June 22nd 2011
It’s certainly not news that smoking in pregnancy is bad for Mum and baby, but a new study reveals it’s much worse than previously thought.
The study from several groups including the Clinical Research Group at the HRI and published in the European Heart Journal, examined 405 eight-year-old children of mums who has smoked during pregnancy. They report the children had significantly lower levels of good cholesterol, called high density lipoproteins (HDL) which is an important anti-inflammatory molecule known to protect against the development of cardiovascular disease.
The results even surprised the one of the authors, Professor David Celermajer, group leader of the Clinical Research Group.
“This is a significant finding since it is well known that HDL provides protection against the development of heart disease.
We postulate that these kids are up to 20 per cent more likely to develop problems such as heart attack and stroke during their lifetimes and with heart disease remaining the number one killer in Australia, this represents a massive number of people that are potentially affected”, Professor Celermajer said.
The findings were unexpected since it was previously thought that the effects of exposure to cigarette smoke declined over time.
“…here are kids who were exposed to another person's smoke when they were growing in their mum's belly and eight years later, eight years after being removed from that insult they've still got a footprint on it” Prof Celermajer said.
The team also looked at the effect of smoking in pregnancy on the kids’ artery thickness, which is associated with blood pressure, and were surprised to find there was no difference when compared to kids from non-smoking mothers.
“We looked as to whether smoking in pregnancy was related to high blood pressure in the kids and it wasn't. We looked as to whether smoking in pregnancy actually caused the blood vessels to thicken up and it didn't.”
Prof Celermajer is cautious however that it might be too early to detect these changes in the children and they still may appear later in life.
“For kids whose mums did smoke - and they can't wind back the clock now - they have to be particularly careful of the way they live their lives to maximise their heart health by not smoking themselves and by having healthy diet and exercise habits”, Prof Celermajer said.
Importantly, the team were unable to indentify a “safe” level of smoking further emphasising the importance of suspending smoking completely when pregnant.
“So the message to Mums is, even if you’re attempted by one or two, please don’t to protect the long term heart health of your unborn children”, Professor Celermajer said.
The findings are a further reminder of the dangers of smoking and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, especially when pregnant.
This story has also been covered by ABC News and AM on ABC Radio
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