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Smoking During Pregnancy Linked With Risk of Schizophrenia in Foetus

A new study emphasises the great danger of smoking: it suggests that smoking in pregnant women is linked with higher risks of schizophrenia in their children. The paper is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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The overall health of the pregnant mother is linked with that of her child. Science has proved how adhering to negative habits during this stage can come with damning consequences for the foetus. One of the most common lifestyles falling under this list is smoking – indeed, a range of studies demonstrate how smoking affects the foetus. Yet another aspect of this has been uncovered in a new research: smoking might be linked with a greater risk of schizophrenia in babies.

This study was conducted by researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), New York State Psychiatric Institute, and another team from Finland. They reviewed around 1,000 cases of the condition and matched controls among children born in Finland. Their conclusion shows that higher nicotine levels in the mother’s blood are associated with a greater risk of the children suffering from schizophrenia: heavy maternal nicotine exposure was linked with a 38% increase in the risk of having the disorder.

To further clarify these results, the researchers adjusted them for other factors like maternal psychiatric history and age, and the findings remained the same thereafter.

Senior author Alan Brown explains that this is the first biomarker-based research, as to his knowledge, that demonstrates a link between schizophrenia and exposure of the foetus to nicotine.

Smoking is otherwise known to lead to complications like low birth weight as attention deficits. This is because nicotine from tobacco smoke is able to get through the placenta to the blood of the foetus to ultimately reach its brain, thereby affecting its development; this accounts for short- and long-term cognitive problems. Other studies mention the possibility of neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

However, this study does not establish the mechanism by which this link is brought about. Brown says that future research should lead to the identification of these pathways. He also adds that the effects of smoking in pregnant women should be tested for bipolar disorder, autism, and other similar disorders.

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