Drinking While Pregnant Still a Problem

Exposure to alcohol is a known cause of birth defects, yet the number of women who drink alcohol while pregnant is not decreasing, according to a 15 year-study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Approximately 1 in 8 women drank any amount of alcohol while pregnant, the study says.

The drinking patterns persisted despite repeated warnings from surgeons general about the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant. The surgeons general have told pregnant women, and women who may become pregnant to abstain from alcohol consumption in order to eliminate the chance of giving birth to a baby with alcohol related birth defects.

The CDC analysis, as well as a study also published today by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that far too many women use substances (especially alcohol) during their pregnancies.

The CDC study, “Alcohol Use Among Women of Childbearing Age, United States, 1991-2005,” is in the CDC′s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC study also found that 1 of every 50 pregnant women engaged in binge drinking each year during the 15 years.

“Exposure to alcohol can cause lifelong physical and mental disabilities that are preventable by avoiding alcoholic drinks while pregnant,” said Edwin Trevathan, director of the CDC′s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “All women should know that there is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink or safe time to drink it during pregnancy. We encourage all women to pay attention to the surgeon general warnings.”

The study found that pregnant women most likely to report any alcohol use were 35-44 years of age (17.7 percent), college graduates (14.4 percent), employed (13.7 percent), and unmarried (13.4 percent). Pregnant women who binge drink were more likely to be employed and unmarried than were pregnant women who did not binge drink. This study did not examine the reasons why women are still drinking while pregnant.

Any alcohol use was defined as at least one drink of any alcoholic beverage in the past 30 days. Binge drinking was defined as having five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.

“By screening and advising women about the risks of drinking while pregnant, health care providers can play a key role in reducing rates of fetal alcohol syndrome,” said Clark Denny, a CDC epidemiologist and primary author of the study. “This study revealed that there is still a great need for health care professionals to routinely ask all women who are pregnant or at risk of being pregnant about their alcohol consumption.”

The study examined data from 533,506 women aged 18-44 years, of whom 22,027 reported being pregnant at the time of the interview. The data were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS). The BRFSS is a state-based system of health surveys that collects information on health risk behaviors, preventive health practices, and health care access primarily related to chronic disease and injury. Data are collected monthly in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam.

source: CDC, 5/21/09

Women More Vulnerable to Alcohol’s Long-term Effects Than Men

Women are more vulnerable to alcohol’s longterm effects than men, according to the Harvard Heart Letter. The difference is in women’s ability to break down alcohol, which is slower than men’s.

The result is that a woman drinking the same amount as a man will have a higher blood level of alcohol, and for a longer time. Her tissues are exposed to more alcohol per drink than a man’s, and a Japanese study indicates that too much alcohol is bad for a woman’s heart and arteries, as well as being a danger to breast tissue.

Current thinking, according to the Harvard Heart Letter, suggests that “healthy drinkng” is no more than two drinks daily for men and one drink daily for women, a recommendation for the average person. The effects of alcohol intake will depend on your genes, diet and medications taken. Since alcohol prevents the absorption of folic acid, drinkers need to take extra folic acid, which can be accomplished by taking a daily multivitamin/multimineral supplement.

Source: Harvard Heart Letter

Regular Drinking May Reduce the Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Drinking alcohol regularly may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by up to 50%, according to recent research.

Scandinavian researchers conducted two studies, involving 2,750 people, assessing environmental and genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. 1,650 participants had the disease, and were questioned about their smoking and drinking habits, while blood samples were taken to check for genetic risk factors.

Findings showed that drinking alcohol was linked to a reduced risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis; in fact, the more the subject drank, the lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

Among regular drinkers, the quartile drinking the most were up to 50% less likely to develop the disease than the half who drank the least. Findings were the same for both men and women. In addition, alcohol cut the risk most in smokers with genetic risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.

The authors conclude that their research reinforces the importance of lifestyle factors in the development of the disease, and that giving up smoking remains the single most important preventive measure.

They point to recent experimental research by other authors, which shows that alcohol protects against the development and severity of rheumatoid arthritis, although it is not clear exactly how it does this. The study also draws parallels with the links between moderate alcohol consumption and a reduced risk of other inflammatory processes, such as cardiovascular disease.

The study was published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Source: First Ann Rheum Dis 10.1136/ard.2007.086314

Alcohol May Cause Lower Brain Volume

According to a recent report, the more you drink the smaller your brain becomes. It is estimated that 1.9 percent decrease in brain volume per decade accompanies an increase in white matter lesions.

The progression of dementia and problems with thinking, learning and memory are accompanied by lower brain volumes and larger white matter lesions. Moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease; because the brain receives blood from this system, researchers have hypothesized that small amounts of alcohol may also attenuate age-related declines in brain volume. The study results were published in the October, 2008 issue of Archives of Neurology.

