In the morning paper I found a very interesting article from Kathrin Zinkant about smoking during pregnancy (Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Wissen, July 31 2014). It is long known that smoking during pregnancy is taboo. However, estimated 5% – 10% of pregnant women in Germany still smoke, many of them because they are not aware of the pregnancy in the first trimester. Tobacco toxins can harm significantly. Known consequences are reduced weight at birth, damaged lung function and unusual behavior.
In the world’s largest study of the consequences of smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy the DNA methylation status of almost 900 new born babies was studied and compared with the DNA methylation of babies whose mothers did not smoke. It could clearly be shown that the methylation status between the two groups differed. Methylation can alter the activity of genes up to complete silencing. There is evidence that such methylation patterns can be inherited to later generations.
Affected genes belong to known developmental genes and also genes that are involved in tobacco addiction. This confirms the suspicion that tobacco addiction may already be induced during pregnancy. Despite the fact that women should quit smoking before they become pregnant (or better do not smoke at all) it has also to be considered that second-hand smoking is a permanent danger for unborn, child and adult health.