Headline About Beer, Babies Set Off Our BS Detector. We Were Right.

Peg93, CC BY-SA 3.0

Last week in seeking content to share with Headline Health readers, your editor reviewed a widely published story that claimed men should stop drinking for 6 months prior to planning conception. 

The story set off our built-in b.s. detector; it just did not ring true, in spite of having been picked up by multiple news outlets. We elected not publish it.

Now we’re learning more from Ars Technica, one of our favorite sites for reliable science news … 

Researchers completely made up claim about men’s drinking before conception

They claimed men should stop drinking for 6 months. They didn’t study that.

Oct 8, 2019

Ars Technica – To reduce the risk of having a baby with a congenital heart defect, men should avoid drinking alcohol for at least six months prior to fertilization.

At least, that’s the claim that researchers made in a press release last week.

It’s the same claim that multiple news outlets dutifully parroted in startling headlines and stories about the researchers’ study.

The problem is that the researchers’ study does not support that claim.

In fact, the question of whether six dry months before fertilization could reduce the risk of congenital heart defects wasn’t addressed in the study.

The researchers didn’t even have the data to know if any fathers abstained from alcohol for that long prior to helping form a baby.

It seems that the now-widespread recommendation was merely the researchers’ personal opinions, which were oddly included in the press release and don’t appear to be based on any evidence from their study or otherwise.

What their study did examine was whether a father’s alcohol consumption within three months before fertilization—or, mind-bogglingly, three months after fertilization—could influence the risk of a congenital heart defect.

The researchers concluded that dad’s drinking in that six-month time frame did have an effect; it raised the relative risk of a congenital heart defect by 44%.

The authors speculate that alcohol could cause subtle changes to DNA in sperm that could then lead to that elevated risk.

But even the conclusions that are based on data are questionable. A closer look at the researchers’ analysis reveals many troubling weaknesses and caveats.

For one thing, it’s unclear how a father’s sperm—alcohol-damaged or not—could have any effect on a fetus after fertilization … Read more. 

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