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Antioxidants May Fight Alcohol-Linked Birth Defects

Mouse study may have implications for humans

FRIDAY, June 25, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Antioxidants taken during pregnancy might help prevent birth defects in babies born to women who abuse alcohol, suggests a study conducted in mice.

Researchers report 36 percent fewer limb malformations in pups born to pregnant mice that consumed daily amounts of ethyl alcohol plus a new antioxidant compound, EUK-134.

The study is "unique," researcher Dr. Kathleen K. Sulik said in a prepared statement, because it suggests "for the first time that giving antioxidants to a pregnant mother at the same time she's exposed to alcohol can diminish the incidence of major malformation."

Sulik is a professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in Chapel Hill.

She said these findings in mice may have implications for humans.

"The nutritional status of alcoholics isn't the best. People who are alcoholic by definition can't control their drinking and often cannot quit drinking during pregnancy," Sulik said.

"And so the practical point of this paper is that perhaps we can diminish some of the problems that might exist if the nutritional status of alcoholic mothers improves. It would be great if these women would supplement their diets with a daily [antioxidant-containing] multivitamin," she said.

Examples of antioxidants include selenium, vitamin C and E, zinc, and superoxide dismutase.

Still, the best way to protect the fetus from alcohol-induced birth defects is simple, Sulik said: "If there's a chance you could become pregnant, don't drink -- or if you're drinking, don't get pregnant."

The study appears in the June 18 online issue of FASEB-J, the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about drinking and pregnancy.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill news release, June 18, 2004
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