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Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
The variety of injuries to a fetus caused by maternal consumption of ethanol is called fetal alcohol syndrome. In catabolism of ethanol by the body, the first step is conversion to acetaldehyde— the reverse of the last reaction of alcoholic fermentation.
The level of acetaldehyde in the blood of a pregnant woman is the key to detecting fetal alcohol syndrome. It has been shown that the acetaldehyde is transferred across the placenta and that it accumulates in the liver of the fetus. Acetaldehyde is toxic, and this is one of the most important factors in fetal alcohol syndrome.
In addition to the toxic effects of acetaldehyde, consumption of ethanol during pregnancy harms the fetus in other ways. It depresses transfer of nutrients to the fetus, resulting in lower lev-els of sugars (hypoglycemia), vitamins, and essential amino acids. Lower levels of oxygen (hypoxia) also occur. This last effect is more drastic when the mother smokes during pregnancy, as well as consuming alcohol.
The labels of alcoholic beverages now include a warning against consumption during pregnancy. The American Medical Association has issued the unequivocal warning that “there is no known safe level of alcohol during pregnancy.”
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