Drinking alcohol during pregnancy is a debatable topic. While some believe that you must completely avoid alcohol and also smoking cigarettes during pregnancy, some say that an occasional drink may be alright. But a new study, conducted by researchers from King’s College London and the University of Bristol, clearly indicates that consumption of alcohol, smoking cigarettes and exposure to stress can cause certain epigenetic changes at birth that can make the child more prone to aggressive behaviour.
Epigenetic changes refer to external modifications to the DNA that turn the genes ‘on’ or ‘off’. According to researchers, these can leas to conduct problems in children later in life such as fighting, lying and stealing. The team believes that children who show early-onset of conduct problems are much more likely to turn aggressive and indulge in antisocial behaviour as adults.
The researchers explain that kids who develop conduct problems before the age of 10 are at a much higher risk of severe and chronic antisocial behaviour and it is believed that genetic factors that can play an important role in influencing the degree of risk. The team used data from Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) to examine the link between DNA methylation at birth and conduct problems from the ages of four to 13. DNA methylation is an epigenetic process that regulates how genes are ‘switched on and off’.
Alcohol, smoking cigarettes and exposure to stress can cause certain epigenetic changes
In addition to this, they also measured the role of environmental factors that have been previously linked to early onset of conduct problems such as maternal diet, smoking, alcohol use and exposure to stressful life events. The results showed that epigenetic changes at birth in seven sites of the DNA were different for those who developed early-onset of conduct problems in comparison to those who did not. Further, it was found that some of these epigenetic differences were also linked to smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy.
Previous studies have shown that exposure to maternal smoking and alcohol is associated with developmental problems in children, but this study established that it can also increase the risk if conduct problems. Therefore, it is best to avoid alcohol and smoking during pregnancy for the safety of the child and the mother.