Men’s Alcohol Consumption and Fetal Development
Men are more likely to binge drink alcohol and are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, when it comes to diagnosing babies born with birth defects linked to alcohol consumption, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, only the mother’s alcohol drinking habits are taken into account.
Research clearly shows that sperm carry an enormous amount of epigenetic information — meaning inherited shifts in the way genes are expressed that are not caused by changes in DNA sequences — that strongly influences the development of the fetus and the health of the child.
But most doctors and other health care providers do not take into account the impact of the father’s health and lifestyle choices on the child’s development.
The Effects of Male Drinking on Fetal Development
In this regard, Michael Golding, a professor of physiology at Texas A&M University, explores the ways in which male drinking affects fetal development, in a study that is the first to prove that men drinking alcohol before pregnancy is a plausible but completely understudied factor in Development of alcohol-related craniofacial deformities and growth deficiency.
Impact on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome is associated with three primary birth defects: facial abnormalities, including small eyes and midface deformities; Poor head and brain development, and fetal growth restriction, a condition that occurs when babies are born smaller than average.
Research Method and Findings
Building on a previous study conducted on humans, the research team used facial recognition software to study the effects of alcohol consumption on the faces of mice born after female or male consumption of alcohol.
In a study published early this year, a digital photo of a mouse’s face was taken. Facial features were then digitally mapped, including specific parts of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth.
The computer program determined whether exposure of the mother, father, or both to alcohol changed the proportional relationships between each of these parameters.
The study revealed that chronic exposure to alcohol in males affects the formation of the offspring’s brain, skull, and face. The researchers also noted microcephaly, an underdevelopment of the head and brain, as well as low birth weight, which became worse the more the male parent drank.
Conclusion and Implications
So, the study shows that chronic alcohol exposure in males — defined as consuming more than five drinks a day within a four-hour period — can lead to the three primary birth defects of fetal alcohol syndrome.
Other studies have also identified behavioral changes in the offspring of male mice exposed to regular alcohol consumption.
In addition, clinical studies indicate that paternal drinking increases the risk of heart defects in boys.
The study also supports the direct effects of alcohol consumption on men’s fertility and couples’ ability to achieve a healthy pregnancy. These observations may be especially important for couples struggling to have children.