Consuming nicotine during pregnancy, even through non-smoking means, raises the risk for the fetus of elevated blood pressure, which can increase the chances of having a heart problem later in life, say researchers from California.

Dr. DaLiao Xiao, from Loma Linda University School of Medicine, California, said:

"We have found distinct links between cigarette smoking or even using nicotine patches or gum and the long-term harm for the child."

The scientists stress that nicotine is the cause, rather than smoking. Therefore, nicotine gums, chewing tobacco, and any other non-smoking source of nicotine can also raise the risk. Put simply, for the sake of her unborn child, a pregnant woman should avoid all nicotine products.

In an animal experiment the scientists gave nicotine to pregnant rats. They found that their babies had an increased risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) compared to the other offspring (who were not exposed to nicotine).

The authors explained that even though this study was an animal one, findings carried out on rats in this area fitted well with those that were done on people.

The scientists found that nicotine causes the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the walls of the fetus' blood vessels. These ROS (type of chemicals) cause permanent changes to blood vessel behavior which persists for the rest of the baby's life, including a higher risk of hypertension.

Xiao said:

"Other researchers have shown that cigarette smoking or nicotine use in pregnant women results in an increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Our findings provide novel information of the fetal programming that links fetal nicotine exposure to the long term damage."

Associate Professor Christopher Sobey, of the Department of Pharmacology, Monash University, Australia, said in an accompanying Commentary:

"If this is ultimately proven in humans, this important work will have revealed a novel cardiovascular risk factor that can only be modified before birth."

Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said:

"This study provides further evidence that nicotine exposure during pregnancy not only has immediate harmful effects on the fetus, but may increase the risk of heart and circulatory disease in children as they grow up.

Any form of nicotine is bad for women during pregnancy but nicotine replacement therapy, like patches or gum, is better than smoking. The baby avoids some 4,000 potentially dangerous chemicals found in cigarette smoke and both mother and baby will enjoy better circulation as their blood isn't polluted with as much carbon monoxide.

There is lots of help out there for smokers wanting to quit that doesn't involve nicotine, so there really is no excuse for expectant mums not kick the habit and avoid putting their children at unnecessary risk."

"Antenatal Nicotine Induces Heightened Oxidative Stress and Vascular Dysfunction in Rat Offspring"
Daliao Xiao, Xiaohui Huang, Shumei Yang, Lubo Zhang
British Journal of Pharmacology DOI: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01437.x



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