Antioxidants May Fight Certain Birth Defects

Jun 30, 2004 04:27 AM EDT

A recent study has found that antioxidants taken during pregnancy might help prevent birth defects in babies born to women who abuse alcohol.

The study, appearing online in FASEB-J (the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology), was conducted on mice, but researchers state the findings may have important implications for humans as well.

36% fewer limb malformations

The study’s major focus has been cellular mechanisms involved in birth defect formation, particularly those linked to ethanol exposure, such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Until now, much of this research has involved growing cells in the laboratory and combating the effects of alcohol with antioxidants.

Recently researchers have extended their cell culture research to a whole embryo culture system. In this technique, early mouse embryos are grown in the laboratory and exposed to various levels of ethanol and antioxidants. Embryos are then monitored for evidence of cell death and abnormal development.

Using this method, researchers also found that superoxide dismutase (SOD)—an antioxidant—can diminish ethanol-induced cell death and subsequent malformations. The scientists found 36% fewer limb malformations in offspring born to pregnant mice that consumed daily amounts of ethyl alcohol plus another antioxidant compound, EUK-134.

Most FASD children born to chronic alcoholics

The amount of alcohol used in the study was high, equivalent to the amount that would raise the blood alcohol level of a person up to 0.4 or 0.5.

This is a level that can be achieved by chronic alcoholics, people who have acquired a tolerance for alcohol. Virtually all children born with FASD, and/or with major malformations caused by alcohol, are born to chronic alcoholics.

Results from the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) show that the number of American adults age 18 years and older who abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent rose from 13.8 million (7%) in 1991-1992 to 17.6 million (8%) in 2001-2002.

Antioxidants protect key cellular components by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals, natural byproducts of cell metabolism. Examples of antioxidants are selenium, vitamins C and E, zinc and SOD.


1. S. Chen; Dehart, D.B., Sulik, K.K., “Protection from Ethanol-Induced Limb Malformations by the Superoxide Dismutase/Catalase Mimetic, EUK-134,” FASEB J. published Jun 18, 2004, doi:10.1096/fj.03-0850fje.