Does maternal tobacco smoking modify the effect of alcohol on fetal development?

(December 22, 2009)

The difference between tobacco use and alcohol use during pregnancy is really just the difference between being killed by a grenade or a high-powered rifle, as far as the fetus is concerned. While one can be fortunate enough not to cause fetal death because of the ingestion of these two toxins, one would not be so fortunate once the child is born with neurological defects and a low birth weight or even being born pre-term. The fundamental point that needs to be understood here is that alcohol and tobacco are toxins – they don’t even have any incidentally good effects for the body that cannot be acquired by cleaner methods; this postulate holds for every human being in whatever stage of life.

Tobacco smoke is more than just nicotine; in fact, if tobacco was purely a nicotine dose then we would probably see a lot less lung cancer victims. There are over a hundred carcinogens in tobacco smoke that include cyanide and trace elements that should not be in the body. As far as these substances reaching the fetus goes, it mostly depends on how much smoke one is exposed to but any amount of smoking causes hypoxia. This is because of the amount of carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke due to the incomplete combustion of tobacco. Carbon monoxide binds to the hemoglobin of red blood cells more completely than oxygen and can actually displace oxygen. This causes less oxygen to go into the tissues, choking them off – a condition called hypoxia. Low levels of oxygen to a fetus can cause developmental defects and even mental retardation. Alcohol’s mechanisms are slightly different. Alcohol is metabolized to a more potent form by the liver called acetylaldehyde. This is what really causes the effects of intoxication. It is curiously also a constituent of tobacco smoke. This chemical can cause neurological damage and is also a carcinogen. Besides all of this, it taxes the fetal liver greatly to have to metabolize such heavy compounds.

It can therefore be logically ascertained that using tobacco and alcohol during pregnancy is a recipe for disaster and will either cause a miscarriage in the first trimester or will cause developmental defects subsequently. These should be completely avoided during pregnancy and one should be especially weary of second-hand smoke being around when one is pregnant. Second-hand smoke has actually been purported as being even more toxic than first-hand smoke.

Submitted by P T on December 22, 2009 at 12:56

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