Pregnant smokers: You quit, two quit!

Smoking while pregnant can cause harmful side-effects to the child and also reduce its HDL cholesterol. PHOTO: FILE


Mothers who smoke while pregnant cause changes to their unborn babies which can lead them to have less of a type of cholesterol known to protect against heart disease, a scientific study claimed on June 21.

In a study in the European Heart Journal, Australian researchers found that by the age of eight, children born to mothers who smoked in pregnancy had lower levels of HDL (High-density lipoprotein)cholesterol, at around 1.3 millmoles per litre (mmol/L), than those born to mothers who hadn’t smoked, with about 1.5 mmol/L.

HDL cholesterol is often referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol and is known to play an important role in protecting against atherosclerosis, where fatty materials collect along the walls of arteries, thickening and eventually blocking them, leading to heart problems and heart attacks.

“Our results suggest that maternal smoking ‘imprints’ an unhealthy set of characteristics on children while they are developing in the womb, which may predispose them to heart attack and stroke later on,” said David Celermajer, a professor of cardiology at the University of Sydney.

“This imprinting seems to last for at least eight years and probably a lot longer,” he said, adding that the heart disease risk for smokers’ children could be 10 to 15 per cent higher.

Smoking during and after pregnancy is already known to be linked to a wide range of childhood health problems, including behavioural, neuro-cognitive problems and sudden infant death.

Yet the prevalence of smoking while pregnant is still high, at around 15 per cent in many Western countries, the researchers said.

Celermajer’s team analysed data from 405 healthy eight year olds, born between 1997 and 1999, who had been enrolled before birth into a randomised controlled trial investigating asthma and allergic diseases.

He suggested that lower HDL levels at this age might have a serious health impact in later life, since the children will probably continue to have low levels as they grow up.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2011.

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