) as the most common preventable cause for delay in the cognitive development of a child. However, the risk can be significantly reduced by curbing drinking during pregnancy. Prior studies conducted on animals have revealed the negative impact of PAE on placental growth, but not much has been done to show the effect on human placenta.
To understand the effects of alcohol and drugs on the placental development in human body, the scientists gathered placentas from 103 pregnant women of mixed lineage who were admitted at the first antenatal clinic visit in Cape Town, South Africa. The study titled “Alcohol, Methamphetamine, and Marijuana Exposure Have Distinct Effects on the Human Placenta” was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research in April 2016.
As part of the study, the scientists questioned 66 women with a history of alcohol abuse and 37 women who did not drink were questioned about their drinking, smoking and drug-taking habits. Both the groups of women were examined during their three antenatal visits. Detailed pathology examinations on each placenta were done by making use of a systematic procedure, regardless of the exposure status. In multivariable regression models, the impact of prenatal exposure was assessed based on determinants such as size and structure of placenta, and the presence of infections and meconium.
The researchers observed that the use of alcohol, methamphetamine and marijuana were linked to definite patterns of pathology, indicating the effect of each on the placental development during the prenatal stage. The scientists found that constant alcohol exposure had led to reduced placental weight and a decreased ratio of placenta to birth weight. On the contrary, use of methamphetamine was linked to an increased placental weight along with rise in proportion of placenta to birth weight. Marijuana use was also linked to greater placental weight.
There was an aggravated probability of placental hemorrhage due to alcohol exposure. Moreover, use of alcohol, cigarettes and methamphetamine was linked to a decreased probability of intrauterine passing of meconium, which is a symptom of acute fetal stress and/or hypoxia.
The study was the first of its kind to analyze the effect of cigarettes, alcohol and methamphetamine exposure on the placental development of humans, as most of the previous researches were focused on the impact of these substances on the animal placental evolution. The study paved the way for developing innovative and evidence-based therapeutic interventions for the treatment of prolonged teratogenic repercussions of prenatal alcohol and drug exposure.
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