U.S. researchers have discovered that fatty acid ethyl esters (FAEEs) found in meconium may be able to reliably portray the extent of fetal alcohol exposure.
"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, 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 and his colleagues report in the July 2006 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research that 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.
For this study, researchers examined 124 mother/infant pairs. FAEEs were analyzed in the infants' meconium by a highly sensitive and specific method. Results were correlated to maternal alcohol use during pregnancy.
Fetal alcohol exposure is usually determined through self-reported maternal consumption.
But people characteristically under-report the amount of alcohol they drink, "so this is an important report, the measurements of the FAEES are exceedingly well done", said Michael Laposata, director of clinical laboratories at the Massachusetts General Hospital.