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Study suggests alcohol may affect men trying to conceive

Friday - 2/21/2014, 5:21am  ET

beer (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)
Drinking alcohol could impact men trying to conceive. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

WASHINGTON -- It's well known know how important it is for pregnant women to stop drinking, but now there are signs it may be a good idea for would-be dads to quit drinking, too.

The first warning signals come from experiments involving male mice who were fed varying concentrations of alcohol. Researchers at a lab in South Korea mated those males with female mice and observed their offspring. In a paper published in Animal Cells and Systems, they say they found evidence that paternal alcohol use can affect fetal development.

Ian Gallicano, an associate professor of biochemistry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, says the evidence is "significant." He notes that researchers found problems in the mice born during the experiment, including malformations in the lungs.

"There is something going on," he says.

No one is really sure why it is happening, although it may have something to do with the impact of alcohol on the genes in sperm, Gallicano says.

"The science of this -- I don't want to say it is in its infancy, but there is still a lot we do not know," Gallicano adds.

There is plenty of certainty about the risks associated with alcohol consumption by pregnant women and increased awareness of the dangers has had an impact, Gallicano says.

Cases of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome seemed to have declined in recent years. But the effects of alcohol in the womb are diverse and vary in intensity. Because of that, Gallicano says it's difficult to know how many babies are born with FAS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates FAS occurs in about 0.2 to 1.5 of every 1,000 live births. The CDC acknowledges, however, that some statisticians have come out with a higher range.

The CDC says the cost to the nation was roughly $2 million in 2002 for each individual with FAS, which can affect everything from development of key organs to vision problems, poor coordination and impaired reasoning, memory and social skills.

Gallicano says that while much more research is needed to determine a paternal link to FAS in humans, couples thinking about getting pregnant might want to err on the side of caution.

"It really might be a good idea for both to stop drinking," he says.

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