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How Smoking Can Affect Your Baby’s DNA

Smoking

Okay, so we all know that smoking is just bad for you, any day of your life. If you’ve been living a life of delusion, you should absolutely be made aware of this (see diagram below), and those God-awful images on the cigarette boxes should be enough to put you off. We’ve also gotten word that e-cigarettes aren’t as angelic as they appear, leaving unwanted gunk deep down in your lungs. Yep, true story. And we know that smoking any kind of cigarette is an absolute no no when pregnant, but did you know why?

Unfortunately, there are those who find their addiction to nicotine so hard to kick, they struggle immensely to kick the habit whilst pregnant. But this ought to give you a nudge in the right direction.

It’s widely known that smoking whilst pregnant can lead to a whole range of problems: premature birth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, cleft palette and it’s known that smoking could well set your child up for health problems later in life. A new study has shown that smoking when you’re carrying a baby can also significantly alter your offspring’s DNA.

Standard risks associated with smoking

Here’s the science bit, direct from the study itself:

Methods: The Illumina HumanMethylation450 BeadChip was used to assess DNA methylation in whole blood from 889 infants shortly after delivery. Out of 889 mothers, 287 reported smoking – twice as many smokers as in any previous EWAS of maternal smoking. CpG sites related to maternal smoking during the first trimester were identified using robust linear regression.

Results: We identified 185 CpGs with altered methylation in infants of smokers at genome-wide significance (q-value < 0.05; Mean Δβ= +/- 2%). These correspond to 110 gene regions, of which 7 have been previously reported and 10 are newly confirmed using publically-available results. Among these 10 the most noteworthy are FRMD4AATP9AGALNT2, and MEG3, implicated in processes related to nicotine dependence, smoking cessation, and placental and embryonic development.

So how do we make sense of all of this technical terminology?

Of those assessed, the DNA of babies born to mothers who’d smoked during pregnancy showed epigenetic changes (the turning on and off of certain genes) that weren’t there in the babies whose mothers hadn’t smoked. As per the report, this study identified 10 genes with newly established links to maternal smoking, which are now implicated in nicotine dependence and placental and embryonic development.

As they explain in the report, this study merely scratches the surface of how exposure to cigarette smoking and other environmental factors can affect the health of your baby, but it’s certainly a warning to those who are planning a family to avoid, avoid avoid.

Caroline Foran @CarolineForan

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