Women who binge drink may be inadvertently harming the health of their future offspring, a new study has found.
Scientists said binge drinking prior to pregnancy increased the likelihood of babies being born with high blood sugar, which could result in them developing diabetes as adults.
For women, binge drinking is equivalent to having four or more drinks in about two hours.
Current advice in the UK is that if you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
Lead author of the study Dipak Sarkar, professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, said: “The effects of alcohol use during pregnancy on an unborn child are well known, including possible birth defects and learning and behaviour problems.
“However, it is not known whether a mother’s alcohol use before conception also could have negative effects on her child’s health and disease susceptibility during adulthood.”
Sarkar and a team of researchers studied rats whose basic processes of glucose function are similar to those in humans.
They gave female rats a diet containing 6.7% alcohol for four weeks, which raised their blood alcohol levels to those of binge drinking in humans.
Alcohol was then removed from the rats’ diet, and they were bred three weeks later, equal to several months in humans.
Adult offspring of these rats were compared with the offspring of rats that did not receive alcohol before conception.
After the rats’ offspring reached adulthood, the researchers used standard laboratory techniques to monitor their levels of blood glucose and insulin and two other important hormones, glucagon and leptin.
The research team found that, compared with control offspring, the offspring of rats exposed to alcohol before conception had several signs of abnormal glucose function, including high blood sugar. It also affected the pancreas.
Co author Ali Al-Yasari said: “These findings suggest that [the effects of] a mother’s alcohol misuse before conception may be passed on to her offspring.
“These changes could have lifelong effects on the offspring’s glucose homeostasis and possibly increase their susceptibility to diabetes.”