Meconium: Baby's first stool may provide clues to fetal alcohol exposure

  • Fetal alcohol exposure is usually determined through self-reported maternal consumption.
  • New research shows that certain fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) in meconium may provide dependable biomarkers of fetal alcohol exposure.
  • FAEEs ethyl linoleate and ethyl arachidonate appear particularly promising.

Fetal alcohol exposure is usually determined through self-reported maternal consumption. Self-reported drinking, however, is often an unreliable measure. Researchers have found that the presence of certain fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) in meconium may provide a dependable biomarker of fetal alcohol exposure.

Results are published in the July 2006 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

"There are only a few biomarkers that indicate if an infant has been exposed to alcohol during pregnancy, and most of them are not strictly associated with alcohol use," said Enrique M. Ostrea, Jr., professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University. "In this study, we have found a direct association between the presence of certain FAEEs and alcohol use." Ostrea, Jr. is also the corresponding author for the study.

When people drink alcohol, it combines with certain fats in the body known as fatty acids, and FAEEs are formed. These "markers" are either deposited in tissues or, in the case of a growing fetus, in fetal urine or meconium.

"People characteristically underreport the amount of alcohol they drink," said Michael Laposata, director of clinical laboratories at the Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. "One can measure blood alcohol but it disappears from the blood relatively quickly after drinking stops, so only very recent intake can be documented. FAEEs are 'long-term markers' of alcohol intake because they stay much longer in blood than alcohol itself and, in this case, accumulate in meconium."

For this study, resear


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