(HealthDay News) — Drinking moderate to large amounts of alcohol early in pregnancy may damage the placenta and reduce the amount of taurine delivered to the fetus from the mother, according to a study published online February 4 in PLOS ONE.

In laboratory tests, investigators found that amounts of alcohol equal to moderate or heavy drinking reduced cell growth in the placenta. Low levels of alcohol had no effect, they added. For the study, moderate drinking was roughly defined as 2–3 drinks a day, while 4–6 drinks a day was considered heavy drinking.

The scientists also found that moderate to heavy drinking reduced how much of the amino acid taurine is delivered from the mother to the baby through the placenta. Taurine is crucial for a baby’s brain and body development, so this finding may explain some of the behavioral and physical problems seen in children born to alcoholic mothers, the British researchers suggested.

“Placental growth is reduced in comparison to non-exposed placentas, suggesting that in the long-term, there could be consequences to how much support the infant receives from the placenta during the rest of the pregnancy after this exposure,” study author Sylvia Lui, from Tommy’s Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre at The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, said in a university news release.

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