Members of the Framingham Offspring Study, which began in 1971 and included 1,839 adults with an average age of 60, were studied by Carol Ann Paul, M.S., of Wellesley College, Mass., and colleagues. The Study also included children of the original Framingham Heart Study participants and their spouses. Between 1999 and 2001, participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a health examination. They reported the number of alcoholic drinks they consumed per week, along with their age, sex, education, height, body mass index and Framingham Stroke Risk Profile (which calculates stroke risk based on age, sex, blood pressure and other factors).

“Most participants reported low alcohol consumption, and men were more likely than women to be moderate or heavy drinkers,” the authors write. “There was a significant negative linear relationship between alcohol consumption and total cerebral brain volume.”

Although men were more likely to drink alcohol, the association between drinking and brain volume was stronger in women, they note. This could be due to biological factors, including women’s smaller size and greater susceptibility to alcohol’s effects.

“The public health effect of this study gives a clear message about the possible dangers of drinking alcohol,” the authors write. “Prospective longitudinal studies are needed to confirm these results as well as to determine whether there are any functional consequences associated with increasing alcohol consumption. This study suggests that, unlike the associations with cardiovascular disease, alcohol consumption does not have any protective effect on brain volume.”

Source: Archives of Neurology,

Three Alcohol Drinks Per Day May Significantly Increase Breast Cancer Risk

It isn’t the type of alcohol but the quantity which increases a woman’s risk of contracting breast cancer.

In fact, the increased breast cancer risk from drinking three or more alcoholic drinks a day is similar to the increased breast cancer risk from smoking a pack of cigarettes or more a day, according to Kaiser Permanente researchers Yan Li, MD, PhD and Arthur Klatsky, MD.

"Population studies have consistently linked drinking alcohol to an increased risk of female breast cancer, but until now there has been little data, most of it conflicting, about an independent role played by the choice of beverage type," said Klatsky, who is presentied these findings on Sept. 27 at the European Cancer Conference (ECCO 14) in Barcelona, Spain.

The study found there was no difference between wine, beer or spirits in the risk of developing breast cancer. Even when wine was divided into red and white, there was no difference. However, when researchers looked at the relationship between breast cancer risk and total alcohol intake, they found that women who drank between one and two alcoholic drinks per day increased their risk of breast cancer by 10 percent compared with light drinkers who drank less than one drink a day. The risk of breast cancer increased by 30 percent in women who drank more than three drinks a day.

"A 30 percent increased risk is not trivial. To put it into context, it is not much different from the increased risk associated with women taking estrogenic hormones. Incidentally, in previous research completed at Kaiser Permanente, we have found that smoking a pack of cigarettes or more per day is related to a similar (30 percent) increased risk of breast cancer," Klatsky said.

Although breast cancer incidence varies between populations and only a small proportion of women are heavy drinkers, Dr Klatsky said that a 30 percent increase in the relative risk of breast cancer from heavy drinking might translate into approximately an extra 5 percent of all women developing breast cancer as a result of their habit.

"Klatsky said that all medical advice needed to be personalized to the individual. "Our findings provide more evidence for why heavy drinkers should quit or cut down."

Source: Kaiser

Epilepsy Drug Topamax Helps Alcoholism Treatment

A drug called Topamax (topiramate) has been found to help alcoholics quit drinking excessively, according to a University of Virginia study. The drug is not FDA approved for treatment of alcoholism, but has been prescribed off-label by doctors to treat the condition.

Topiramate (brand name Topamax) is an anticonvulsant drug produced by Ortho-McNeil Neurologics, a division of Johnson & Johnson. The drug is FDA-approved for treatment of epilepsy and for the prevention of migraines.

To test the drug’s efficacy in treating alcoholism, researchers conducted a 14-week study of 317 alcoholics. Half of the participants were given a placebo and the other half were given Topamax.

The study found that participants on Topamax reduced their alcohol intake from 11 drinks per day on average, to just 3.5 drinks per day. Furthermore, while only abstaining from drinking 3 days per month at the start of the study, by the end of the study they were abstaining from drinking about 15 days per month.

The placebo group also drank less during the study. However, by the end of the study, they abstained from drinking 10 days per month and consumed six drinks per day on average.

The most common side effects of Topamax include a change in taste (carbonated beverages, especially diet sodas and beer, taste particularly bad) and feelings of pins and needles in the head and extremities. Less common side effects include cognitive deficiency (particularly word-finding difficulty); grogginess; lethargy; renal stones, impairment of fine motor skills; vision abnormality and transient or permanent vision loss; weight loss; breast pain; abdominal pain; intense sweating; menstrual disorder; taste changes; pharyngitis; sinusitis; diplopia; rash; leukopenia; fatigue; dizziness; insomnia; anxiety; depression; paresthesia; diarrhea; nausea; dyspepsia; constipation; dry-mouth; dysmenorrhea.


  • New Scientist October 10, 2007
  • FDA

Anti-Smoking Drug Varenicline May Help Curb Drinking

A single pill appears to hold promise in curbing the urges to both smoke and drink, according to researchers trying to help people overcome addiction by targeting a pleasure center in the brain.

The drug, called varenicline, already is sold to help smokers kick the habit. New but preliminary research suggests it could gain a second use in helping heavy drinkers quit, too.