Nicotine During Pregnancy
Recent news reports have claimed that using nicotine patches or vaping during pregnancy could increase the risk of cot death in newborns. If these headlines are true then this is deeply concerning for any expecting parents who use nicotine. So, it’s important for us to know how accurate this research is.
News outlets covering the story have mentioned that the report into the effect on nicotine and cot death was based on an early study. But they don’t mention serotonin deficiency, another important factor hi-lighted by the study, or the fact that the research was carried out on rats, not humans.
SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome, sometimes known as cot death, is the unexpected and unexplained death of a young baby. There are a lot of theories about what might cause sudden infant death syndrome, but the exact cause is unknown and environmental factors like poor air quality and restricted breathing are possible causes.
This study was carried out by the US Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and published in the Journal of Physiology. The researchers focused on the effects of nicotine during pregnancy as well as serotonin deficiency. Serotonin effects mood, but also helps regulate breathing and is believed to be responsible for the instinctive response of gasping for air when short of breath.
Researchers used unborn rats with serotonin deficiency as well as a control group with normal serotonin levels. During pregnancy, these unborn rats were exposed to nicotine to simulate the effect of mothers smoking, using nicotine patches or vaping with nicotine. After they were born, the rats were tested to see how they responded to periods of low oxygen.
The study found that rats with serotonin deficiency and exposure to nicotine struggled to recover from lack of oxygen more than the other rats. The study also showed that nicotine exposure and serotonin deficiency alone didn’t have an impact on the rats’ ability to recover. So, nicotine exposure during pregnancy wasn’t enough to affect the unborn rats, they needed to also suffer from serotonin deficiency.
This study suggests that nicotine exposure during pregnancy, from nicotine patches, gum, vaping or other sources, could affect unborn children. But this was a limited, early study and tests using rodents are not as reliable as tests using humans. More research needs to be done to find stronger answers to these health concerns.
Results Of Lab Studies
Animal studies like testing the effect of nicotine and serotonin deficiency on unborn rats are often used in the early stages of scientific research to avoid testing on humans. But while testing using rodents can give an early indication of how something might affect humans, the results are not reliable.
The respiratory system and inflammatory response of rodents is different to humans, as is their reaction to various chemicals. For example, paracetamol and aspirin are deadly to mice but are common medicines that humans have used for over a hundred years.
This means that the findings of this study using rats might not be true for humans. The purpose of these animal tests is usually to lead into human testing for more reliable results.
The study found that serotonin deficient rats exposed to nicotine before birth struggled to recover from oxygen deprivation compared to rats without nicotine exposure and serotonin deficiency. While exposure to nicotine before birth and serotonin deficiency alone didn’t affect recovery from oxygen deprivation.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that humans will have the same response. Or that nicotine exposure and serotonin deficiency can lead to sudden infant death syndrome in humans.
The results of this study suggest that there may be a link between nicotine exposure during pregnancy and struggling to cope with low oxygen levels when combined with serotonin deficiency. The researchers carrying out this study suggested that more research was needed to validate their findings and better understand this potential link.
A cohort study would be a useful next step to getting more reliable answers. This form of research would involve gathering data from a large number of pregnant women who used nicotine vapes or nicotine replacement therapies like patches or gum.
Vaping And Patches While Pregnant
The main reason that people turn to vaping and nicotine patches is to help them give up smoking. So, it’s important to consider the impact of smoking during pregnancy when discussing the dangers of nicotine.
Research has shown that smoking during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and illness as well as increasing the risk of cot death. Exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy can also lead to similar fertility problems and health risks. The sperm count of men can also be significantly reduced if their mother smoked during pregnancy.
Smoking can also reduce fertility in women as smokers are around thirty percent less likely to conceive compared to non-smokers.
Researchers used rats to explore the link between serotonin deficiency, nicotine exposure during pregnancy and babies struggling with oxygen deprivation. The inability to recover from reduced oxygen levels is thought to be a potential cause of Sudden infant death syndrome in humans.
The study found that rats with serotonin deficiency which were exposed to nicotine before birth were slower to recover from periods of oxygen deprivation. However, this was only true in rats with both serotonin deficiency and nicotine exposure, either factor on its own didn’t have an impact.
This suggests that there may be a link between nicotine exposure during pregnancy, serotonin deficiency and babies struggling to cope with low levels of oxygen. But as the research was carried out using rats which don’t necessarily respond the same as humans, more research is needed to verify these findings.
Giving up nicotine entirely during pregnancy would help avoid any potential risk to unborn children, but this isn’t an easy task as nicotine is highly addictive. Research has also shown that the risks associated with nicotine vaping and using nicotine patches is significantly lower than the risks associated with smoking during pregnancy.