Maternal Smoking Affects DNA Of Newborns, New Study Reveals

Maternal smoking affects the DNA of children, a new study reveals. In a report published by Reuters, new analysis links changes in a smoking adult’s DNA to that of their baby’s.

Here’s yet one more reason why women should quit smoking. Smoking has been proven to create birth defects, and now researchers have learned from data that the dangerous habit influences DNA methylation, “a chemical code along the DNA strand that controls some DNA mechanics and when genes get activated.” This molecule determines many traits, from eye color to an individual’s risk to certain diseases.

There were 6,073 places where women’s babies’ DNA was “methylated differently from the DNA of nonsmokers’ infants.” The majority of differences were discovered on or near a series of genes related to lung and nervous system development, as well as smoking-related cancers and birth defects that resulted in cleft lip and palate.

Senior study author, Dr. Stephanie London, is the deputy chief of the epidemiology branch at the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. He said the latest analysis on maternal smoking affecting DNA provides even more evidence that women need to kick the habit “at all costs.”

“This study provides more evidence – signals you can see at birth that are similar to signals you can see in adult smokers,” London said.

Researchers examined results from 6,685 mothers and their newborns from studies around the world. Most of the women said they didn’t smoke. However, 13 percent of the women were daily smokers, while another 25 percent occasionally smoked during pregnancy.

The basis of this research was performed via samples of blood taken from the umbilical cord after delivery. Aside from recording differences between newborns of nonsmokers and daily smokers, researchers assessed a group of older children and learned that the ones whose mothers smoked during pregnancy had smoking-related methylation differences in their systems, as well.

It’s noted that the study doesn’t prove how maternal smoking may influence child development or disease. The findings reveal that DNA methylation differences might be associated with the appearance of certain birth defects, or medical problems in babies born to mothers who smoke. It was concluded that maternal smoking affects DNA in terms of how the genes are assigned and alters programs in the cells that predetermine future health, said Andrea Baccarelli, an environmental epigenetics researcher at Harvard University in Boston. Baccarelli wasn’t involved in the study. She explains that it’s “possible that programs in the cells might change to adapt in response to smoking to cope with its adverse effects.”

The authors published their research findings in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

Women who are pregnant — or plan to become pregnant — should take this information very seriously, says Paul Fowler, a director of the Institute of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen in the U.K. He wasn’t involved in the study, but insists that this study “strongly reinforces” the message to women “there can be long-term consequences for their babies after birth” if they choose to smoke while pregnant.

Women who don’t stop smoking before conception still have a chance to make sure they have a healthy baby, says Dr. Amanda Drake, a cardiovascular and pediatric health researcher at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in the U.K. Drake wasn’t part of the study.

“Sustained smoking leads to more effects,” says Drake. “Even if women do not stop smoking before conception, stopping smoking during pregnancy is still better than continuing throughout.”

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