Smoking in pregnancy and schizophrenia in children: a possible link

Smoking in pregnancy and schizophrenia in children: a possible link
Fonte: Science Photo Library

There are already many reasons to quit smoking when expecting a baby, but there may be one more. In fact, it seems that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk that children, as adults, experience schizophrenia

, at least according to what emerges from a large study conducted in Finland and just published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The researchers started from a thousand young Finnish adults with schizophrenia and as many young people without the disease (the controls) and went to look for data on mothers and their pregnancies. In Finland, in fact, since 1983 all pregnancies have been followed very accurately, also as regards the collection of information and samples that could be useful in the context of population surveys.

In this case the scholars have recovered blood samples taken during the first or second trimester of pregnancy by the mothers of all the young people considered. They then measured i cotinine levels, a substance that derives from nicotine, in turn one of the main constituents of cigarette smoke, and which is therefore a very reliable indicator of smoking. Well, it has been seen that the risk of schizophrenia is on average three times higher in children of pregnant women who had high cotinine levels.

As always in these cases, for now we can only talk about association between smoking and disease, and not a cause-and-effect relationship. Other factors associated with smoking may also be involved in the onset of schizophrenia, but were not investigated by the study. For example, the exposure of infants to "second hand" smoke, or the greater propensity to smoke, even prematurely, by children of smokers. Or, again, the habit of drinking alcohol: often in fact smoking is associated with alcohol consumption, but no data was available on this aspect.

However, the authors of the study underline that, from a biological point of view, a role of smoking in the onset of schizophrenia is entirely plausible, and precisely through the action of nicotine. In fact, we know that this substance crosses the placenta to reach the fetus, significantly influencing its nervous development.

For sure, it's worth understanding what's going on. Not forgetting that smoking during pregnancy should be banned for many other reasons. In fact, the risk of growth retardation, preterm birth, stillbirth, fetal malformations, cot death, behavioral disorders, allergies and even some forms of cancer increases.

Yet, there are still many pregnant women who continue to smoke: in Europe as much as 12-25%.

  • smoke
  • cigarettes in pregnancy
  • fetal development
  • schizophrenia
  • lifestyle in pregnancy
  • weeks 1-13
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