Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Alcoholism

The March of Dimes estimates that more than 40,000 babies are born each year with some type of alcohol-related defect. Alcohol is known as a teratogen, which is a substance that causes fetal harm. Because the immature fetal liver can’t break down alcohol, it accumulates in the fetal blood and tissues, increasing the risk of birth defects. The effects of maternal alcohol intake are dose related which means the more the mother drinks, the greater the harm to the fetus. Binge or frequent drinking during the first trimester of pregnancy is more likely to result in birth defects and other permanent abnormalities and alcohol consumption in the third trimester results in low birth weight and growth retardation.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is a condition characterized by malformations of the face, limbs, heart and nervous system. The facial features persist throughout the child’s life. Exposure to alcohol while in the womb impairs fetal growth– babies are born underweight at birth and rarely normalize their growth after birth. Newborn and infant death rates are very high and whose who survive suffer emotional, behavioral, social, learning and developmental problems during their life. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one of the most common causes of mental retardation in the US and the only one that is preventable.

Fetal alcohol effects are more subtle consequences related to maternal alcohol intake. Although it is not identified at birth, this condition becomes evident when the child enters preschool or kindergarten. The child may show attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder or impaired learning abilities. The incidence of fetal alcohol effects is ten times greater than fetal alcohol syndrome.

There is no known amount of alcohol to be safe while pregnant. The best advice to alcohol consumption during pregnancy is to abstain it if there is any chance of becoming pregnant and throughout pregnancy.

Don’t Let Yourself Become An Alcoholic:

  • Alcohol intake increases to 30% more of total energy intake
  • Appetite is lost and intake of healthful foods declines
  • Over time, the diet becomes deficient in protein, fats, carbs, vitamins A and C and minerals iron, zinc and calcium
  • End stage alcoholics may consume as much as 90% of their daily energy from alcohol
  • Long term exposure to alcohol damages the liver, stomach, small intestine and pancreas
  • Alcohol increases gastric acid production, leading to stomach ulcers, gastric bleeding and damage to cells
  • Digestion of foods and absorption of nutrients such as fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), vitamin B6, folate, and zinc become inadequate leading to malnutrition and weight loss
  • Even if an alcoholic took a supplements, the liver would be too damaged that the cells wouldn’t be able to activate it
  • Excessive alcohol intake is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 21 and the third leading cause of all US deaths
  • 600,000 young Americans die each year from alcohol related motor vehicle accidents, suicides and homicides
  • Rates of physical and sexual assaults,  vandalism, accidental falls and drownings increase when people are under the influence of alcohol
  • Men and women who are alcoholics experience increased loss of calcium in the urine, impaired vitamin D activation and decreased production of certain hormones enhancing bone formation
  • Elevated blood glucose levels because the body can’t respond to insulin increasing the risk of diabetes
  • Research has linked alcohol intake to increased risk of cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, liver, colon and female breast

Source: Thompson, Janice, Melinda Manore, and Linda A. Vaughan. The Science of Nutrition. San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2011. Print.

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