In response to the U.S. Surgeon General, women mustn’t drink alcoholic beverages while pregnant due to risk of birth defects of their unborn child. Now, research at Texas A&M University demonstrates that a father’s alcohol consumption before conception also links to growth defects that affect the event of his offspring’s brain, skull and face.
Research investigating fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) exclusively examines maternal alcohol exposure. Nonetheless, because men drink more and usually tend to binge drink than women, Dr. Michael Golding, an associate professor within the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology, and his team got down to challenge the prevailing dogma, using a mouse model to look at what happens when the mother, father and each parents devour alcohol.
In a brand new article published within the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Golding and his team found that male alcohol consumption before conception caused FAS brain and facial growth defects.
We found that male exposures actually drive certain craniofacial differences much stronger than maternal exposures do, so this programming effect that is coming through sperm has a profound effect on the organization of the face and the expansion and proportion of various facial expression. When it was the dad drinking, we saw a profound shift within the organization of the face.”
Dr. Michael Golding, Associate Professor within the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology
In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), FAS is a fetal disorder brought on by maternal alcohol consumption while pregnant.
FAS is difficult to diagnose, but when doing so, doctors currently search for abnormal facial expression; lower-than-average weight, height or each; central nervous system problems comparable to a small head size, problems with attention and hyperactivity or poor coordination; and verification of maternal alcohol use while pregnant.
“When doctors suspect a baby has FAS, they sit down with the mother to substantiate the diagnosis by discussing her drinking habits while pregnant,” Golding said. “It isn’t unusual for the mother to disclaim consuming alcohol while pregnant. Once they do, there’s this stigma or this notion that girls are lying about their alcohol use.”
Golding said this research, which was funded by a Medical Research Grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation and the NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, reveals a possible blind spot in the present diagnostic criteria for FAS, essentially the most severe type of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), which requires documentation of maternal alcohol use while pregnant.
“Our research proves there is a plausible alternative explanation – the daddy’s contribution, which has never been examined before,” he said. “On this study, we call into query the dismissal of the mother’s denial and really examine the capability of male alcohol use to induce FAS growth defects.”
Golding explained that findings from his holistic approach that examines each parents’ contributions to FAS reveal the necessity for 2 critical changes.
“First is the popularity of the importance of male health in pregnancy outcomes and fetal health,” he said.
Golding identified that paternal health before conception is a novel consideration when it comes to pregnancy outcomes and fetal health; consequently, raising awareness of the role a father’s health plays in his offspring’s health is just as vital as awareness of the mother’s contributions from preconception and thru gestation.
“Research examining fetal health is overwhelmingly focused on maternal health,” he said. “I’m not saying that this shouldn’t be appropriate; I’m just saying it isn’t the entire picture and we’d like some balance.
“The second,” he said, “is the undeniable fact that each parents are chargeable for stopping alcohol-related birth defects.”
FAS has significant, life-changing consequences for kids.
Because their study identified FAS-related craniofacial differences in offspring born to fathers who often consumed alcohol at or greater than the legal limit, Golding identified that each parents should commit to limiting or omitting their alcohol consumption before attempting to change into pregnant.
Ultimately, Golding emphasizes that step one on this process is expanding messaging outreach in regards to the reproductive dangers of alcohol use to each parents.
“Change the alcohol warning label to remove the maternal emphasis and put it on each parents to say, ‘The choice to devour this beverage can have significant, life-changing consequences to a future child,'” he said. “At once, the warning label only conveys a part of the story. We must get that message out into the world as quickly as possible.”
Thomas, K. N., et al. (2023). Preconception paternal ethanol exposures induce alcohol-related craniofacial growth deficiencies in fetal offspring. Journal of Clinical Investigation. doi.org/10.1172/jci167624.