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Antioxidants during pregnancy may help prevent birth defects tied to alcohol

CHAPEL HILL -- Pregnant women who abuse alcohol may reduce the risk of birth defects in their babies by taking antioxidants during pregnancy, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study indicates.

The new research found a 36 percent reduction in limb malformations in the offspring of pregnant mice exposed to ethanol and at the same time given a newly developed antioxidant compound called EUK-134.

The study appears on-line Friday (June 18) in FASEB-J, the journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

"What makes this study unique is that it shows for the first time that giving antioxidants to a pregnant mother at the same time she's exposed to alcohol can diminish the incidence of major malformations," said Dr. Kathleen K. Sulik, professor of cell and developmental biology at UNC's School of Medicine.

Antioxidants protect key cellular components by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals, natural byproducts of cell metabolism. Free radicals form when oxygen is metabolized, or burned off, by the body. They travel through cells, disrupting the structure of other molecules, causing cellular damage. Such cell damage is believed to contribute to aging and various health problems. Examples of antioxidants are selenium, vitamin C and E, zinc and superoxide dismutase (or SOD), a zinc- and copper- or manganese-containing enzyme that reacts with superoxide radicals to convert them to less dangerous chemical entities.

Dietary antioxidants have attracted considerable interest in the popular press as potential treatments for cancer, atherosclerosis, chronic inflammatory disease and aging.

Sulik, a member of the university's Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, said a major focus of her research has been cellular mechanisms involved in birth defect formation, particularly those linked to ethanol exposure, such as fetal alc
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