For decades, medical professionals have cautioned pregnant women about the dangers of smoking while starting a family. The repercussions are significantly more far-reaching than just a single generation, however, new research shows some of the consequences may not be anticipated.
Women who smoke can pass along health issues to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren–up to four generations–even if their offspring never light up for themselves.
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Professor Jean Golding and colleagues at the University of Bristol conducted a study of physical characteristics in children ages 7-17.
The children were then divided into four categories based on whether their mothers, and their maternal or paternal grandmothers, smoked during pregnancy. While it was no surprise children with a mother who smoked during pregnancy had the most abundant health consequences, the data revealed interesting correlations in more distant generations.
Girls who paternal grandmother smoked during pregnancy, for example, were more likely to be taller than their peers. Both boys and girls with smoking paternal grandmothers had greater bone ad lean mass, and the boys showed increased strength and fitness as they aged.
The researchers did not look into why the health effects through generations occurred, only found patterns consistent with generational maternal smoking.
The results were concluded even after controlling for factors such as education and whether or not the father also smoked.
The findings should not be misconstrued to represent a positive take on smoking during pregnancy; previous research published in The American Journal of Physiology indicated that, though currently only observed in laboratory rats, long-term consequences of smoking while pregnant can include respiratory issues like asthma even further out than four generations.
Researchers were able to link nicotine to cellular changes in the lungs able to be passed down to offspring.
“These likely transgenerational effects from the grandmothers’ smoking in pregnancy need to be taken into account in future studies of the effects of maternal smoking on child growth and development. If replicated, such studies could be a useful model for the molecular analysis of human transgenerational responses,” senior author Prof. Marcus Pembrey said to the New York Daily News.