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Researchers from the University of Houston have published the findings of a study through which they sought to establish the impact of alcohol and nicotine on a fetus.

The researchers discovered that smoking cigarette and drinking alcohol may severely affect brain development during pregnancy. The scientists found that nicotine and alcohol negatively affect gene regulatory pathways in fetuses, severely affecting brain development. This is especially when the pregnant mother exposes herself to alcohol and cigarettes early in her pregnancy. The findings of the study have been published in a journal called the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

“The alterations of these pathways are crucial since they are involved in neural network formation, cell development, and communication,” stated Dr. Metin Akay.

Some of the pathways in which many miRNAs and genes were altered due to alcohol and nicotine exposure include neuronal axon guidance, neuronal migration, dopamine cell growth, dopamine cell growth, and neurotrophin signaling. Drinking and smoking during pregnancy affects these neural networks’ normal development and may result in neurological disorders.

What are the implications of damaged or altered neural development during pregnancy?

Researchers found that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol during pregnancy will likely lead to cognitive impairment, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and increased health risks in the child’s life. In some cases, the effects might be so severe that they might cause sudden infant death syndrome.

According to the Centers for Disease Control or CDC, more than 10% drink alcohol and smoke while pregnant. The latest study on the effects of alcohol and smoking while pregnant and the implications on fetal development dives into largely unexplored territory. The findings of the recent study may help to push towards better prenatal care. If more people, especially women, are educated on the dangers and impact of smoking during pregnancy, it may make a difference.

Perhaps the availability of the information from the study will encourage more women who smoke and drink to seek perinatal nicotine-alcohol treatment. This will give their unborn children a chance at normal development so that they can have a chance at a better life.