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First Stool May Offer Sign of Fetal Alcohol Exposure

Could reduce reliance on mother's honesty about alcohol use during pregnancy

TUESDAY, June 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors have typically only been able to diagnose fetal exposure to alcohol through the admission of the mother. But researchers may have discovered a more accurate way to determine a baby's exposure.

When alcohol is consumed, it binds with the body's fatty acids to create fatty acid ethyl esters. These FAEEs build up in the tissue of adults, but in newborn babies, they are expelled in meconium, or the first stool an infant passes after birth.

"There are only a few biomarkers that indicate if an infant has been exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, and most of them are not strictly associated with alcohol use," study author Enrique M. Ostrea Jr., professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University in Detroit, said in a prepared statement. "In this study, we have found a direct association between the presence of certain FAEEs and alcohol use," he said.

Mothers and their newborn babies were studied to compare FAEEs in the baby's meconium to the mother's response to alcohol use while pregnant. Of the 124 mothers questioned, 93 admitted to alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Positive chemical ionization gas chromatography/mass spectrometry was used to analyze the FAEEs in the newborns' stools, and compared to the mothers' answers.

"The incidence of ethyl linoleate in meconium was found to be significantly higher in the alcohol-exposed group when compared to the control group," said Ostrea. "There was also a significant association between alcohol exposure and group concentrations of ethyl linoleate. Furthermore, the highest ethyl-linoleate concentration was only found in the alcohol-exposed infants," he added.

The study findings appear in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The researchers concluded that testing for FAEEs is a significant advancement in diagnosing and treating infants exposed to alcohol in the womb.

Testing for FAEEs "would allow early identification and treatment for children born with fetal alcohol effects who might otherwise not be recognized, particularly if the mother does not admit to drinking," Ostrea said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more information on fetal alcohol syndrome.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, June 25, 2006
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