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Fetal alcohol syndrome: dad's fault, too?

Fetal alcohol syndrome has been linked for some time now to alcohol abuse on the part of mothers, but what about the fathers? A Chicago-based researcher who has studied this problem for the past 12 years suggests that a hard-drinking daddy can cause the problem even if mom doesn't drink at all.

Male mice were fed a certain amount of alcohol as part of a liquid diet in a recent study. These male mice sired a reduced average litter size 58 percent below that of nonalcoholic male mice. The study also showed a significant increase in fetal mortality. Dr. Robert A. Anderson, Jr., the Chicago researcher, hypothesizes that alcohol may affect sperm, thus affecting the male's offspring. Anderson believes his results could have far-reaching implications for studying human birth defects.

"Up until now, potential mothers have been warned not to drink or smoke, but little attention has been given to potential fathers," says Anderson. "This attitude is bound to change."

The Chicago study's results also seem to reinforce the importance of both genetic and environmental influences that may contribute to alcoholism. Many scientists now believe that alcoholism is at least partially a genetic trait and that some people are born with a predisposition toward becoming alcoholic. If alcohol does, in fact, affect male sperm, it could be possible that this "genetic predisposition" is actually a genetic mutation, caused by parental drinking.
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Publication:Medical Update
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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