Is it unsafe for the father, as well as the mother, to drink alcohol?
Published on: 04-01-2020
I’m a 30-year-old female. My husband and I are planning a family. He says I should not take any alcohol during pregnancy. We seldom drink alcohol at home, but my husband sometimes drinks with his friends. Does his drinking also pose a danger to our unborn baby?
Alcohol is a known teratogenic agent, which means that it can and does cause abnormalities in babies in the womb. It’s long been known that maternal alcohol consumption is significantly associated with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Babies with FASD have congenital abnormalities; retarded (delayed) growth; and mental, behavioral, and learning disorders. They also may have characteristic facial features.
Approximately 25 percent of children with FASD have congenital heart defects (CHDs), confirming alcohol as a cause. The mental and behavioral disorders become more apparent as the child grows and develops. It’s been accepted that these CHDs were related only to the alcohol consumption by the mother. Last year (2019), however, a large data analysis was done to determine whether the father’s (paternal) alcohol-drinking pattern may be related to an increased risk of CHDs. This was a meta-analysis, looking at combined (pooled) data from large studies. The data used were drawn from large scientific databases in China, Europe, and the United States relating to CHDs and parental alcohol exposure. The number of subjects (people) analyzed included 41,747 drinkers and 297,587 controls (nondrinkers). The study was published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.*
A key finding is that paternal drinking significantly increases the odds of a newborn having congenital heart abnormalities. It’s thought that alcohol damages the DNA and RNA in the sperm. This effect increases as the amount of alcohol consumed increases. To reduce the chances of CHDs occurring to the level of that of nondrinkers, a male needs to stop drinking a number of months before conception occurs. This is interesting and important data.
The answers to your questions are therefore “yes,” and “yes”! Yes, the data are showing there are dangers to your baby if your husband takes alcohol up to three months before conception occurs. And yes, there are also the added dangers to your baby and child as time passes, related to all the issues related to alcohol consumption generally by men—and also women.
Alcohol kills more than 3 million people globally every year, and is responsible for 5 percent of the global disease burden. This leaves many orphans and widows. Alcohol is a known teratogen (increases congenital defects). It’s also a known carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).
There’s no safe level of alcohol intake. It’s addictive and associated with accidents, drownings, crime, domestic violence, and numerous diseases, with almost no organ system escaping the dangers of alcohol use, including the seat of reason and choice—the brain.
Ultimately, the compelling reason to avoid alcohol is to keep our minds clear and sensitive to the speaking of God’s Spirit. In this, as with many other health decisions, prevention (not consuming alcohol) is the cure.
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.
Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.