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July 10, 1987

Birth Defects Linked With Specific Level of Maternal Alcohol Use, but Abstinence Still Is the Best Policy

JAMA. 1987;258(2):177-178. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400020019006

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FOR THE CHILD-TO-BE, how much of mother's drinking is too much?

New data from an ongoing study indicate that the level of prenatal alcohol exposure associated with increased risk for anatomic congenital anomalies is more than four drinks per day. This cutoff off point put 2% of more than 8300 mothers in this study in the high-risk group, according to Robert J. Sokol, MD, who spoke at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meeting in Las Vegas.

The idea that there is a threshold level for alcohol-related effects remains controversial, according to Boris Tabakoff, MD, scientific director of intramural programs at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). "It is hard to talk about a threshold effect when the question is 'What effect? ' " Tabakoff said in a telephone interview.

He points out that alcohol can exert numerous effects, some obvious—such as anatomic defects—others more subtle, such as