• Alcohol;
  • Pregnancy;
  • Glutathione;
  • Redox;
  • Oxidative Stress

Background:  Increased systemic oxidant stress contributes to a variety of maternal complications of pregnancy. Although the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) and its oxidized component glutathione disulfide (GSSG) have been demonstrated to be significantly altered in the adult alcoholic, the effects of maternal alcohol use during pregnancy on oxidant stress in the postpartum female remain under investigation. We hypothesized that maternal alcohol use would increase systemic oxidant stress in the pregnant female, evidenced by an oxidized systemic GSH redox potential.

Methods:  As a subset analysis of a larger maternal language study, we evaluated the effects of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on the systemic GSH redox status of the postpartum female. Using an extensive maternal questionnaire, postpartum women where queried regarding their alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Any drinking, the occurrence of drinking >3 drinks/occasion, and heavy drinking of >5 drinks/occasion during pregnancy were noted. Using HPLC, maternal plasma samples were analyzed for GSH, oxidized GSSG and the redox potential of the GSH/GSSG antioxidant pair calculated.

Results:  Maternal alcohol use occurred in 25% (83/321) of our study sample. Two in ten women reported consuming >3 drinks/occasion during pregnancy, while 1 in 10 women reported consuming alcohol at >5 drinks/occasion. Any alcohol use during pregnancy significantly decreased plasma GSH (p < 0.05), while alcohol at >3 drinks/occasion or >5 drinks/occasion significantly decreased plasma GSH concentration (p < 0.05), increased the percent of oxidized GSSG (p < 0.05), and substantially oxidized the plasma GSH redox potential (p < 0.05).

Conclusions:  Alcohol use during pregnancy, particularly at levels >3 drinks/occasion, caused significant oxidation of the systemic GSH system in the postpartum women. The clinical ramifications of the observed alcohol-induced oxidation of the GSH redox system on high risk pregnancies or on the exposed offspring require more accurate identification and further investigation.