Researchers studying congenital heart disease (CHD) recommend that men avoid alcohol at least six months before conception and women at least one year.
Previous research into alcohol and its effects on the embryo had only been conducted with a focus on the mother’s drinking habits prior to conception, during pregnancy and postpartum. These studies found that the risk of unborn babies developing tetralogy of Fallot increased by 20% when the mother consumed alcohol.
For this new study, researchers wanted to examine the difference between fathers-to-be who binge drink (more than five drinks at a time), fathers who consume moderate amounts of alcohol, and fathers who do not imbibe at all.
The researchers reviewed over 55 studies with 41,000 babies with CHD and nearly 300,000 healthy babies. The records and data they referenced spanned from 1991 to 2019. They searched for commonalities between exposure to alcohol and cases of CHD. The findings revealed the following;
- Fathers who binge drink regularly increased the risk of their future children developing congenital heart disease by 52%.
- Fathers who consume moderate amounts of alcohol in the months prior to conception saw their future children’s risk of congenital heart disease increase by 44%, compared to the embryos of fathers who do not consume any alcohol. (1)
Alcohol is a teratogen, which can interfere with the physiological development of an unborn baby.
“Binge drinking by would-be parents is a high risk and dangerous behavior that not only may increase the chance of their baby being born with a heart defect, but also greatly damages their own health,” said study author Jiabi Qin, from Xiangya School of Public Health, in a statement.
Understanding the Study
The researchers who performed the meta-analysis of the data state that the study does not imply that the father’s drinking habits have a greater effect than the mother’s.
The study also does not claim that alcohol is the primary cause of congenital heart disease. This condition is highly complex and affected by various factors; maternal health, environmental factors, medications used during and prior to pregnancy, chromosomal anomalies and maternal chronic illness. (2)
“The underlying mechanisms connecting parental alcohol and congenital heart diseases are uncertain and warrant further research,” said Quin. “Although our analysis has limitations – for example, the type of alcohol was not recorded – it does indicate that men and women planning a family should give up alcohol.”
The study’s findings serve to caution those who are planning to start a family to decrease their alcohol consumption and if possible, cut it out completely. This not only reduces the risks of the child having CHD, but it also improves the health of the parents-to-be.