We all know that drinking while pregnant can harm an unborn child, but new research suggests that alcohol abuse before pregnancy can also hurt a child’s health. This risk remains even if you abstain throughout the entire period of conception and pregnancy. The finding adds to current research on how parents' lifestyles can influence the health of their future children.

For the study, presented this week at the Endocrine Society’s 99th annual meeting in Orlando, Florida, researchers from Rutgers University revealed that mice who were subjected to binge drinking habits similar to those practiced by humans gave birth to offspring with high blood sugar and other changes in glucose function. The researchers suggested that, if the same holds true for humans, binge drinking before pregnancy may increase a child’s risk of developing diabetes as an adult.

Read: Dads' Age, Alcohol Use Changes Sperm, May Increase Risk Of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

"The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on an unborn child are well known, including possible birth defects and learning and behavior problems,” explained lead investigator Dipak Sarkar in a recent statement. However, it is not known whether a mother's alcohol use before conception also could have negative effects on her child's health and disease susceptibility during adulthood.”

For the study, the team had rats binge drink for four weeks by giving them a diet that was 6.7 percent alcohol. This was enough to raise their blood alcohol levels to those of binge drinking humans. The rats were then taken off this diet for several weeks before they were bred. According to the study, several weeks of alcohol abstinence for the rats was equivalent to several months of abstinence in humans.

Results showed that adult offspring born to female mice that binge drank displayed a number of signs of abnormal glucose function, such as increased blood glucose levels and decreased insulin levels in the blood and pancreatic tissue. While it’s not clear yet if the same results are found in human children born of mothers who binge drank prior to conception, Al-Yasari explained that “these findings suggest that [the effects of] a mother's alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring,” possibly increasing their chances of developing certain diseases, such as diabetes.

It’s not just a mother’s lifestyle choices that could have long-term consequences on offspring; past research has suggested that a father’s lifestyle could also play a role. The 2016 study found that alcohol use in fathers was linked to decreased birth weight, reduction in overall brain size, and impaired cognitive function. This was because an alcoholic lifestyle lead to epigenetic changes in sperm’s DNA that could be passed on for several generations. According to a press release on the study, in addition to this, the research also suggested that alcohol abuse in fathers could influence gene expression for organ structure in their offspring, a factor that would contribute to a number of health problems such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. When it comes to the health of children, mother and father may play an equal role.

Source: Al-Yasari A, et al. Endocrine Society's 99th annual meeting. Orlando. 2017

See Also:
Pregnant Mother’s Blood May Be Used To Reveal Baby’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome To Doctors

More Than 3 Million Women At Risk Of Exposing Baby To Alcohol During Early Stages Of Pregnancy